crispy tofu pad thai

Like a lot of people who go way back in the land of food blogs, I learned how to make pad thai from Pim Techamuanvivit. Pim wrote Chez Pim for many years before moving onto make jams (still the best apricot I’ve ever had) and then, homesick for the food she missed from growing up in Bangkok and disappointed by the versions of Thai food she saw in American restaurants (and “the tyranny of peanut sauce”), opened her first restaurant, Kin Khao, in San Francisco in 2014. It received a Michelin star a year after it opened because why do anything mediocre?

what you'll need

But in 2007, she wrote a seminal post called Pad Thai For Beginners that I’ve read and reread so many times over the years, I’ve practically memorized it. As pad thai is one of the most popular street foods in Thailand, she encouraged us to approach it at home the way the street vendors do: the prep is already done, so you can finish it in a flash. First, she wants you to make the sauce in advance because the ingredients are not standardized — fish sauces and tamarind concentrates will vary in intensity between brands — and you’ll want to adjust as needed, not over a screaming hot pan while your noodles get soft. And she wants you to make extra because it keeps well, and then if your dish needs a little more oomph, you won’t have to run back to the fridge to measure more from bottles and jars. Finally, she wants us to never make more than two portions at once, which will lead to “clumps of oily, sticky noodles.” She explains that the textures and flavors of a proper pad thai “derive largely from the way the dish is cooked, that is to say its quick footloose dance in an ultra hot wok. That simply means you can’t do many servings at once.” This doesn’t mean you cannot feed a crowd, you simply prep as much as you’d need, but only cook a portion or two at a time.

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fig newtons

I have grandma tastes. I don’t have a pocketbook full of butterscotch candies or a plastic cover on the sofa or anything, but I’m sitting on it right now and think our elders are probably onto something, especially when you have two kids with an unnatural contempt for napkins. But I will stan [Grandma Deb has Googled this word, feels ready to give it a spin] for thick cardigans, tins of Danish butter cookies, Walkers shortbread, and Fig Newtons.

stand mixer doughfood processor doughoops forgot to chop themeasy peasy

I’ve wanted to make a homemade version of fig newtons since I started this site nearly 12 years ago. In that time, I have bookmarked a dozen versions that claimed to be like the original packaged cookie but all seemed off somehow — too sweet or too wholegrain, to muddled with other flavors, not actually shaped like the original, or just so fussy, if even I couldn’t muster the motivation to make them, it didn’t bode well for talking anyone else into it. I am glad I waited because last fall pastry wizard Stella Park’s BraveTart cookbook came out and if there is anyone that can be trusted to come up with a version as good as the original but with a more appetizing ingredient list, it is her.

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asparagus and egg salad with walnuts and mint

I found my new favorite spring lunch salad while I was hiding from a pot of brisket, which is the kind of thing that happens three days after Passover. Day one (which is actually day two or three after you’ve cooked the brisket, because you know I’d never lead you astray, right?) is lovely: my goodness, why don’t we eat long-cooked, saucy slabs of beef more often? Day two isn’t so bad either, albeit a touch less enthusiastic: yay, brisket. Day three is: my god this isn’t natural, nobody should eat this much brisket, what am I going to do? I cannot waste food. It’s too long into the brisket’s lifespan to freeze it now. And my thoughts turned to the vibrant green asparagus stalks we’d had with it, and that brisket was instantly relegated to a side dish.

well-toasted walnuts
walnuts, parmesan, lemon zest, salt, pepper, pepper flakes

I wasn’t even a little bit surprised that I found inspiration for asparagus in the Six Seasons cookbook. Have you bought it yet? I know this is awfully bossy of me, but I think you should. I think that if you, like me, delight in inventive but not overly complicated vegetable preparations (225 of them, even), things you hadn’t thought of but that you’ll immediately tuck into your repertoire, you’re going to love this book as much as I do. I confess I’ve had it for almost a year. In that year, I’ve been almost overwhelmed with how much I’ve wanted to cook from it — a favorite so far has been the comfortable cabbage and farro soup with parmesan and lemon — almost to the point of paralysis, which is as ridiculous of a first-world problem as having too much brisket to eat, but here we are and at least one impasse helped resolve another.

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melting potatoes

A few weeks ago — although, you can imagine, it feels like it’s been much, much longer* — I learned bout something called melting potatoes and had to make them immediately. This is my favorite way to fall into something new: swiftly and static-free, even better when it has outsized pleasing results. I find the energy that comes from it kind of infectious. Why limit this fun to potatoes? Why don’t I do something random and new and unpredictable every single day? I should start right away. Or after I make these potatoes again because the only bad thing about them was that we had plans that night and I left them with the kids and babysitter. I did sneak one off the pan. It was hot. I dropped it. I definitely definitely did not eat it anyway. I am way too classy for that. Totally.

one-inch slices, just do itready to roastbubbling in the ovenflipped

Do you love a circuitous recipe path? Me too. I saw it on the Instagram Stories of Dawn Perry, who is the food director at Real Simple, and it seems to have been discovered by associate food editor Grace Elkus, who found it on Pinterest, where it is very, very popular. It feels like a pared-down version of fondant potatoes (pommes de terres fondantes), a French dish in which cylinders of potato are browned very slowly in butter, with stock added in increments until the potatoes are crisp on top but creamy inside, but also somewhat glazed and booming with flavor. [Also, I love any dish that allows us to apply high praise usually reserved for meat, i.e. “meltingly tender”, to a vegetable.]

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1940-2018

My dad passed away last week. You might have known him here as SantaDad. He took great delight in that nickname, which came from an early story about how confusing as a kid I found the pictures of my dad on a fire truck dressed as Santa Claus as a) we are Jewish; and b) everyone knows Santa Claus comes down a chimney, duh. I realize this doesn’t make it any less head-scratching and I’ve decided to not even try to clear it up.

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sweet potato tacos

One of the places I love to lurk on the internet is on boards and groups where people discuss their menu plans for the week. I am so sorry you thought I was going to say something more exciting here. I mean, of all the place to lurk on the internet, Deb. I am truly a bore — possibly to everyone but people who love to cook.

peeled, then cubed
tossed with oil and dry spices

But these posts! Forget the blogs, forget the cookbooks — just kidding, please do not do either — this is how people really eat, or aspire to at the ambitious start of their week, and I can’t help but take mental notes. One of the things that comes up frequently is something called a “sweet potato taco,” and it got stuck in my head because we like sweet potatoes, we like tacos… Maybe I should try my hand at them! I envisioned cubes of sweet potatoes roasted with so much spice, it almost forms a crust, and then something with black beans, and a bright, acidic finish to cut through the carb-starch-carbiness of it. The first time I made it, I threw them together and, because this is the year 2018, tossed a picture of our dinner onto Instagram Stories* and it turns out, a lot of people wanted the recipe. I promised to write it up good and proper one day, “one day” in Deb-ese is 5 weeks minimum, and that brings us up to today.

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luxe butterscotch pudding

Happy Valentine’s Day! I thought we should make this for a date night in… erm, three weeks ago. It was on my editorial calendar and everything! (Okay I don’t have one, but it was definitely something I would have put on one.) The fact is, I’ve always been a slow cook but I’ve gotten so much worse in the last year or so, and I think I’m just getting fussier. I can’t sleep well until I know I am not making you use even one more bowl or egg yolk than the recipe requires and I wish I was joking because it sounds more quirky and charming that way.

Take this. For years, I’d be hearing about the wonder that is Nancy Silverton’s Butterscotch Budino, one of Los Angeles’s most famous desserts. Think of it like a classic, homey butterscotch pudding (kinda like this) made as luxe as possible with more butter, a deeper caramel, egg yolks, cream, salted caramel, whipped creme fraiche, yes, I too would be on a flight to Los Angeles right now after reading that if they weren’t all grounded.

butterscotchadd cream and milkre-melt the butterscotchan egg and two yolks plus cornstarch

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quick, essential stovetop mac-and-cheese

A couple years ago, at my second home (the grocery store, alas, not, like, the shore) I was passing through the boxed macaroni and cheese section and realized my son, then five, had grown up so far without ever trying it. I realize some people pat themselves on the back about this, but I’m more skeptical about things. Realistically, by the time my kids grow up, I will have inundated them so with so many kale caesars, farro salads and wholesome slaws, sweet potatoes, and homemade from-scratch birthday cakes they’ll have no choice but to rebel with a steady diet of sugar cereals, frozen pocketed foods, and frosting from a can. Maybe leveling things up earlier on will help avoid this outcome? So I bought a box, made it for dinner that night (with the requisite steamed broccoli on the side, nobody ever tells you how much broccoli you’re going to steam when you become a parent) and oh, I’m sorry, were you waiting for me to call it terrible? A disappointment? A memory from childhood that did not hold up? It was anything but. I love orange cheese powder and I do not wish to keep it to myself any longer.

i love this ruffly shapea little water and a lot of pasta is fine hereparmesan is all you needsometimes I get fancy with aged cheddar

I understand that the internet can supply me with orange cheese powder but I promise, that’s not where I’m going with this. I want to talk about why we like it and what I — an adult who doesn’t want to make a habit of the boxed stuff, nor live a life devoid of the dish it creates — do when I’m craving stovetop pasta with a sauce of melted cheese intensely* and nothing else will do.

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korean braised short ribs

The single most frequently asked questions on this site of late has not been “Wait, you just put peanut butter inside a chocolate cookie, are you pregnant?” (Which is too bad because I want nothing more than an excuse to say this.) It’s not “Can I make this recipe gluten-free/dairy-free/Whole30-compliant?” (Me.) And it’s not even, “How do you do your daughter’s hair?” (We wake her up at 4 to set it in curlers, it’s a little crazy but obviously worth it). It is, in fact, some combination of “I need Instant Pot recipes.” and “How do I make this in an Instant Pot?” or “Should I get an Instant Pot?” Today I’ll do my best (and, of course, just skip ahead if you’ve already made peace with the presence or absence of one in your life):

* Is it worth the space? While I cannot answer for you whether you have the space for another large kitchen appliance, it’s worth noting that the IP could ostensibly replace a slow-cooker (or slow-cookers, in my crazy case), a stovetop pressure cooker, should you have one, and a rice cooker, although I’ll get rid of mine when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands. I can tell you with authority that I don’t have room for mine, but I like it anyway. I also don’t have room for my children and their belongings in this apartment, but I like them anyway (“anyway” = after 7am).

* But I am perfectly happy with my slow-cooker: I think of the IP/other electric multicookers and Crock-Pots/slow-cookers on the same continuum with different speeds. They excel at many of the same things: beans and stocks and long braises. Both are plugged in so you can put stuff in them and walk away (unlike a live gas flame on a stove). The slow-cooker requires you to think about what you’d like for dinner either the night before or that morning before you go off to work — it slows things down. Electric pressure cookers allow you to do it when you get home — it speeds things up. (The IP also makes yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, and rice, you can simmer a pot of liquid in it about as fast as you would on a stove, and you can actually brown things like meat, so it’s got a few other tricks up its sleeve, but rice and eggs at least cook faster on a stove.)

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slow-roasted sweet potatoes

I have been obsessed with the Argentinian chef Francis Mallman since I saw his of Chef’s Table episode in 2015. Sure, about the only thing we have in common is a desire to set food on fire, you know, artfully. He does so these days to great acclaim on his private Patagonian island (and 8 other restaurants around the world), accessible through two flights, a five-hour drive, and then 90-minute raft across a lake. I live on a busy block of a crowded city accessible by nearly every format of public transportation, and do so to moderate acclaim (relative mostly to how well the patrons slept that day) under a wispy-by-design gas broiler.

sweet potatoes

A few weeks ago, my obsession led us to a restaurant named Mettā in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where everything is either cooked or finished over an open fire (if you go, do so on a cold night and sit at the counter, you’ll be glad you did) where the chef is protégé of Mallman. On the dessert menu is a highly regarded ash-roasted sweet potato with an infused whipped cream* and while it was delicious, forgive me, I didn’t have the Moment with it that every other restaurant reviewer has, but still tucked it away in my head as something I wanted to get back to soon. I just didn’t expect it to be exactly two days later, when I spotted a slow-roasted and charred sweet potato recipe from Michael Solomomov in Saveur. Obviously — because a jump from Patagonia to Fort Greene and then Solomomov is the very definition of “obvious” — it was fate.

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