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This was my first summer having a garden and it coincided with the summer I hatched a new human and the themes of both keep blurring together: The goofy pride in growing things from seed. The occasionally overwhelming feeling that there are so many things and they’re all very hungry and counting on you to fix this. The twinge of sadness as they look less sprout-y and more robust. The urgency to not squander any of this.
With that in mind, there’s the fact that a very warm fall has meant that instead of this garden looking near collapse, it’s going strong and the four billowing pots of herbs that remain are pressuring me to do something great with them before they meet their imminent frosty demise. Fried sage leaves on everything! Crisp rosemary flatbread all the time! Minced chives on every dish! Parsley… I mean, I like tabbouleh and all, but there’s no way I’m going to get through this. Let’s not pretend this made a huge dent, but 5 sprigs down is a respectable effort, right?
Look, I know all of our cooking dance cards are full right now, beyond capacity, even. You’ve probably got your menus sorted. But this was too cute to save for a less frenetic week. Basically, I figured out that you could take any old biscuit and make it rather festive by egg-washing a flat parsley leaf on top before you bake it. I mean, that’s it, that’s all there is to it. The biscuit recipe I used is an old reliable; I’ve made it with cheddar and blue cheese both before. This time I used pecorino but parmesan is more likely what you have around right now and works, or certainly better than going back to any grocery store anywhere two days before Thanksgiving. I held back on the minced scallion I usually put it, but missed it. You could also use a little bit of onion or garlic powder for a more full flavor. You could also use whatever biscuit recipe you were going to, anyway and just do this to it because it turns out biscuits like to dress up for dinner parties too sometimes.
One year ago: Crispy Sweet Potato Roast
Two years ago: Apple-Herb Stuffing For All Seasons, Cauliflower with Brown Butter Crumbs and Parsley-Leaf Potatoes
Three years ago: Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Four years ago: Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Biscuits
Five years ago: Sweet Corn Spoonbread
Six years ago: Creamed Spinach
Seven years ago: Cranberry Pecan Frangipane Tart and Mustard-Roasted Potatoes
Eight years ago: Nutmeg Maple Cream Pie and Chile-Garlic Egg Noodles
Nine years ago: Jacked-Up Banana Bread
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Swirled Berry Yogurt Popsicles
1.5 Years Ago: Soft Pretzel Buns and Knots
2.5 Years Ago: Two Classic Sangrias
3.5 Years Ago: Tzatziki Potato Salad
4.5 Years Ago: Strawberry Summer Cake
Parsley Pecorino Biscuits
Yield: 16 2-inch (tiny) biscuits
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced
1 1/4 cups (2 7/8 ounces) finely grated aged pecorino or parmesan cheese
2 slim scallions, minced (optional)
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped small plus 16 extra leaves for garnish
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 teaspoon water for wash
Heat oven to 425 degrees F. Stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in the bottom of a large bowl, then use your fingertips or a pastry blender to work the butter into the dry mixture, until the largest chunks are the size of tiny peas. Stir in cheese, scallions and chopped parsley, then buttermilk, stirring just until combined. Knead once or twice right inside the bowl to form into a rough dough.
Pat or roll it out to a 1/2-inch thickness on a floured counter. Cut into 2-inch rounds, pressing straight down and not twisting the cutter. Place on an parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the tops of each with egg wash, then place one leaf at the center of each biscuit top. Use brush to dab leaf with egg wash.
Bake biscuits for 11 to 13 minutes, until golden brown. Eat right away, or at least before the day is out.
Because biscuits are best on the first day, if planning ahead, I like to make the dough, cut in into rounds and freeze it until needed. Biscuits can be baked right from the freezer and will only require about 2 minutes extra. Brush egg wash and leaf on right before baking.
Among the great Ashkenazi soul food traditions — bagels, lox, chicken noodle soup, challah, brisket and its cousins, pastrami and corned beef — few are more deeply rooted in the communal psyche than kugels, or starch-based puddings that hail from southern Germany. The word kugel, meaning sphere, globe or ball, originally referred to dumplings dropped over a soup pot, the version baked casserole pans became my people’s favorite, always made in vast quantities, served on Shabbat or holidays in squares and usually shoved in the hands of unsuspecting relatives and guests in disposable foil tins on their way home. The smart ones know resistance is futile.
While two kinds are considered staples — noodle and potato — outside my family at least, where my mother claims to this day that she married my father mostly to get his family’s noodle kugel recipe, the potato reigns supreme, likely due to its practicality as an easily reheated side dish that complements any meal worth having.
And though everyone agrees on the ingredients (potatoes, onion, eggs and fat, usually schmaltz or rendered chicken fat, of course), and that the top must be browned crisp and the inside must be tender, if you really want to get people started, ask them how to best achieve this and see if any two agree. An avalanche of eggs (says the food critic Arthur Schwartz), an unholy amount of oil (says nobody who will admit to it), shredding not grinding, grinding not shredding, shredded by hand vs. shredded by machine (usually an intergenerational dispute), wringing the extra moisture out vs. “nope, that’s wrong,” fresh from the oven vs. reheated for best flavor, with matzo meal vs. no matzo meal… are you exhausted yet? I could go on and on.
Me? I call them Lazy Latkes. As has been well-established over the last nine years on this site, I believe potato pancakes are among the earth’s perfect foods and speak of them with a fervor others reserve for bacon or pizza. Lacy mops of shredded potato and onion fried until steamy and tender inside and shatteringly crisp outside, you can have your home fries, they’re the only thing I want under my runny eggs, my son wants with applesauce and my husband wants with sour cream and caviar. And yet, they’re a bit of work, especially because I insist on wringing every droplet of moisture from the potatoes (I’m done when my arms are too tired for another squeeze) and frying them just a few at a time for best quality control.
Potato kugel, the way I make it at least, is fuss-free: no wringing, all the work done in a machine and mixed in one big bowls (usually with my fingers) then piled in a sizzling hot cast-iron skillet (I mean, this is the Smitten Kitchen, after all) and baked until seriously, why aren’t you making this yet?
One year ago: Cranberry Pie with Thick Pecan Crumble and Twice-Baked Potatoes with Kale
Two years ago: Parsley Leaf Potatoes and Sweet Potato Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting
Three years ago: Cauliflower-Feta Fritters with Pomegranate
Four years ago: Dijon-Braised Brussels Sprouts
Five years ago: Apple Latkes
Six years ago: Gingerbread Apple Upside-Down Cake and Cappucino Fudge Cheesecake
Seven years ago: Walnut Tartlets and Cauliflower Gratin
Eight years ago: Tiramisu Cake and Curried Lentils and Sweet Potatoes
Nine years ago: Orangettes and Honey-Hoisin Pork Riblets
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Pasta Salad with Roasted Tomatoes
1.5 Years Ago: Carrot Salad with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas
2.5 Years Ago: Lobster and Potato Salad
3.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Snacking Cake
4.5 Years Ago: Spring Salad with New Potatoes
In non-Semitic terms, think of the potato kugel as a massive hash brown with profoundly crispy edges, steamy-soft insides and the showstealing complement to a dinner roast or breakfast eggs. We also like it as a party appetizer with a nice applesauce or fruit chutney or, as we roll around here, creme fraiche, caviar and chives, which is what happens when you marry a Russian. Traditional variations include carrot, zucchini, caramelized onions or garlic as well as the potatoes, but I see no reason to mess with a perfect thing.
Serves about 12
1 large or 2 small yellow onions
3 pounds or about 5 large baking — Russet or Idaho — potatoes, peeled
1/3 cup potato starch*
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Lots of freshly ground black pepper
3 large eggs
5 tablespoons olive oil, schmaltz or another oil of your choice
Heat oven to 350°F.
By hand: Chop onions very finely and coarsely grate potatoes.
With a food processor: Blend onions in food processor with regular blade until finely ground. Switch to grating blade and grate potatoes — I like to do this one their sides, for the longest strands.
Both methods: Place onions and potatoes in a large bowl. Sprinkle salt, pepper and starch evenly over potatoes and toss together with two forks or, as I do it, your very clean hands, evenly coating strands. Break eggs right on top and again use forks or your fingers to work them into the strands, evenly coating the mixture.
Heat a 1/4 cup oil or fat in a 10-inch cast-iron skillet** over high heat until very hot. Pour potato-egg mixture into pan carefully (it’s going to splatter) and spread evenly in pan. I like to twist and tousle the top strands a little for a pretty final texture on top. Drizzle with last tablespoon of oil. Bake in heated oven for 75 to 80 minutes, until browned on top and tender in the middle. If top browns too quickly, before center is baked, cover with foil for all but the last two minutes of baking time, though this has never been necessary in my oven.
Serve in squares, either right from the skillet or unmolded onto a platter. Kugel reheats exceptionally well in a warm oven. It keeps in the fridge for up to 4 days, and much longer (months, even) in the freezer. I like to defrost it in the fridge before rewarming it in an oven.
* Cornstarch works too. As does flour. Matzo meal is traditional. I like potato starch because it’s the least distracting and lightest. I buy mine from Bob’s Red Mill; usually in a section with other BRM products at just about any store these days (hooray).
** Without a cast-iron — Use a casserole baking dish. Just heat the oil first so it’s hot when the potato mixture lands in it. (You can do this in the oven, but it will take a good 5 minutes to get very hot. Might as well do it in 60 seconds on the stove.)
In a food processor: Place flour and salt in work bowl fitted with standard blade. Pulse to combine. Add cream cheese, chopped into large chunks, and run machine until it’s fully dispersed into the flour. Add butter in large chunks and run machine until dough starts to clump. Dump out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a flattish disc.
With a mixer: Let butter and cream cheese soften at room temperature. Beat both together until light and fluffy. Beat in salt. Add flour, beating until it disappears. Scrape dough onto a large piece of plastic wrap and form into a flattish disc.
Both methods: Chill dough until totally firm — about 2 hours in the fridge you can hasten this along in the freezer for about 30 minutes. (Dough keeps in fridge for up to a week, and in freezer much longer.)
Form the cookies:
Heat oven to 350 degrees F and line a couple baking sheets with parchment paper or nonstick baking mats.
Stir cinnamon and sugar together in a small dish. Combine coarse mixture of chocolate, nuts and dried fruit in a second dish.
Divide dough into quarters and roll first quarter out on a floured counter into a rectangle about 12 inches wide and 7 to 8 inches long, with the wider side to you. Thinly spread jam to all but the furthest 1/4 inch from you — which seals better once rolled if bare — with about 2 to 3 tablespoons jam. (I find that with seedless raspberry, 2T covers nicely but with thicker jam, you’ll need 3T to coat it thinly. If your jam is difficult to spread, you can warm it gently in the microwave for a few seconds first.) Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar mixture, then 4 tablespoons coarse fruit and nut mixture.
Roll dough from the 12-inch side in front of you into as tight as a log as you can, using your fingers to lightly seal the ends onto the log. Repeat with remaining logs.
Shape your cookies [see additional images at end of recipe]:
To make classic, easy sliced cookies: Place log of filled dough in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. Trim ends from log so they have a clean shape. Cut log into 10 to 12 even slices. Arrange on prepared baking sheets a couple inches apart from each other.
To make a ring of spirals: Place log of filled dough in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. Trim ends from log so they have a clean shape. Cut log into 10 to 12 even slices. Arrange them in a ring formation on prepared baking sheets so that each link touches. Do note: This will be the hardest to lift in one piece from the baking sheet once cool.
To make a pull-apart wreath: Form log into a ring, connecting the ends and smoothing the dough to seal the shape. Place ring in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. On prepared baking sheet, cut 10 to 12 evenly spaced apart notches in ring, cutting through all but the last 1/4-inch of log so it stays connected.
To make a pull-apart log: Place log of filled dough in freezer for 10 to 15 minutes; it will cut more cleanly once semi-firm. Trim ends from log so they have a clean shape. On prepared baking sheet, cut 10 to 12 evenly spaced apart notches in log, alternating sides that you cut from, cutting through all but the last 1/4-inch of log so it stays connected.
To make a split log twisted together like a babka: Don’t. It was a flopped-open mess. We couldn’t even eat it. [biggest lie, ever]
For all shapes, to bake finish: Brush top(s) lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with a total of 1 teaspoon of the remaining cinnamon-sugar mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown on top. Individual cookies need to cool only a few minutes on baking sheet before they can be transferred to a cooling rack but larger rings, wreaths and logs do best if they cool at least 3/4 of the way to solidify more before attempting to carefully transfer them.
Do ahead: Cooled cookies keep in a container at room temperature for a week, and in the freezer for a month. Just not around here. Your filled log of rugelach is also easy to freeze, pre-baking, until needed. Wrap well, and you can slice it into cookies straight from the freezer, baking them while still frozen — you’ll just new a few extra minutes in the oven.
After coming to our senses about our dream of a Friendsgiving dinner party last month versus the reality of life with two kids, two full-time jobs, a small oven and a worrisomely low inventory of forks (seriously, where do they go?) we decided instead to have a Taco Dinner Party last weekend. Among our friends, in a tacos vs. turkey throwdown, tacos will always win. This might be why we get along so well.
The menu* is one of my favorites and it’s incredibly simple: A big brisket goes in the slow-cooker the night before and in the morning is transferred to the fridge where it can rest for the day so it can be easily de-fatted and gently rewarmed and shredded before dinner. [Recipe here.] A pot of black beans, which can also be handed off to the slow-cooker, is essential. [I use the Black Bean Ragout from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, but this soup with less liquid isn’t a bad place to start.] I make a giant batch of Lazy Taco Slaw and Pickled Red Onions [recipes outlined at the bottom of this post]. My friend Ang brought over tomatillo salsa from her deck garden [but this one is a great place to start]. I raided the Mexican bodega in my neighborhood for corn tortillas, extra hot sauce, pickled jalapenos and crema, although the grocery store varieties of each work just as well. We juice a lot of limes and make a pitcher or two my go-to 3:2:1 margarita (3 parts tequila, 2 parts lime juice and 1 part Cointreau) [but if you can get blood oranges where you are, do yourself a favor and make these]. And then we made a lot of queso, because I sometimes delight in making food snobs clutch their pearls.
And then, because everyone lies when they say they don’t need dessert, I made a Tres Leches Cake and it was decidedly mediocre. Not “went uneaten” mediocre, but absolutely not what I had in mind. I used what is probably the most popular recipe for it on the internet, and ended up with a hard too-sweet cake that didn’t absorb the liquid and left me Monday Morning Quarterbacking (look honey, I used a football reference!) over how to make it better. I reviewed 100 recipes online, I hunted through all of my cookbooks, and then I turned to one of my secret favorite sources for authentic cooking lessons — YouTube videos with fairly low production values, preferably not in English. After watching a few Mexican grandmothers make theirs from what seemed to be memory, a few themes emerged: all of them use a classic sponge cake (soft and light, with almost all of its texture and volume from whipped eggs), and almost none use the kind with butter in it; buttery cakes won’t absorb all that liquid as well. While 90 percent of them whip their egg whites and yolks separately and then fold them together, after seeing one or two make a go of it as almost a one-bowl cake, I did just this and will never go back. Finally, just about everyone seems to agree that because the cake is exceptionally sweet, as it should be, the whipped topping doesn’t need to be. From here, I made the tres leches cake that will be my forever go-to, which means it’s time for the next dinner party, right?
* More Dinner Party Menus: In this new section, I’m building out some of my tried-and-tested dinner party menus from the archives. Included so far: Taco Party, Winter Dinner Party, A Little Fancy (with vegetarian swaps below), a Hanukah Party, Mussels and Fries (my go-to for inviting people over for that very night), and our summer favorite, a Ribs Fest. Check it out! [Dinner Party Menus]
My Favorite Hosting Tips: I wrote a short piece for New York Magazine’s The Cut about my entertaining “rules,” which also includes a second Moules Frites menu, the one from my cookbook. Check it out! [Smitten Kitchen’s Dinner Party Menu on The Cut]
Even More Hosting Tips: I contributed a few tips to Cup of Jo’s guide over here. [Dinner Party Tips on Cup of Jo]
One year ago: Decadent Hot Chocolate Mix and Gingerbread Biscotti
Two years ago: Cigarettes Russes Cookies
Three years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Four years ago: Nutmeg Maple Butter Cookies and Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs
Five years ago: Roasted Chestnut Cookies
Six years ago: Balsamic Braised Brussels with Pancetta, Cream Biscuits and Coffee Toffee
Seven years ago: Cabbage Apple and Walnut Salad and Dark Chocolate Tart with Gingersnap Crust
Eight years ago: Rugelach Pinwheels, Fennel Ice Cream and Ratatouille Tart
Nine years ago: Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Coffee Cake, Wild Mushroom Pirogis, Bourbon Pumpkin Cheesecake and Blondies, Infinitely Adaptable
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Picnic Pink Lemonade and Crispy Frizzled Artichokes
1.5 Years Ago: Nancy’s Chopped Salad and Coconut Brown Butter Cookies
2.5 Years Ago: Rhubarb Cream Cheese Hand Pies
3.5 Years Ago: Asparagus and Almonds with Yogurt Dressing and Strawberries and Cream Biscuits
4.5 Years Ago: Fudge Popsicles
Tres Leches Cake [Pastel de Tres Leches or Three Milk’s Cake]
This easily the most popular cake in Mexico, a vanilla sponge cake soaked with a mixture of three “milks” (sweetened condensed, evaporated and heavy or light cream) and topped with whipped cream. While sponge cakes can be made with or without butter, the butter-free ones that might be less enjoyable to eat plain (see: spongy and butterless) are perfect here because they drink the milks and become, IMHO, the highest calling of a sponge cake. Although tres leches cakes are supposed to be very sweet — it is tradition! — I cannot resist dialing back the sugar in the cake just a little. My two other tweaks are optional; if you have a fresh vanilla bean around, it’s exceptional in here. And, when I’m making this cake for a grown-up dinner party, I love adding 1 to 2 tablespoons dark rum to the three mix mixture. Want to fiddle even more with tradition? Replace the cream with coconut milk or eggnog, for a holiday riff. Some people like to add a little cinnamon or nutmeg to the whipped topping, but I never do.
Butter and flour for cake pan
1 3/4 cups (230 grams) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (30 grams) cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
6 large eggs, separated
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped from pods or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (250 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 ml) whole milk
1 (12-ounce or 340 grams) can evaporated milk
1 (14-ounce or 400 grams) can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) heavy or light cream (half-and-half)
1 to 2 tablespoons (15 to 30 ml) rum (optional)
2 cups (475 ml) heavy cream (for whipped topping)
2 tablespoons (15 grams) powdered or granulated sugar (for whipped topping)
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9×13 baking pan, or coat it with a nonstick cooking spray.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornstarch (together, these make “cake flour” without you having to buy it), salt and baking powder. If using a fresh vanilla bean, rub seeds into 1 1/4 cups granulated sugar to disperse them and help release the most flavor. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium speed until soft peaks form. With the machine still running, gradually add the sugar (vanilla bean-infused or plain) and beat on medium-high until stiff peaks form. If you haven’t used a vanilla bean, now add your vanilla extract and beat to combine.
Add yolks one at at time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add milk and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture, one-third at at time, folding in each addition gently by hand.
Pour batter in prepared pan and smooth top. Bake for 18 to 24 minutes, or until a tester inserted into cake comes out clean. Let completely cool in pan on a rack.
In a large bowl, preferably one with a pouring spout, whisk together evaporated milk, condensed milk and 1 1/2 cups heavy or light cream. Add rum, if using. Use a wooden skewer to poke holes all over cake. Pour all but 1/2 cup milk mixture over cake and transfer to fridge, giving the cake several hours but ideally overnight to soak it up. (Save last bit of milk mixture for serving.)
Before serving, beat 2 cups heavy cream with 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar until soft peaks form. Spread over top of cake.
Serve cake in squares, first pouring a little puddle of reserved three-milk mixture at the bottom of plate.
I’ve always been a little wary of commercialism here*; I don’t want to be yet another person telling you how to spend your hard-earned money or indicating in any way that there’s a correlation between buying fancy things and being a great cook. Nope, nope, nope. Because of this, we’ve only had one “gift” guide to date, a very basic one, a budget-minded kitchen starter kit populated with the stuff I find it hard to cook without; that was six years ago.
But, as you can imagine, I make a few kitchen- and cooking-related purchases a year. (Cough cough SPUTTER, don’t mind my husband over there; must be this dry air!) It goes with the territory; some of them consume me with regret and I want to shout from the rooftops my contempt for the baked good-ruining parchment paper, the mixers I’ve hated or the stupid pots and pans that never mentioned they weren’t dishwasher-safe (but I’ll behave). Others I want to write love letters across the sky to because either because they were such great investments from the kind of hard-won knowledge one picks up when they spend too much time in the kitchen, or made me exceptionally happy in an absurd way, and thus might make someone you know’s holiday. For something different, let’s dish about these today:
1. A perfect white casserole dish for every occasion:
I actually bought an extra one this year, which brought me to two of these. Two! In a tiny kitchen! This should tell you how perfect I find them. They’re the ideal balance of lightweight but sturdy; the sides are deep enough for your most ambitious lasagna and years in, mine look like the day I bought them. They’re total minimalists, so your cooking can shine like the star that it is. Plus, it’s so rare that the best in category stuff is also the best priced: let’s delight in it.
/ Amazon /
2. A not-quite-budget but endlessly adored cutting board:
I looked for years for the perfect cutting board, one that I hoped to keep forever or at least the next decade. When I saw this, I knew it was the one. Dead flat in a gorgeous black walnut, I love the rounded edges and that it’s sturdy but not so big and heavy that I can’t move it around (because in a small kitchen, the cutting board can’t take up permanent residence on the single counter). If you’ve been following the site, you probably see it in at least one photo a week.
Buying notes: I bought it from Heidi Swanson’s San Francisco-based Quitokeeto shop, but she’s longer stocking it. On a hunt to track them down for you, I realized that they’re a) actually made in New York less than 10 blocks from my apartment, b) at a store owned by Magnus Lundstrom, the craftsman’s, wife. Fortunately for everyone outside my below-14th Street bubble,
they also sell them at their online shop, and at least one other place online Lundstrom has since opened his own online store, updated link below. I have the large size in black walnut.
/ Magnus Lundstrom /
3. Dirt cheap, insanely sharp paring knives:
Yes, I realize I’m the last person on earth to buy these, but I finally did and whoa, why don’t I listen to people sooner? They’re insanely sharp, light and cheap. The blade takes forever to dull, something I can’t say for any other knives in my kitchen, and I ran mine all of three times over a knife sharpener and it was as sharp as new. It’s so nice not to dirty my big chef’s knives over tiny tasks.
Buying notes: These are available almost everywhere that kitchen stuff is sold, but to get you started:
/ Amazon 3.25″ & 4″ / Bed Bath and Beyond / Williams-Sonoma /
4. An Oreo-maker:
Please don’t run away, but I never understood the appeal of Oreos because the chocolate tasted so artificial to me. Who was fooled by this?! (My husband, my son, I know…) Then one day I bought a jar of black cocoa powder and it turns out it smells so intensely of Oreos that I doubt you’d know that it wasn’t the cookie if you inhaled with your eyes closed. Black cocoa powder is a super-dark Dutch-process cocoa (European-style neutral acidity, nuttier flavor cocoa) that’s extremely intense; a little goes a long way. But here’s the real black (heh) magic: in any recipe that calls for Dutched cocoa powder, you can swap all or part of it for black cocoa powder and it becomes infinitely Oreo-ish. It can get dangerous.
/ Amazon / King Arthur / Sur La Table /
5. Minimalist water carafes:
Evidence that I’m a terrible host: I inwardly groan when water glasses need to be refilled. A giant pitcher of water seems like the obvious answer, but can be unpleasantly heavy to pass down the table. I found my solution when I wasn’t even looking, on the table of Russ and Daughters Cafe a few weeks ago: slim, minimalist carafes, and hunted until I tracked them down. It turns out they’re made by a company named Libbey, which also makes my spice jars — no wonder I liked the look so much!
/ Amazon /
6. Simple glasses that I hope to be able to replace forever:
Over the years, we’ve bought a lot of glasses and, because we are human, broken most of them. Replacing them is never fun because few brands make the same glass patterns for years and years. One day I was at a coffee shop with a friend and by the water jug, they had these small pretty glasses and she exclaimed “just like we had at school growing up!” Setting aside the fact that French schoolchildren drink from actual glasses at lunch (sob), I had my “a-ha!” moment: if they’d been around for 30+ years, they’d hopefully be around for another 30. We bought several sets and replaced all of our glasses. Bonus: they are really hard to break! I mean, sure, we succeed, usually on the tiled kitchen floor, but I’m surprise how rarely they break when dropped on hardwood. Obviously, we must try harder!
Buying notes: Duralex Picardie glasses are sold almost everywhere kitchenware is. But, we found it helpful to get two 18-piece “starter” sets with 6 each of the 8 3/4-ounce 12-ounce and 16 7/8-ounce tumblers. Several years ago, we also bought 6 5 3/4-ounce and 6 7 3/4-ounce Gigone tumblers; the small ones were perfect for little toddler hands, the large became our favorite pudding and small dessert dishes.
/ Amazon / Duralex / Sur La Table / Chef’s Catalog /
7. A pancake lens (sadly, not an actual pancake):
Many of us have invested in DSLR cameras over the last 10 years, but not a lot of us enjoy actually schlepping them everywhere, and end up defaulting to the cameras on our phones instead. Sure, cameraphones have come a very long way but they’re not DSLRs. I spied the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 on Sprouted Kitchen’s gift guide last year, nudged the appropriate parties, received one from my husband last Hanukah and have used it most weekends since. Slim and lightweight, it’s called a pancake because it’s shorter than it is wide, barely protruding from your camera body, and it makes my camera so much more portable than the heavy glass 50mm f/1.2 I use for all the other photos on this site. If you know someone who dabbles in photography, this gift is a shoo-in for their new favorite thing. I have the 40mm, but just discovered the existence of the newer 24mm… shaking out the sofa cushions as we speak. 😉
/ Adorama / Amazon 40mm, 24mm / B&H /
8. Some cookbooks that inspire me:
I go through phases when all I want from a cookbook is practicality, i.e. tell me how to make dinner, tonight, basically about 20 minutes right now. And then I go through other phases when all I want is to live out my wanderlust, i.e. I have zero vacations on the horizon, let me daydream. Very rarely do they intersect — that is, inspire me to dream of farflung places in very practical ways. 2015 was a magical year in which five different books did this. I’m just beginning to cook out of them (2015 also being the year we added a new human to our family) but they’re making it very hard to wait much longer.
Amazon / 101 Easy Asian Recipes / Hot Bread Kitchen / Made in India / Near and Far / Zahav /
Indiebound / 101 Easy Asian Recipes / Hot Bread Kitchen / Made in India / Near and Far / Zahav /
9. Mild Sauce for Hot People:
Let your friends brag about how many chile peppers they can eat at once without bursting into flames. Does their hot sauce tell them what a babe they are? I didn’t think so. More seriously (because this is very serious stuff, of course), this hot sauce is rather mild, which is great for people like me who like a kick of heat on their eggs and tacos but in a moderate — some might argue, wimpy, to which I say, pbbbbblt — way.
/ Rancho Gordo / Mouth /
10. A waffle maker that respects your time:
I mentioned this earlier this year but it bears revisiting: I have lamented for years why I didn’t understand why waffle makers didn’t just come with removable plates. “Just wipe it out with a sponge!” you’ll say, but my last waffle maker had 360 channels and 240 keyboard-like bumps (you’d better believe I counted) and after last December’s sticky gingerbread waffles, I swore off waffles until I either stopped caring about whether I was cooking on truly clean appliances or found a model that valued time not spent cleaning as much as I do. I ultimately found two: the first is Cuisinart’s Griddler, for which you can buy additional waffle plates. Everyone seems quite happy with the product, and the system would have been perfect… had I desire or need for a Griddler. I bought the second one instead, a simple model from Hamilton Beach that has proven so easy to use and clean, our waffle intake has increased tenfold since. So, consider this a recommendation and a warning.
/ Amazon / (let me know if you see it somewhere else) /
* This is why I avoid sponsored posts and, as always, bought everything you see here.
One year ago: Jelly Doughnuts
Two years ago: Sugared Pretzel Cookies
Three years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Four years ago: Caesar Salad Deviled Eggs
Five years ago: Garlic Butter Roasted Mushrooms
Six years ago: Vanilla Roasted Pears and the 2009 Gift Guide, Build Your Own Smitten Kitchen
Seven years ago: Veselka’s Cabbage Soup, Brown Butter Brown Sugar Shorties and Spelt Everything Crackers
Eight years ago: Pear Crisps with Vanilla Brown Butter and Chicken and Dumplings
Nine years ago: Fettucine with Porcini and Potato Salad with Sherry Mustard Vinaigrette
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Saltine Crack Ice Cream Sandwiches and Strawberry Cornmeal Griddle Cakes
1.5 Years Ago: Pasta and Fried Zucchini Salad
2.5 Years Ago: Bowties with Sugar Snaps, Lemon and Ricotta
3.5 Years Ago: Broccoli Parmesan Fritters
4.5 Years Ago: Roasted Red Peppers with Capers and Mozzarella
Let’s talk about these waffles. As someone who has found my waffle nirvana twice now — first, in Marion Cunningham’s Essential Overnight Waffles and a second time when I finally got Liège Waffles right at home — you might wonder why am I still making new waffle recipes. The problem with the other two is that they expect you to be a person who plans ahead. I am not. Like a lot of people in 2014, I was charmed by Mimi Thorrisson’s first cookbook, but it was her …
For the last seven Christmas Eves, I have made the gingerbread cake Claudia Fleming made famous during her time at Gramercy Tavern. The first year, I was so excited about it that I made it twice, first, for the holiday and then so I could tell you all about it because I think we all know that a Deb-fitted torture chamber would be me making some awesome cooking discovery and not being able to run to the internet to tell you about it immediately.
But every year after that, it’s given me a hard time. At first, I shrugged it off — a chunk stayed behind in the pan, I pasted it back on and showered the cake with an extra blizard of sugar “snow.” Two chunks stayed behind, we teased it for its lopsidedness while eating it with no-less-diminished vigor. But it didn’t get better from there. I assumed it was my greasing technique; maybe this cake was no match for my beloved Baker’s Joy? I doubled-down on the buttering and the flouring and was rewarded with the cake equivalent of a gap-toothed 6 year-old. I did the same but gave it 20 minutes to set in the freezer; it mocked my efforts. I switched to the Crisco my mom swears by for pan release; the hungry hungry bundt still ate a third of the cake. I questioned the half-life of factory-applied nonstick coating, but it was hard to ignore that the same coating was mighty effective at releasing other cakes. Finally, I pulled in the big guns, this mix of shortening, oil, and flour many more talented bakers than myself swear by; the situation was so bad that year, I had to make this cake at the last minute instead.
This is where the story arc demands a resolution. Here is where I’m supposed to say “But here’s what finally worked!” This is America! We like happy endings. Alas, as I’ve run out of solutions, I’ve instead changed vessels. Down with bumps and notches; down with shapes that do not allow for the ultimate in cake-release security, a layer of parchment paper. Up with celebratory layer cakes! Poured thin, sandwiched with whipped mascarpone cream, stacked high and a little messy and crowed with the festive-est berry tiara, we still get to eat our favorite gingerbread cake on Christmas Eve and the only chunk of gingerbread that isn’t going to make it to the table this year is that plated wedge up front. We’ll blame the elf.
One year ago: Deep Dark Gingerbread Waffles and Fairytale of New York
Two years ago: Linzer Torte and Breakfast Slab Pie
Three years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Four years ago: Parsnip Latkes with Horseradish and Dill
Five years ago: Broiled Mussels and Spicy Gingerbread Cookies
Six years ago: Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce, Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes and How to Host Brunch (and Still Sleep In)
Seven years ago: Cranberry Vanilla Coffee Cake, Sausage-Stuffed Potato with a Green Salad, Seven-Layer Cookies, Grasshopper Brownies, Potato Pancakes, Even Better
Eight years ago: Austrian Raspberry Shortbread and Slice-and-Bake Cookie Palette
Nine years ago: Pecan Squares, Boozy Baked French Toast and Zucchini Latkes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Herbed Summer Pasta Bake
1.5 Years Ago: Frozen Coconut Limeade
2.5 Years Ago: Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream
3.5 Years Ago: Cold Rice Noodle with Peanut-Lime Chicken
4.5 Years Ago: Rich Homemade Ricottaand Linguine with Pea Pesto
Gingerbread Layer Cake with Whipped Mascarpone Cream and Sugared Cranberries
Adapted from Claudia Fleming (cake), Nancy Silverton (stabilized cream) and My Recipes (sugared cranberries)
This recipe makes three thin cake layers. As most of us have 2 cake pans, at best, you could also make it into two thicker cake layers, giving it a little more baking time. Or, you could do as I did, which is to hold the last bit of batter in a bowl until the first layer comes out and can be unmolded. It holds up just fine at room temperature for an hour. You’ll have up to 1 cup more whipped cream than you’ll need; you can make a little less or just keep the rest in a jar for another dessert. The cream stays stable due to the added mascarpone, although that was my preference and creme fraiche or sour cream are usually what’s recommended. (Read more about why here.) Finally, the sugared cranberries are something I auditioned at the last minute for the first time so I’m hardly an expert (but hope to be, in two or three bags); you’ll want to start them the night or day before. You’ll have way more than you’ll need; the rest make pretty gifts, festive treats or can be scattered on plates when serving.
1 cup (200 grams) plus 1/3 cup (65 grams) granulated sugar
1 cup water
1 cup (100 grams) fresh cranberries
1 cup (235 ml) oatmeal stout or Guinness Stout
1 cup (235 ml) dark molasses (ideally, not blackstrap)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3 large eggs
1 cup (190 grams) packed dark brown sugar
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (150 grams) vegetable or another neutral oil
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of ground cardamom
2 cups (475 ml) heavy or whipping cream
6 tablespoons (45 grams) powdered sugar
1/2 cup (115 grams) mascarpone
Make sugared cranberries: Bring 1 cup granulated sugar and 1 cup water to a gentle simmer (not a full boil) on the stove, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and add cranberries. Pour mixture into a bowl and let syrupy cranberries chill in fridge overnight, or at least 8 hours. The next morning, drain cranberries (you can reserve syrup for soda or sweetening cocktails). Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a bowl and roll cranberries in it. Arrange them on a tray or plate and refrigerate for another 45 minutes to an hour, so that the sugar sets. (They’ll feel mostly dry to the touch.)
Make the cake layers: Heat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour, or use a nonstick spray to coat three 9-inch round cake pans (see note above re: if you have fewer) and line the bottom of each with a fitted round of parchment paper.
Bring stout and molasses to a boil in a large saucepan and remove from heat; whisk in baking soda carefully — it will foam up. Cool to room temperature.
In a large bowl, whisk together sugars and oil. Whisk in eggs, then whisk in cooled stout-molasses mixture. Place dry ingredients in a fine-mesh sieve or sifter and shake over bowl. Stir until just combined.
Divide batter into prepared cake pans; you’ll have about (updated!) a scant (bit less than) 2 cups or 515 grams of batter in each. Bake for 18 to 22 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out batter-free. Cool in pan on rack for 5 minutes, then flip out onto cooling rack, carefully remove parchment paper (it’s sticky) and flip back right side-up, letting each layer cool completely. You can hasten this along outside (if it’s cold) or in the freezer.
Make whipped mascarpone cream: Beat heavy cream and powdered sugar in a large bowl with a whisk or electric beaters until soft peaks form. Beat in mascarpone, one spoonful at a time, just until it disappears into the cream.
Assemble cake: Place first cake layer on cake stand and level top with a serrated knife if it has domed. Spread with 1 cup whipped mascarpone. Repeat twice, then smooth sides. Decorate with sugared cranberries. Serve immediately, or keep refrigerated until needed.
Fully preoccupied with coming up with fun new shapes for my favorite cookie a few weeks ago, I went deep into a YouTube cooking show rabbit hole and emerged somewhere in France, where a twisted pastry that goes by the name tarte soleil stopped me in my tracks, and zipped itself right to the top of the Must! Cook! Now! list.
It looks like it would take tweezer-level pastry cheffing to pull off, or at least some advanced mathematics. You’d imagine that this recipe would begin with a bracket of instructions labelled “Day One:” and you’d close the tab immediately. But you, like me, be forgetting that most French home cooking is remarkably simple (intentionally leaving the souffles and quenelles for the white tablecloth-ed establishments) and if you can find puffed pastry worth eating in the freezer case and leave it in the fridge overnight, you could be bringing this to a party an hour later. Trust me, I leave everything to the last minute and still got this out of the oven and digitally recorded with available light before the sun set at approximately 3:22 p.m. yesterday.
Which is the other reason this, to me, is the fitting-est thing to make this week as it’s both great party food (you get to grab those radiant beams by the crunchy ends and sweep them through a bowl of whipped lemony feta before chomping down, yess) and an upbeat celebration of the sun itself, which as of last week’s solstice, we’re finally going to see more of again as we tilt towards the light.
One year ago: Roasted Grape and Olive Crostini
Two years ago: Gingerbread Snacking Cake and Rum Campari Punch
Three years ago: Fromage Fort
Four years ago: Cinnamon Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs
Five years ago: Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies and Milk Punch
Six years ago: Spinach and Cheese Strata and Pear Bread
Seven years ago: Braised Beef Short Ribs
Eight years ago: A Blue Cheese Iceberg Wedge and Robert Linxe’s Chocolate Truffles
Nine years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Chocolate Chunk Granola Bars and Oven Ribs, Even Better
1.5 Years Ago: Cherry Almond Dutch Baby
2.5 Years Ago: Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw and Peach and Pecan Sandy Crumble
3.5 Years Ago: Triple Berry Buttermilk Bundt and Chopped Salad with Feta, Lime and Mint
4.5 Years Ago: Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes
Feta Tapenade Tarte Soleil
Inspired by a whole bunch of YouTube videos; the feta dip is from Ina Garten
I texted a picture of this to a friend yesterday and she said her husband “thought it was chocolate was getting in the car to come over” which seems like a good time to note the obvious: you could fill your puffed pastry sheets with anything you desire, so long as it’s spreadable and not too runny. On the savory end, I made a pesto-tapenade-ish blend of sundried tomatoes (because the 80s are back), kalamata olives, oregano and garlic and a dip of whipped feta that you could not possibly go wrong with. For a more subtle flavor, basil pesto or another garlic-herb paste, plus or minus some sharp cheese, this walnut pesto or pretty much anything else you can dream up would likely work well here too. Should you want to make a sweet version, perhaps jam, Nutella, melted chocolate, almond or another nut paste, and a sprinkling of cinnamon-sugar or chopped nuts (with or without a puddle of dark chocolate ganache to dip it in) might be fun places to start.
My puffed pastry packages were 1 pound each; my usual favorite brand (DuFour) comes in 14-ounce packages; if yours, too, are smaller, you’ll probably only get a 10 to 11-inch round out of it and might have a tablespoon or two of filling leftover. Btw, I added 1 tablespoon parsley leaves to my filling for color, but as is barely noticeable and added little flavor, you can absolutely skip it.
1/2 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/3 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves; thyme and rosemary would work too
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil or reserved oil from tomatoes, plus more to loosen if needed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes to taste
2 packages puffed pastry (leave in fridge overnight to thaw)
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)
1 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds to sprinkle (optional)
6 ounces feta, crumbled
2 ounces cream cheese, cold is fine
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Coarse or kosher salt, to taste (changed from 1/2 teaspoon, which could be overkill if your feta is very salty)
Freshly ground black pepper
Make the filling: Blend ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped and spreadable. Mixture will be thick. You can thin it with more olive oil if needed, but no need to make this thin like a sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste. Set aside.
Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Assemble the tart: Roll first package puffed pastry flat on a large piece of parchment paper or reusable baking mat into a 12-inch circle; use a 12-inch round plate or bowl to mark the size for a clean cut. Repeat with second dough, setting one aside in the fridge until needed.
Place first round on a parchment- or nonstick mat-lined baking sheet. Spread with filling to all but 1-inch from edge. Dab edges with water and place second round on top. Set a small glass upside down in the middle. Being careful not to cut through parchment paper or baking mat, cut away from glass (i.e. not through center) in quarters, or at the 3-, 6-, 9- and 12 o’clock marks. Cut through each quarter again, making 8 strips, and again, making 16 strips, and one last time so that you have 32 “rays” of pastry emanating from the center. If at any point in the cutting the pastry feels annoyingly soft and hard to cut, just pop the tray in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it back up.
Remove glass. Place finger near center of each ray (where it is most likely to break off prematurely) and gently twist each strand a few times. Beat egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water; brush it over pastry and sprinkle with seeds, if desired.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown all over.
Meanwhile, make whipped feta dip: Blend all filling ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place in bowl for dipping.
Remove tart from oven, let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes then transfer to a serving platter. Tear off rays of sun, dip in whipped feta; repeat as needed.
I closed out 2014 somewhat exasperated (and quietly anxious and queasy because I was first trimester-ing this bunny) that I had so much I’d wanted to cook and tell you about that year but couldn’t fabricate the time. Then I added a new tiny wonderful human to the mix and needless to say, the song has not changed. So, I’m going retune it. It’s better to have too many ideas than too few, after all, I’m sure there will be a time when these kids don’t call (sob) and the apartment is finally clean and organized and there are no items left on my tumbling to-do list when I’ll maybe even miss the chaos the chaos of feeling like I was barely keeping afloat. Plus, seriously, this was such an unquestionably excellent year, from impending babies, actual babies, missing front teeth, a new weekly digest newsletter, and even crazy milestones, like the 1000th recipe on this site (my favorite cocktail, go make yourself one, I’ll wait). How could I want to change a thing?
Most Popular Smitten Kitchen Recipes of 2015: Savory
- mushroom marsala pasta bake
- my ultimate chicken noodle soup
- obsessively good avocado cucumber salad
- tomato and fried provolone sandwich
- baked chickpeas with pita chips and yogurt
- oat and wheat sandwich bread
- oven-braised beef with tomatoes and garlic
- broccoli cheddar soup
- perfect corn muffins
- zucchini rice and cheese gratin
- spaghetti pangrattato with crispy eggs
- cornmeal-fried pork chops + smashed potatoes
- caramelized onion and gruyère biscuits
- takeout-style sesame noodles with cucumber
- herbed summer squash pasta bake
- fake shack burger
Most Popular Smitten Kitchen Recipes of 2015: Sweet
- pecan pie
- salted chocolate chunk cookies
- the ‘i want chocolate cake’ cake
- key lime pie
- carrot graham layer cake
- butterscotch pudding
- salted peanut butter cookies
- liège waffles
- black bottom oatmeal pie
- pull-apart rugelach
- very blueberry scones
- cannoli pound cake
- crispy peach cobbler
- strawberry cornmeal griddle cakes
- the browniest cookies
- chocolate chunk granola bars
I’m excited about 2016. It’s the year (I’m writing it here, so you all better hold me to it), I’m going to start reading books again, and not just The New York Times, The New Yorker and every terrible thing anyone has ever linked to from Facebook. And it’s the I’m going to finally finish the next Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, the one that’s been bumping about in my head for way too long. What’s on your agenda? May I suggest you mull it over with some chocolate sprinkled pretties on hand?
My mother-in-law has often told me that her coworker makes the best rum balls for their holiday party. Yes, rum balls, that holiday party staple from the 1960s, things that we thought went the way of bellbottoms and turtlenecks under dinner jackets. I figured they were just a giddy little way for people who need their booze cloaked in layers of sugary dessert to hit the sauce, and thus were not my thing until she plopped one in my hand week and I had to hold myself back from eating three more. Guys, please let’s make these a thing again.
Of course, I ended up mashing her recipe up with one that had caught my eye from Melissa Clark. Clark uses chocolate cookie crumbs instead of the usual vanilla wafers and bourbon instead of rum, which I think we already knew I was going to. Her recipe uses honey instead of the usual corn syrup, but I couldn’t resist using molasses because the flavor is so grand against that chocolate and bourbon. As I’ve already sung the praises of black cocoa powder once this month, I’ll spare you, but I couldn’t resist slipping it in here because things are the pitch of Oreos are always more welcome than things that are not.
The result is like a sip of bourbon, a brownie and a chocolate truffle ran away together, and rolled in the shimmery sprinkly deep, are 100% more dressed up for a party that I’ll manage to be by 8 p.m. tonight. Plus, they’re no-bake and keep exceptionally well (and even get better with age, should they be ignored long enough to actually rest, i.e. I suspect this theory has never been tested); I’m so taken with the brilliance of these retro treats, I’m wondering what else we should be reconsidering from the 1960s in the new year. Pillbox hats, definitely.
More New Year’s Eve Party Snack Ideas: Over here.
More New Year’s Eve Cocktail Ideas: Over here.
Fudgy Bourbon Balls
Adapted from Melissa Clark
Makes about 42 with a 1 tablespoon scoop
2 1/2 cups chocolate cookie crumbs or about 260 grams chocolate cookies
1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted and cooled
1/2 cup bourbon
1 cup powdered sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 tablespoons honey or molasses
Sprinkles, sanding or coarse sugar, additional chopped nuts, extra cookie crumbs or coconut to roll balls in
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse together the cookies, whole or already in crumbs, and pecans until the nuts are finely ground. In small dish, whisk together the bourbon, powdered sugar, cocoa and honey until smooth. Add to the food processor bowl and pulse until just combined.
Set aside at room temperature, uncovered, for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or up to 4 hours, to give the crumbs a chance to absorb the liquid and become more fudgy and easier to roll.
Scoop dough into about 1-inch or 1 tablespoon-sized balls and roll them in toppings of your choice. The balls can be stored at room temperature or in the fridge. If at room temperature, you can leave them covered for more moisture or uncovered if you like them with more of a crust. Balls will keep for as long as you can hide them from people.
Notes: I’m going to do a little Q&A with the comment section that lives in my head. 🙂
- Can I make these with gluten-free cookies? Probably.
- Can I make these without nuts? There are many nut-free rum ball recipes on the web to get you started, or, I’m sure you can fudge these a bit with extra crumbs to balance the missing nuts.
- Can I make these without alcohol? Absolutely, in fact, I made 1/3 of these (the ones with colored sprinkles) with apple juice. Other liquids that might work, should you not have a 6 year-old who would be rather infuriated if sprinkle-covered balls of chocolate were given to everyone but him as your intended audience, coffee, strong black tea, a favorite juice, etc.
- Nabisco Chocolate Wafers are impossible to find! Yes, they are. There’s always Amazon, but those prices are insane. A bodega in my neighborhood sells these Leibniz chocolate cookies, which I used instead, but of course any plain chocolate cookie will do. This sound insane, but for a homemade option, the cookie portion of these Oreos is unbelievably easy to make in the food processor and you could have them going into the oven 15 minutes from now, with the bonus of have a surplus of excellent chocolate sugar cookies when you’re done.
- That’s a lot of booze, Deb! Yes, it is. My MIL’s uses more like 1/4 cup for a pleasant kick of spirits. This is more assertive, although my testers assured me, not unwelcome. Should you wish to halve it, you’ll want to hold back on the cookie crumbs to adjust. Start with half and add more until you get a good thick consistency.
- Where’d you get those sprinkles? I showed exactly zero restraint on my most recent trip to NY Cake and Baking on 22nd Street. This was the result.
- Can’t I just roll these in powdered sugar, as the original recipe suggests? In my opinion? No. The result was damp and slippery and would need to be re-rolled on the regular to keep a pretty finish. Go with something with more texture and it will hang on longer.
Although I am firmly of the belief that the internet needs another recipe for chicken crockpot chili like your groggy narrator needs another morning of her mini-humans rousing her before 6 a.m., when I went to make my own one night, I was dissatisfied with what I found. It wasn’t because recipes out there weren’t good, or well-reviewed and certainly not because they hadn’t made countless other people out there content at mealtimes, but because they weren’t what I was looking for. And, well, as that’s how we got here in the first place, it seems appropriate enough to step into the year 2016, the year this website turns ten, not fighting this at all.
While I’m hardly aspiring towards the Texas Gold Standard of chile con carne — chunks of beef, lots of chiles, and ftlog, no beans — I think there’s something to a fairly straightforward, excellently-seasoned chili. I could overlook the instant tapioca, jars of salsa, cinnamon, chocolate, onion powder, garlic powder, taco seasoning mix and celery on the front page of Google’s results that might be someone’s thing, just not mine, but I kept getting stuck on one point: if we’re going to run the slow-cooker for 5 or 10 hours, or simmer a chili on the stove for 3, why start with canned beans? Dried beans are more economical, more flavorful and will plump up splendidly in either of those cooking times without any presoaking nonsense.
And so I had to fiddle up my own recipe. I made a hasty pot of chicken chili in the hazy newborn days this summer because I hadn’t then or now shaken this obsessive need to only consume meals that can be eating on or with tortillas, and everyone declared it the best dinner in a long time. I hadn’t expect this; it was food for convenience, for ease — mustn’t it then taste like compromise?
The leftovers were grand, too, and from there, I couldn’t stop. When my husband had to go to Germany for work in November and I was quietly fur-reaking out over how I was going to single parent when I am barely cut out for coparenting most days, I set up another pot and boom, two nights of wholesome dinner were set. I made it a few weeks ago when Thanksgiving pies were weighing heavily on our midsections, and I made it again yesterday when we’d finished off the weekend’s potato kugel and baked Lorraine-ish omelet and oh-god-don’t-even-find-out-how-good-these-are-they’re-just-going-to-ruin-everything sticky bun brunch and were, at last, all set on butter and cream for a while. Did you hear that? Eight times we’ve had this in two months, and we’re not even tired of it yet. I hope you find this equally worthy of repetition.
One year ago: Popcorn Party Mix and My Ultimate Chicken Noodle Soup
Two years ago: Parmesan Broth with Kale and White Beans
Three years ago: Carrot Soup with Tahini and Crisped Chickpeas
Four years ago: Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze and Carrot Soup with Miso and Sesame
Five years ago: Chard and White Bean Stew
Six years ago: Parmesan Cream Crackers and Walnut Pesto
Seven years ago: Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread and Pizza with Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Onions
Eight years ago: Caramel Cake and 2008’s 96 Favorites
Nine years ago: Hazelnut Truffles, Gougeres and Russian Tea Cakes
And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Green Beans with Almond Pesto
1.5 Years Ago: Blue and Red Berry Ricotta Galette
2.5 Years Ago: Slow and Low Dry-Rub Oven Chicken
3.5 Years Ago: Flag Cake
4.5 Years Ago: Skirt Steak with Bloody Mary Tomato Sauce
- 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken parts, cut into 3 to 4 large chunks (I use a 50/50 mix of breasts and thighs)
- 1 small yellow onion, chopped small
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 tablespoon ground cumin
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
- Heat via 1 to 2 jalapenos or other fresh hot pepper, minced, or a ground chili powder of your choice, to taste
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted if you can find them or 2 10-ounce cans Ro-Tel (yield is a little less but not noticeable in final chili)
- 2 2/3 cups small dried beans (I use half black beans, half small red beans; I do not presoak but do read the updated note up top; read the note at the bottom if you’re using kidney beans)
- 5 1/3 cups water (can replace all or part with broth)
- To serve: Lime wedges, sour cream or Mexican crema, finely chopped white onion or thinly sliced scallion, chopped cilantro, corn or flour tortilla chips, and hot sauce
- On the stove: Simmer the ingredients on low until the beans are tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Stir occasionally.
- In a slow-cooker: On HIGH for 4 1/2 to 5 hours or on LOW for 8 to 10.
- In an InstantPot or electric pressure-cooker: At high pressure for 30 minutes; manual release works fine. This is the cooking time for small beans (small red and regular black beans, which are small). If you’re using beans that are larger, you might need 35 minutes.
To finish: The chicken will likely have fallen apart, but you can help it along by reaching into the pot with two forks and shredding it to your desired texture. (For a pressure cooker, this is barely necessary; you can break up the chicken with the back of a spoon.) Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with fixings of your choice.
P.S. We like this with baked tortilla chips. I estimate two small corn tortillas per person and cut them into 8 wedges. Brush a large baking sheet lightly with olive oil, arrange tortilla wedges in one layer, lightly dab the tops with more olive oil and sprinkle with fine salt. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, check for color, and add more baking time as needed until they’re golden and crisp.
Troubleshooting: It sounds like a some people are having trouble getting their dried beans to cook in the suggested times. I’m so sorry for the trouble. I tested this with different beans (Rancho Gordo and also Goya brand) and in different slow-cookers (an ancient one from Farberware and another from Proctor-Silex) and never had trouble; I’m beginning to suspect my slow-cooker is more robust than others in heat. This is little consolation to those of you with crunchy beans.
So, to troubleshoot: If you’re worried or have had trouble in the past getting dried beans to cook in a reasonable amount of time in your slow-cooker, go ahead and soak them overnight first. But, I want you to soak them in the 5 1/3 cups of water and then use that water — which is now full of flavor — in the slow-cooker. This will also allow you to have the right liquid level at the end, since it will be impossible otherwise to know how much water your beans absorbed and adjust the recipe accordingly.
A note about kidney beans: I do not use kidney beans here, but small red ones, and I do not presoak my beans however if you are using red kidney beans, do keep in mind that due to a protein known as phytohaemagglutinin the FDA advises people who wish to use kidney beans in slow-cookers to first soak the beans for at least 5 hours, dump the water, boil them in fresh water for 10 minutes and then continue with the recipe. As your beans will have soaked up more liquid before they go in, you will find you need less to cook them in for the final chili. In terms of how freaked out you should be over kidney beans, from the FDA website: “Reports of this syndrome in the United States are anecdotal and have not been formally published.” And that this was mostly a concern reported in the last 70s in the UK.