Around the holidays, I like to have cake on hand at all times. Cookies are great, too, but it’s cake that really feels festive to me. I like admiring a pretty cake under a dome and I like serving slices of sweetness on Santa Claus plates. As much as I love sinking hours into an elaborate cake project like a Bûche de Noël, the cakes I enjoy most this time of year are the simplest ones. This cranberry torte has been a favorite of mine for a couple of years. It’s a breeze to make, it’s decked out with merry pops of red, and it’s a balanced, sweet-tart treat that feels appropriate at any time of day.
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.
Three (!) years ago, Jessica and I wrote a post reviewing Bon Appétit’s chicken tikka masala recipe. We concluded that the dish was tasty, but very time-consuming and we were split over whether we’d make it again. Jessica, living in the land of amazing take-out of all varieties, was pretty sure she’d keep ordering in. I figured that I’d lean on the recipe when I moved to Springfield because I assumed that good Indian food would be hard to come by. Jessica was right, I was wrong. As it turns out, Springfield has two terrific Indian places and the one I linked to in my 2013 post has become our go-to Friday night dinner spot. I’ve never cooked the Bon Appétit chicken again.
This is the kind of recipe I so need right now. Fast, lots of tastiness for little effort, relatively healthy, simple, and easily customizable. A perfect contrast to the complicated and heavy and meaning-laden dishes that I love at this time of year, but don’t always have the energy or the time for. This is perfect weeknight cooking. Or maybe perfect weekend cooking, on a particular weekend when you’re feeling done with a certain collection of leftovers, and ready for a whole new set of flavors? This recipe, for coconut curry with shrimp and piles of vegetables, has got you covered.
In my fantasy life, I always cook to music– probably something French and perfectly casual cool, and usually in a kitchen that closely resembles Ina Garten’s. In real and not quite as elegant life, the TV is almost always on in the background, scrolling through the saved up silliness on our DVR. But this dinner calls for something very different from a previously recorded episode of the Bachelorette, and somethinig very specific. This dinner needs Frank Sinatra. It’s such a lovely long simmering sauce, Italian in sensibility but actually created by a French(ish) family, and it makes me want to slow down, have a glass of wine, and sing along to The Lady is a Tramp while I slice garlic. This is a pasta simple enough for a weeknight, but with a definite relaxed weekend vibe. And oh is it good.
Fish sauce and I are having a moment. It’s not an ingredient we cooked with growing up, but it’s suddenly finding it’s way into more and more of my meals. It started with Molly telling me how much she and her beau loved it on roasted brussels sprouts. That was such a hit that I added fish sauce to my new favorite cauliflower recipe (which I also roast in the oven, rather than stir-frying on the stovetop. My cast iron skillet and I are also having a moment), making it even more delicious. Then I tried a recipe I can’t wait to share from Hal’s favorite lady chef that showed me how well fish sauce plays with chicken. And in a really fish sauce focused evening, Hal and I took a Vietnamese Street Food cooking class that featured the savor/salty/sweet taste in every single dish (except dessert)–Sugar Cane Shrimp, Caramelized Pork Belly Banh Mi, Banh Hoi, and Che Thai. And dang was it good. But my very favorite way to use my new very favorite ingredient is in Shutterbean’s Thai beef with basil.
The first meal Hal ever made for me, for our fourth date, was short ribs. I was on my way back from VA after Thanksgiving, and when Hal texted to say he was making short ribs in his slow cooker, I was very much impressed by the idea of a gent with that kind of kitchen equipment. When he later confessed that the slow cooker was in fact purchased just the day before for this specific recipe, I was a total goner. To go along with the short ribs he made mashed potatoes and carrots, and we started dinner with raw oysters (a bold move, but, as it turns out, also an effective one). When we were deciding what to make for our first married Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be fun to go back to that first homemade dinner, and so we celebrated my favorite Hallmark holiday with oysters–grilled on the stove, à la Cochon–and short ribs. Not in our now shared slow cooker, but braised in a dutch oven.