Rhubarb doesn’t have quite the urgently brief feeling season of, say, ramps, but this recipe still makes me want to shout…quick! quick! make this instantly! Seeing bright pink stalks of rhubarb sticking out of a produce bin at the grocery stores is such a nice solid indicator of spring, isn’t it? The tart with a touch of sweet veggie (I had to look that up, by the way–vegetables for dessert!) feels like the perfect bridge between the weather we are so over and the weather we’re so looking forward to. And in that springtime spirit, even though I had been planning on something chocolatey or cakey to top off a recent graduation celebration for my sweet friend Sarah, rhubarb kept calling my name.
“This is the best cookbook you own, don’t you think?” Ed said as he finished the end of The Food Lab’s pork meatballs with mushroom cream sauce. It was the 24th recipe I’d tested from J. Kenji López-Alt’s book, and yet another plate-licking winner. Ed’s declaration has serious weight, as he is my chief taste tester and has sampled the results from countless cookbooks. So is he right—is The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science the best cookbook on my shelf? I hate to pick favorites, but I can’t think of any other book that’s had so many things I wanted to make, given me so many keeper recipes, and taught me so much.
Back in February of 2015, my sweet sister sent me the cookbook Date Night In, by the author of the blog Not Without Salt, with a note saying “Happy happy Valentine’s Day to my favorite newlyweds! I hope this book is as good as it looks and lives up to its perfect 5-start Amazon rating!” And did it ever–the photos are lovely, the recipes make me hungry, and the stories about the author’s life and relationship so compelling that it reads more like a memoir than a cookbook. I had an immediate case of the kind of life-envy easily inspired by particularly gorgeous lifestyle and cooking blogs (hello there, Mimi Thor). I loved the romantic idea of making a spiffy at home date night a regular thing, and immediately had piles of day dreams about following the example set in the book. But, funnily enough, the only recipe I’ve yet cooked from the book or blog I made just for myself: pasta with walnuts, lemon and herbs.
As I’ve written before, I love strawberry desserts. Years of birthday strawberry shortcake in mid-April has made me hard-wired to want berries in early spring. Unfortunately, strawberries aren’t at their best for another few weeks. That leaves me with fierce cravings and nothing but a pint of dull Driscoll’s to fill the void. I learned from my mom that a quick cure for bland strawberries is to toss them in sugar and let them rest. I’ve also had good luck cooking them with sugar to make a compote, and now, thanks to Bon Appétit, I’m also a fan of roasting them with sugar and salt.
When my sister and I were in high school, a trip to the mall almost always meant Tysons Corner. And if we timed it right, a trip to Tysons almost always meant lunch at Slade’s American Grill, known to us as Slade’s. I’m very proud to now be able to call up the name of the long closed restaurant, since it took simultaneous gchatting with Joie, texting with Laura, and some deep googling to find it. With our powers combined we got there: Joie knew it was a short name, Laura remembered America being in there somewhere, and I was pretty sure it started with an S. Considering how often Joie and our mother and I ate there over the years, I’m amazed that we forgot the name at all. What has absolutely stayed with me, though, is their insanely good loaded baked potato soup.
As far as I’m concerned, Smitten Kitchen’s Spinach and Cheese Strata is the ultimate in breakfast casserole perfection. Jessica told me about the recipe a few years ago and after making it once, I put it into permanent brunch rotation. It has never failed to impress and delight: it’s excellent for company because it’s unapologetically cheesy and carby and it’s excellent for the cook because it’s assembled the night before and simply baked the next morning. I love it because of the flavors (creamy, nutty, custardy) and because it tastes like more than just scrambled eggs with fillings—it’s a savory bread pudding. The only problem with the recipe is that I found myself making it too often. How many times can you serve the same guests the same thing without it becoming weird? I decided not to find out.
Laura and I rarely do much in advance blog planning together. Sometimes we’ll shoot each other a quick text about our next post, or it will come up in conversation if we’ve recently cooked something we’re especially excited to share, but frequently our posts are a fun surprise for each other, and a lovely window into what the other has been up to in her kitchen. A lovely window that sometimes shows us that, from states away, we are right on the same page. It’s happened with banana muffins and quick shrimp dinners, and I was so tickled last week to realize that we were on a shared cashew + chicken kick. I love the idea of Laura in her Springfield kitchen cooking with the same ingredients I’m using in my Brooklyn kitchen, especially when the results are dishes we’re both so psyched about: a cashew chicken stir fry for La, and chicken and cashew lettuce cups for me.