Tonight's no-brainer dinner, more famous cookies, PBS therapy
Greetings eaters and readers! What is happening? Today’s no-recipe recipe of the day is this old favorite quinoa bowl you’re looking at above, and I’d be willing to bet you have all the ingredients you need for it in your kitchen right exactly now. The gist is: Quinoa topped with steamed spinach, caramelized onions, a drizzle of soy sauce and a 7-minute egg. Vegetarian. Protein-packed. Easy. Fast. Any other questions? What else? Loved this round-up of Food & Wine’s Biggest Food Trends of the past 45 years. (How many do you remember?) On Splendid Table, Twin Cities chef Gavin Kaysen (Spoon & Stable, Bellecour, Demi) talks to Francis Lam about his new cookbook At Home, a compilation of accessible recipes he developed on pandemic-era zoom cooking classes. And I’m still shook by Kevin Roose’s interaction with Microsoft’s new chatbot, Sydney, that went to a very dark place very fast — you can also listen to Roose tell the story on the Daily. Finally, I love you, Seattle! Herewith, at long last, sound the trumpets: Three Things I’m excited to tell you about this week…
If you enjoy Dinner: A Love Story, consider becoming a paid subscriber. You’ll be part of the conversation (thanks for that, friends!) and also have access to dinner party plans like this classic which has completely taken off….all part of my secret mission, Operation: Connecting on Autopilot, mmmwwahhhh
1. Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies
We had our friends Jodi and Fred over for dinner on Saturday, and didn’t cook a thing. It was a last-minute plan to get together, so we didn’t want to bother with scrambling for Saturday night reservations, or even turning on the stove for that matter, so we ordered takeout (a few falafel platters and spinach pies from a local Middle Eastern spot) and sat around the fire, eating hummus right from the plastic container. The only homemade moment was a good one, though: Maida Heatter’s famous Mexican chocolate icebox cookies, which I’ve been making for decades. They’re good to have in your 11th-hour back-pocket because they don't require any fancy ingredients, but I love watching people take a bite for the first time because the spike of cayenne, cinnamon, and black pepper always blows their minds. I baked them during dinner, and we ate them warm with good, cold milk. (Locals: from Fable Market.)
Maida Heatter’s Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies
They are famous enough that I feel like I can reprint the recipe here (Heatter let me publish them in my first cookbook Dinner: A Love Story, that’s how important they are to me.)
1 1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (brand recs)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) sweet butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
Sift together the flour, cocoa, salt, pepper, cayenne and cinnamon and set aside.
Cream the butter in a mixer bowl and mix in the vanilla and sugar. Beat in the egg. Gradually add the flour mixture; periodically scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Shape the dough into an oblong shape, about 10 inches wide and 2 inches in diameter.
Wrap the dough in wax paper and freeze until firm a minimum of 2 hours.
Baking the cookies: Preheat oven to 375°F. Unwrap the dough, place it on a cutting board and with a sharp knife, cut into slices 1/4 inch thick. Place 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 to 10 minutes. The cookies are done when they feel firm to the touch — better to undercook them a little than the opposite. Since they are dark, it’s easy to overbake them. Let cool on a rack. Store in an airtight container.
2. Things to Memorize in the Kitchen
For the longest time I’ve wanted to put together a little booklet called something like “Ten Cooking Techniques You Should Memorize to Make Your Life Easier in the Kitchen.” (I know, just rolls off the tongue!) I find that cooking is just so much more pleasant when you’re not bobbing back and forth between the stove and your phone or a cookbook, so much more pleasant when you have a sense what a 1/4 teaspoon looks like instead of having to break out a measuring spoon to confirm it. This builds on itself: When cooking is more pleasant, we tend to want to do it more frequently. This is a long way of saying that the first recipe you’d find in my mini manifesto would be simple roasted chicken pieces — the kind that you want to shred to add to soup (chicken orzo, shown up top) or…
…toss into a salad or pot pie or mix with herbs and mayo for a chicken salad sandwich or whatever else. Until I struck on a roasting method that easily, consistently delivers tender, flavorful shreds, I cooked my chicken differently every time — poaching it or pan-frying it or just buying a supermarket rotisserie number. But once I committed this method to memory, I never went back. Here’s the how-to:
Add two split bone-in chicken breasts to a rimmed cookie sheet and pour in 3 tablespoons of water. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then tent loosely with foil. Bake at 375°F for 45 minutes. Remove and let cool, then shred the chicken with two forks. You should have about 2 cups of chicken.
Memorize it! There will be a quiz next week.
Extra credit: For homemade chicken stock: Take the leftover skin and bones, throw into a pot with an onion, carrots, celery, salt, pepper, bay leaf; cover with water and simmer for 2-3 hours.
3. Rx: All Creatures
My taste in TV tends to lean in the darker direction — like the rest of the world, I’d list Breaking Bad and The Sopranos, and maybe now even Succession, as my all-time favorite series. But last year, when we were going through a rough stretch with family health issues and didn’t want a single extra minute of stress in our lives, we discovered All Creatures Great and Small, the 2020 PBS series based on the James Herriot books from the 70s. Andy once described the experience of watching the show as if he’s “stepping into a warm bath.” As you likely know, it’s about a veterinarian living in the storybook-stunning fictional town of England’s Darrowby (filmed in the Yorkshire Dales) leading into World War II, and maybe it’s just that I’m used to Logan Roy telling me to F-off all the time (iykyk), but All Creatures, with its puppies and ponies and “poppycock” being the most offensive word to come out of anyone’s mouth, it feels more like therapy than entertainment. (Just listen to the music in this little food montage if you need more convincing.) The latest season just wrapped up this week and I already miss it. Please suggest more along these lines!
Have a great week!
Thanks as always for reading — have a great week!
The Durrels of Corfu is along the same lines. I watched it after my dad died a few years ago and it was such a balm.
If you can find it, Detectorists has a lot of those warm bath qualities! All Creatures is going on our watch list.