Greetings eaters and readers! Today I’d like to lead off with this week’s edition of “Please Try This At Home.” Reader Martha J. sent me the photo you’re looking at above, a lovingly annotated page from my first book, Dinner: A Love Story. Every time she cooks my back-pocket risotto, she makes a note of the date, who she cooked it for, and anything else that her future self might want to know, such as “After a visit with baby Spencer!” (My guess is that Martha was also the kind of kid once who circled every word she looked up in the dictionary.) As she emailed: “I've had [the book] since it came out and my kids were little (they are 17 and 16 now!) Every time I make one of your recipes, I note where, why, when, who....and it brings me great joy to reflect on which points in my life I turn to your cookbooks.” Let the record show, it brings me great joy, too! Will everyone please start doing this with all your cookbooks, not just mine? Thank you for listening to my Ted Talk. Here are your Three Things…
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1. Dinner Tonight
I’ve been experimenting with mushroom soups for my next book, and for some reason I haven’t been able to come up with one that looks appetizing — they always end up gray-ish. So I texted my friend Jenn: Have you ever made a mushroom soup that is not hideously ugly? Jenn knows from things like mushroom soup — unlike me she’s been a vegetarian most of her life, at least since her senior year in high school — and her reply put me right in my newbie vegetarian place: A link to Moosewood’s Hungarian Mushroom Soup. (Why is the answer always Moosewood?) She’s right — the paprika and the béchamel brighten up the whole picture, and it was filling and flavorful and now officially in the rotation. It’s such a perfect March vegetarian dinner, especially when rounded out with a salad.
For Your Chicken Dinner Consideration this evening…
It’s been too long since I’ve sung the praises of my one-pot Chicken-Artichoke-Orzo number, so there’s that! There’s also Chicken and Vinegar, which is a little more involved, but, well, I might argue it’s worth it; and the perennial crowdpleaser Pretzel Chicken with Honey-Mustard Sauce and Tortilla Soup with chicken, but we’ve swapped in hominy lately and it is, as they say, good enough for government work.
2. Dressing Everlasting
Allow me to introduce you to my favorite salad dressing. It has a little Dijon in it, some sugar, some white wine vinegar…or wait, is it balsamic? Or maybe it’s just a fresh squeeze of lemon juice? Just kidding, it’s actually all three, and don’t ask me for the measurements of each ingredient, because I don’t know. What I do know is that I’m always so grateful to see the not-quite-depleted cup in my refrigerator — too little for another salad, but too much to throw away. Don’t ask me to explain the logic behind this, but why is fleshing out a quarter cup of dressing so much easier than starting from scratch? I don’t even attempt to remember what the original dressing was made with. I’m only sharing this habit with you in case there are people out there who’d like to untether themselves from strict recipe following. This kind of “dressing everlasting” is a good way to teach yourself how to wing it. (Or, of course, you could just memorize these five go-tos.)
3. Spring Book Report
I am working from my Southern outpost this week because the girls are on break from college, and we thought we’d kickstart spring with a little sunshine and pleasure reading. Here’s the quick book report: Marlena, by Julie Buntin. Says Abby: “Very mysterious, about a 17-year-old girl who moves to nowheres-ville, Michigan and befriends a neighbor who is a terrible but exciting influence. It hooked me right away.” Jia Tolentino’s essay collection Trick Mirror is basically always on the coffee table, and might be approaching Catcher in the Rye territory in our house for most re-reads by Phoebe. (FYI: Tolentino also wrote a must-read in this week’s New Yorker about obesity drugs.) Two of Abby’s college friends are visiting as well — Frankie is reading Educated (no summarizing necessary for this one, I assume!) and Sydney headed in the psychological suspense direction, reading an advance copy of of Emma Cline’s The Guest, coming out in May. (Perks of visiting a book editor’s house, I suppose.) Everyone in my family except me has already read that one and won’t shut up about it, so just assume you’ll hear more details in May. As for me, I absolutely loved Writers & Lovers, by Lily King, about a flat-broke writer dealing with her mother’s sudden death and a string of failed relationships. Casey, the narrator, is flawed, messy, lost, anxious, and completely lovable.
I have a feeling that for the rest of my life, this time of year — mid-late March — I will always be thinking of the early days of the pandemic. The fear and confusion, but also the togetherness and cooking. My iphone reminded me of this showstopping Yellow Layer Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting recently, which my family presented for my first quarantine birthday, and I thought I’d re-up it here, in case you are celebrating something soon. Even if that something is just good health and fortune.
Thanks for reading,
So glad to see someone else's copy of Dinner: A Love Story with a broken spine, pages falling out, etc. My copy is so loved that it falls open to the ragu page or the sausage-white bean-kale soup page depending on how I ease the book onto the countertop, and I bet you could get a sense of how a recipe will turn out by licking a couple of the aforementioned pages. A beloved and useful book!
Way back when I had a blog I posted the recipe…