charred cauliflower quesadillas

Last week* I mentioned that we’d been on a big breakfast-for-dinner spree this winter, less out of a noble desire for inexpensive, balanced, wholesome meals and more because scrambling eggs at the last minute allows us to go all the way to 15 minutes before dinner to come up with an idea for it, which is meal-planning equivalent of the heavens opening up and glorifying all of my late-afternoon lethargy at last.

The other kick we’ve been on since the beginning of the year is passing off anything we can put in, on, or near a tortilla as dinner, leading to a steady rotation our go-to fajitas, beef tacos, black bean tacos and, in a mash-up of both the breakfast and tortilla benders, scrambled egg tacos. Many of you asked “how” I got my son to eat such foods as scrambled eggs and tacos, and while I’m tempted to take credit for it (“it’s the rainbow of local organic produce and definitely not the daily succession of pb&j sandwiches I ate while he was in the womb!”) it would be dishonest when it’s been more due to random outside influences. The grandmother of one of my son’s classmates brought in warm — warm! freshly cooked! how I long to be a kindergartener most days! — quesadillas for snack a few weeks ago, and it’s all he’s talked about since. Plus, since it fit into our all-tortillas-all-the-time meal plan, I set about finding a way to pass it off as dinner.

If we’re being honest, it got two cranky thumbs down from the kid** but we adults loved them so much, we are placing this in the permanent rotation and think you should too. First, char a mild-to-hot pepper or two and while it’s steaming its way out of its skin, cook a head of cauliflower at a blistering high heat in a big skillet and until your smoke alarm maybe goes off (sorry) and it’s equal parts tender, crisp and totally worth it. Mix this with the pepper, scallions, lime juice, salt and an unholy amount of shredded cheese, fry it between two small tortillas, make a lazy slaw (or whatever your salad of choice is) and wonder why you’re not eating “taco grilled cheese” (the kid’s words, not mine) for dinner more often. Seriously, why aren’t you? I think you should fix this tonight.

* before I lost a few days work when an unfortunate interaction between my laptop and a glass of water taught me some Very Important Life Lessons about file storage, p.s. you are owed banana pudding.

One year ago: Garlicky Party Bread with Cheese and Herbs and Fennel and Blood Orange Salad
Two years ago: Pasta and White Beans with Garlic-Rosemary Oil
Three years ago: Cheddar, Beer and Mustard Pull-Apart Bread
Four years ago: Mushroom and Farro (or Barley) Soup
Five years ago: Edna Mae’s Sour Cream Pancakes and New York Deli Rye Bread
Six years ago: Flaky Blood Orange Tart and Warm Butternut Squash and Chickpea Salad
Seven years ago: Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree and Candied Grapefruit Peels
Eight years ago: Icebox Cake

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Three-Ingredient Summertime Salsa and Blueberry Crumb Cake
1.5 Years Ago: Banana, Nutella and Salted Pistachio Popsicles and Charred Corn Crepes
2.5 Years Ago: Zucchini Rice Gratin and Pink Lemonade Bars
3.5 Years Ago: Sugar Plum Crepes with Ricotta and Honey

Charred Cauliflower Quesadillas

Poblanos are very mild hot peppers. You could use fewer or swap them with a small bell pepper for less heat, or swap one or both with a hotter jalapeño or other chile for more heat.

Yield: 6 quesadillas, serves 6

2 small or 1 large fresh poblano chiles
1 small head cauliflower, cored and cut into rough 1-inch chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking quesadillas
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon lime juice
2 cups (about 8 ounces) coarsely grated monterey jack cheese
12 small (7-inch) flour tortillas

Char peppers: Over a gas burner turned to high, hold the poblanos over the flame with tongs and char them until they are black and blistered all over. Alternatively, you could do this under a broiler, turning them frequently for even blistering. Transfer hot chiles to a bowl and cover tightly with foil. Set aside to steam and let their skins loosen while you cook the cauliflower.

Char cauliflower: In a large bowl, toss cauliflower with 3 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper, until it’s evenly coated. Heat your largest heaviest frying pan over high heat until almost smoking, add cauliflower, and let it cook until each piece has a few black spots but is not mushy, turning and moving it frequently to ensure even cooking. This will take 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer florets to cutting board to rest.

Mix filling: When poblanos are cool enough to handle, peel the charred skin off with your fingertips or a paring knife. Pull out and discard stems and seed clusters, and slice peppers into 1/4-inch wide strips. Add to cauliflower on board and give both a rough chop together, reducing the cauliflower to no bigger than 1/2-inch chunks. Return cauliflower and peppers to the large bowl, add scallions, lime juice and salt to taste. You should have about 2 cups of cauliflower filling.

Assemble and cook quesadillas: Lay out 6 tortillas and spread 1/3 cup cauliflower filling and 1/3 cup shredded cheese to each. Place second 6 tortillas on top as lids. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Once hot, coat lightly with olive oil and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook quesadillas until browned underneath, about 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully a flip — a large, thin spatula like my favorite kind helps here — and repeat on the second side. Repeat with remaining quesadillas.

To serve: Cut quesadillas into wedges and serve with your choice of fixings. Two of my favorites are below.

Cumin-Lime Crema

1/2 cup sour cream or Mexican crema
A few gratings fresh lime zest
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of salt

Combine, adjust seasonings to taste, and serve alongside quesadillas.

Lazy Taco Slaw

1 bag coleslaw mix or (as used here) 3 cups finely shredded red cabbage and 1 coarsely grated carrot
Coarse salt
Juice of half a lime
2 scallions, sliced thin
A dollop of mayonnaise, sour cream or plain yogurt
A dash of hot sauce (optional)
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves

Toss cabbage mix, salt and lime together in a large bowl; set aside for 5 minutes. It will shrink down a bit. Stir in scallions, then mayo and hot sauce. Adjust seasonings/ingredients to taste, then stir in cilantro leaves. Serve alongside quesadillas or any of your favorite tortilla-clad meals.

caramelized onion and gruyère biscuits

We’ve been on a huge breakfast-for-dinner kick this winter and while I’d like to tell you it has been triggered by earnest, respectable inclinations such as the fact that scrambled eggs, toast, and whatever vegetables or citrussalad we can scrounge up from the fridge for dinner is budget-minded, high in protein, fairly balanced and wholesome, the truth is that it’s been mostly about laziness. Once we figured out that our kid would now not only eat scrambled eggs but be excited to see them on the table [although, let’s be honest, doubly so if he can also talk us into freshly squeezing orange juice or a few slices of bacon], a whole world of unplanned dinners were opened up to us. We now can go all the way to 15 minutes before dinner to come up with a plan for it, which for me is meal-planning equivalent of the heavens opening up and glorifying all of my late-afternoon lethargy. I knew this day would eventually come!

It’s also led to all sorts of diversions, usually in the quickbread department. Last week, I unearthed a recipe for caramelized onion and gruyère biscuits — that’s right, the butter, buttermilk and baking soda equivalent of French onion soup — I’d bookmarked last year and couldn’t find a single reason not to make them once I realized that they’d be a pan of eggs and a small salad away from a completely respectable weeknight dinner. Nobody warns you about this, but sometimes the problem with ostensibly passing as an adult is that there’s nobody there to question you when you decide everyone can eat biscuits for dinner.

I regret nothing. These are as amazing as you’d expect from something with diced bits of cheese that trickle out during the baking time and occasionally land in crispy frico puddles on the baking sheet. The onions are dark, sweet, intense, and briefly soaked in buttermilk before winding themselves through the biscuits. And although these make excellent breakfast or breakfast-for-dinner companions, they’d also be wonderful alongside the kind of hearty winter meal — Dijon and Cognac Beef Stew or Mushroom Bourguignon, anyone? — this blizzard brewing outside will require, nay, demand.

Some biscuit/scone kin: My Favorite Buttermilk Biscuits, Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits and Jalapeno-Cheddar Scones

One year ago: Homemade Dulce de Leche and Cheese Blintz
Two years ago: Intensely Chocolate Sables
Three years ago: Potato Chip Cookies
Four years ago: Roast Chicken with Dijon Sauce
Five years ago: Ricotta Muffins and Mixed Citrus Salad with Feta and Mint
Six years ago: Bittersweet Chocolate and Pear Cake and Chicken Milanese and an Escarole Salad (still a favorite meal, both parts)
Seven years ago: Leek and Swiss Chard Tart and Key Lime Cheesecake
Eight years ago: Pasta with Sausages, Tomatoes and Mushrooms and Sweet and Spicy Candied Pecans

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Bourbon Slush Punch (mid-January Bourbon Snow Cone Punch, anyone?)
1.5 Years Ago: Mama Canales-Garcia’s Avocado and Shrimp Salsa
2.5 Years Ago: Zucchini Bread Pancakes
3.5 Years Ago: Corn, Buttermilk and Chive Popovers

Caramelized Onion and Gruyère Biscuits
Adapted just a tiny bit from Alyce Shields at the late Pronto by Bar Bambino in SF, via Tasting Table

I made a few small changes to the original recipe, which you can see above. I halved the sugar, skipped the honey altogether, prefer to caramelize onions my own way (I find a lid in the initial stage helps the final outcome) and do better with a 1-inch vs. 1.5-inch dough, but otherwise found these to be pretty much perfect the way they were originally made. I froze half and will let them thaw for a bit before baking them, the next time the urgency strikes.

Yield: 10 3-inch (big!) biscuits

9 tablespoons (127 grams) cold unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small onions, halved and thinly sliced
2 3/4 cups (345 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon (15 grams) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon coarse or kosher salt
4 ounces (about 1 cup or 115 grams) gruyère or another Swiss-style cheese in 1/2-inch cubes
1 cup buttermilk (or make your own)
Flaky sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon butter and add olive oil. Add the onions, reduce the heat to low and place a lid on top, letting them steam for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid and continue to cook the onions, stirring occasionally, until they’re deep brown about 10 to 20 more minutes. If, for whatever reason, your onions need more time, up to 10 minutes more, don’t fret, they’ll only be more delicious for it. (Mine took a total of 22 minutes, but my stove at the lowest setting is closer to what I’d call medium, so things cook/brown too quickly.) Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl or the workbowl of a food processor, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Dice 8 tablespoons remaining cold butter into 1/2-inch bits. If proceeding by hand, use your fingertips or a pastry blender to work the butter into the flour mixture until the mixture is crumbly with butter in pieces no larger than a small pea. If proceeding in a food processor, add the butter and pulse the machine in short bursts until you get the same texture, then transfer the butter-flour mixture back to a medium bowl.

Stir in diced cheese. Pour buttermilk over cooled onions and stir to combine. Add buttermilk-onion mixture to bowl and stir until combined. It’s going to seem a little dry and will help to use your hands to knead it together a few times in the bowl; don’t worry if a couple floury spots remain. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and roll out to a 1-inch thickness. Use a floured 3-inch cutter to stamp out circles and space them apart on prepared baking sheet. Gather the scrap and re-roll them as needed. Sprinkle biscuits with sea salt and pepper and bake until the scones are deep golden-brown and the cheese is melted and bubbly around the edges, 20 to 23 minutes.

Eat warm. They’re best on the first day, but if any survive it, they will taste better re-warmed on day two.

fried egg salad

Did you fall in love with The Crispy Egg? Did you, too, find yourself obsessed with the crackly lacy edges, the potato-chip like crisp underneath, the souffled egg whites, and the high melodrama of all of that hissing and sputtering? Did you go on a Crispy Egg Bender? Come, sit down. You’re among friends.

This is the next chapter in the crispy egg saga. It was intended for the next day, but I mistakenly got distracted with chicken pot pies, chocolate babka and fall-toush salads instead — my priorities are whack, I know. It came into my life when I went on the hunt for something more interesting to do with egg salad. I mean, traditional egg salad is oh-kay (although I prefer my take on it, with coarse dijon and bits ‘o pickled celery) but given all of the magical, wonderful ways you can cook and consume eggs, don’t you think the category of egg salad really ought to contain more clever intrigues than, say, curry powder and jarred mayo (shudder)?

I found exactly what I never knew I was looking for in the Pok Pok Cookbook I’d purchased that month, unable to resist the (worthy) hype any longer. Here, the aforementioned crispy egg is flipped and fried again, until the yolks are cooked but still “molten” and the whole thing is a golden shattery cloud. Meanwhile, prep a salad — greens, onion, carrots, celery and cilantro are suggested but there’s no reason not to add or subtract items you already have around. And look, I realize at this point you’re probably thinking, “Okay, Deb, it’s a fried egg and salad. Are we really going to make such a big deal out of this?” I get it. I’d think the same. But I haven’t told you about the dressing yet, excuse me, the sizzling dressing. The mere suggestion of the ingredient combination — lime juice, fish sauce, chiles, garlic, hold me — was enough to stop me, and every dated, mayo-inflected notion of what egg salad could be, in my tracks. Poured over this salad and rough-chopped crispy eggs while still hot and tossed just enough to slightly wilt it, to be honest, I think I wilted along with it. It’s that good. It wants to be your dinner tonight.

Also new: Yesterday, on the sporadically-updated Tips blog, I walked you through making your own vanilla extract. It’s insanely simple and budget-friendly, and so good, there’s no going back to store-bought. [Make Your Own Vanilla Extract]

One year ago: Warm Lentil and Potato Salad
Two years ago: Lentil Soup with Sausage, Garlic and Chard
Three years ago: Buttermilk Roast Chicken
Four years ago: Chocolate Peanut Spread
Five years ago: Cranberry Syrup + An Intensely Almond Cake and Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Six years ago: Mushroom Bourguignon and Smashed Chickpea Salad
Seven years ago: Fried Chicken
Eight years ago: Leek and Mushroom Quiche and Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Grilled Peach Splits + News! and Summer Squash Gratin with Salsa Verde
1.5 Years Ago: Hot Fudge Sundae Cake
2.5 Years Ago: Peach Pie
3.5 Years Ago: Charred Corn Tacos with Zucchini-Radish Slaw

Fried Egg Salad [Yam Khai Dao]
Adapted, just a little, from the Pok Pok Cookbook

I made several liberal interpretations here. I used readily-available celery, not Chinese. I used less than one chile because my husband declared it “plenty hot” only to find that we might not have minded the second one, since the other dressing ingredients mellowed it a lot. If you’ve got palm sugar and want to make palm sugar simple syrup (here’s the recipe online), you absolutely should, but I just used 1 tablespoon water + 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar instead. Finally, the salad is supposed to be tossed at the end in a hot wok with the dressing you’ve made, but I found pouring the hot dressing over the salad and tossing it to be an acceptable substitute. It only lightly wilted the ingredients, my preference. For the to-the-letter version, plus an almost unfair amount of delicious inspiration in one place (hello, fish sauce wings, papaya salad and grilled corn with salty coconut cream), I cannot recommend the cookbook enough.

Serves 2 to 6 4 (as part of a larger meal), but it also makes an excellent single-serving meal for a hungry human

Eggs
2 large eggs, at room temperature
Enough vegetable oil to reach a depth of 1/4-inch

Salad
1 cup lightly-packed torn green leaf lettuce (approximately 2-inch pieces)
1/4 cup thinly sliced yellow onion
1/4 cup thin or julienned carrot strips
1/4 cup coarsely chopped celery, Chinese or other, include leaves
1/4 cup lightly packed coarsely chopped cilantro, thin stems and leaves

Dressing
1 1/2 tablespoons lime juice (Key limes are recommended, but don’t fuss if you can’t find them)
1 1/2 tablespoons palm sugar simple syrup [see Note up top] or 1 tablespoon water + 1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons (1 large clove) very thinly sliced garlic
2 fresh Thai chiles, preferably green, thinly sliced (more or less to taste)

Fry eggs: Heat a wok or small skillet over the highest heat. Once hot, add enough oil to reach a depth of a generous 1/4-inch. Once the oil is hot enough to smoke, carefully crack the eggs into the oil — cautiously, as they will splatter a lot — and decrease the heat to medium-high. The eggs will hiss, sputter and the whites should puff and develop translucent bubbles. Once they’re very crispy and a deep golden brown underneath, 45 seconds to 1 minute, use a thin spatula to flip the eggs, trying not to break the yolks but not fretting if it happens. Cook for another minute on the second side, until the yolks are set but still slightly molten (aim to have them a little less loose than mine, shown above). Transfer eggs to paper towels; you can cook them up to 15 minutes before serving. Discard oil and wipe out wok or skillet.

Assemble salad: Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl. Quarter the eggs through the yolks and add them to the salad.

Make the dressing: Place the lime juice, palm syrup or dark brown sugar and water, fish sauce, garlic and chiles in the same wok or skillet. Set it over medium heat and heat the mixture until it just begins to sizzle at the edges, less than 30 seconds.

Finish and serve: Pour the hot dressing over the salad and eggs. Stir gently to combine. If you’re feeling fancy, transfer the salad, liquid at all, to a plate in a low heap. Eat at once.

key lime pie

January, as far as I’m concerned, is a pretty mediocre month. The holiday party tinsel-and-bubbly frenzy of November and December is replaced with hibernation and Netflix binges. The charming first and second snowstorms pass and the ones that follow are met with more of a really? it’s snowing again? Squarely between Christmas and mid-Winter break, it’s too early in the season to be so weary of the cold, but here I am, counting down the days until the hi/bye gloves can literally come off.

Fortunately, just when I’ve resigned myself to thinking it’s going to be as beige and bleak going forward as the paragraph above, January — as if implicitly understanding that it’s going to have to sell itself harder — presents us with a luminous ray of tropical sunshine packaged as citrus fruit. I become obsessed. This ridiculous thing I bought five years ago as everyone around me tut-tutted that it would never earn its keep is put into overdrive as we conduct methodical studies of the pros and cons of cara-cara vs. blood orange vs. pink grapefruit vs. tangerine juice. (Spoiler: they’re all amazing.) Citrus is as good as everything else about a biting cold sleeting day is bad.

Predictably, it doesn’t take us long to graduate from wholesome pursuits such as freshly-squeezed juice and citrus-studded salads (such as these) and onto more urgent matters: pie. There is something about key lime pie that, to me, easily trumps lemon meringue or even the most buttery caramel blood orange tart and that thing is sweetened condensed milk, which is unquestionably the manna of the canned food aisle. Thick, creamy and halfway to dulce de leche, it protects you from the harshness of the lime juice without taking away any of its tart-fragrant charm. Add a salt-flecked buttery graham cracker crust and a raft of whipped cream on top — did I mention you can have this whole thing made in well under an hour? — and I only want to know why we don’t have this around more often. Or, as my friend Claire Zulkey said best, “I never know it’s what I wanted until I’m eating it.” \


One year ago: Pear and Hazelnut Muffins
Two years ago: Gnocchi in Tomato Broth
Three years ago: Buckwheat Baby with Salted Caramel Syrup
Four years ago: Baked Potato Soup (with the works!)
Five years ago: Black Bean Soup with Toasted Cumin Seed Crema
Six years ago: Light Wheat Bread and Clementine Cake
Seven years ago: Chicken Caesar Salad
Eight years ago: Pancakes, Frisee Salad and English Muffins and Artichoke Ravioli with Tomatoes

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Easiest Fridge Dill Pickles
1.5 Years Ago: One-Pan Farro with Tomatoes
2.5 Years Ago: Bacon Corn Hash
3.5 Years Ago: Raspberry Ricotta Scones
Plus, since it’s popsicle season where you are: Both last week’s Butterscotch Pudding and this week’s Key Lime Pie have popsicle equivalents in the archives. Make them and send sweltering thoughts our way, please.

Classic Key Lime Pie
Adapted somewhat liberally from the version at Joe’s Stone Crab in Miami, where I am not

Every key lime pie recipe agrees that a can of sweetened condensed milk is the king of ingredients. From there, they diverge. Some use more lime juice, some less. (I use 2/3 cup for a nicely tart filling; use only 1/2 cup if you’re more wary of the tartness of limes.) Some use more egg yolks, some use less. (I find I only need 3 for a good set and flavor, but you can go up to 5 if you’d like something extra-rich.) Not all insist that you whip your yolks until they’re pale and ribbony, but it makes for a lovely final texture and I think is worth it.

Most importantly, despite the name, you don’t need key limes to make this. I mean, if you can get them, please do. They’re wonderful. But I made this, as I often do, with regular grocery store Persian limes and it’s no less dreamy with them.

Crust
1 1/2 cups (155 grams) finely ground graham cracker crumbs (from about 10 crackers)
3 tablespoons (40 grams) granulated sugar
2 pinches sea salt
7 tablespoons (100 grams) unsalted butter, melted

Filling
1 1/2 tablespoons finely grated lime zest
3 large egg yolks (though extra-large would do you no harm here)
1 14-ounce (396-gram) can sweetened condensed milk
2/3 cup (155 ml) fresh lime juice (from about 1 dozen tiny key limes or 4 persian/regular limes)

To Finish
3/4 cup (175 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 to 2 tablespoons powdered or granulated sugar, to taste

Heat oven: To 350°F (176°C).

Make crust: Combine graham crumbs, sugar and salt in a medium bowl and stir until mixed. Add butter and stir until crumbs are evenly coated. Press crumbs into the bottom and up the sides of a standard 9-inch pie dish. I like to use the outer edge of a heavy measuring cup to press in neat, firm sides but nobody will be the wiser if you just use your fingertips. Bake crust until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set on cooling rack while you prepare filling. Leave oven on.

Make filling: Zest limes into the bottom of a medium bowl until you have 1 1/2 tablespoons. Beat zest and egg yolks with an electric mixer until pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Add sweetened condensed milk and beat until thickened again, about 3 minutes more. Squeeze zested limes until you have 2/3 cups juice. Whisk into yolk mixture until combined. Pour into graham crust and bake pie for another 10 minutes, until set but not browned on top at all. Let pie cool completely before adding topping — you can do this outside (thank you, January!) or even in your freezer (but don’t forget about it) to hasten the process, and your pie reward, along.

Make topping: In a medium bowl, beat cream and sugar until soft peaks are formed. Spread over top of chilled pie. Ideally, pie should be chilled at least another 2 to 3 hours with the cream on top so that it can fully set before you take a slice, but whether that happens is between you and your pie.

Key lime pie keeps in fridge for a week, though certainly not around here.

Mushroom marsala pasta bake

Over the last couple years — a dark time in which I’ve slowly had to accept that my once-tiny baby with fairly simple needs now required real square meals at very specific times of the day, such as dinner, far earlier than we ever do and that he’d likely be looking to me (me!) to provide them or face the hangry consequences — I’ve attempted to increase my repertoire of two things: 1. Dinners that can be made easily in under an hour that I actually want to eat, and 2. Casseroles. No, no, I don’t mean the canned cream of soupiness things. I mean, the idea of taking disparate meal parts and baking them in a big dish until they’re much more than the sum of their ingredients. Plus, they’re dinnertime magic: they reheat well; they make excellent leftovers for as long as you can stretch them; and they rarely require anything more on the side than a green salad (for grownups) or steamed broccoli (for people who haven’t yet come around to salad). Long Live The Casserole Rethought With Minimally Processed Ingredients! is hardly a sexy catchphrase, but there you have it: my new battle cry.

In the first category, Alex’s Chicken and Mushroom Marsala from 2008 in the archives became a favorite again in 2013 when I began making it much more quickly with thigh cutlets. Within the second, I’ve been trying as best as I can to reimagine baked pastas into dishes that are less of a cheese-valanche and more of an insanely good flavor assault with a sizable portion of vegetables within. (See also: Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella and our previous house favorite, Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage).

On Sunday, these two dishes collided deliciously as I attempted to take my favorite part of chicken marsala, that incredibly rich, intensely flavored mushroom sauce, and tangle it with al dente noodles, mozzarella and a crunchy parmesan lid to make a baked pasta that became instantly our new favorite. Seriously, if you come over for dinner this winter, prepare to be served this. This couldn’t be further from the jarred red sauce, grainy ricotta, overcooked-to-collapse ziti most of us associate with baked pasta and it’s not sorry at all.

Casserole-type dishes, previously: Green Bean Casserole with Crispy Onions, Broccoli, Cheddar and Wild Rice Casserole, Baked Eggs with Spinach and Mushrooms, Spinach and Cheese Strata, Baked Orzo with Eggplant and Mozzarella, Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs and Baked Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Sausage. Plus, one of my favorites from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is a Wild Rice Gratin with Kale, Caramelized Onions and Baby Swiss. [New! Smitten Kitchen Casserole Category]

Unrelated: Out of curiosity, as ’tis the season and all, how long does it take you between “thinking you might be getting sick” and “admitting that you are really, actually sick?” I mean, I guess we all should all know from life thus far that the key to returning to the Land of the Fully Functioning and Unmiserable is to make this gap is as narrow as possible, so you can get on with the bone broth/day sleeping/Good Wife bender portion of your illness and hasten recovery along, but we rarely do it, right? Because it might sort out on its own? But for the first time ever, I narrowed this gap to a mere 36 hours this weekend and when a doctor told me Saturday afternoon that I had not, say, swallowed razor blades but caught strep throat (again, seriously), I actually wanted to high-five myself because as completely terrible as it feels, it’s curable. Antbiotics fix it. And, lo, by Sunday afternoon I was not only high-functioning enough to decide out of the blue to Old English all of our furniture (my husband thinks they may have accidentally laced my meds with Domesticity), I was hungry and eager to cook again. This, specifically. Pasta: A friend to achy throats, hurrah.

One year ago: Three Cheers for Chicken Pho
Two years ago: Gnocchi in Tomato Broth
Three years ago: Apple Sharlotka
Four years ago: Pizza with Bacon, Onions and Cream
Five years ago: Barley Risotto with Beans and Greens and Poppy Seed Lemon Cake
Six years ago: Squash and Chickpea Moroccan Stew and Almond Vanilla Rice Pudding
Seven years ago: Crunchy Baked Pork Chops and Pickled Carrot Sticks
Eight years ago: World Peace Cookies

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Brownie Ice Cream Sandwiches
1.5 Years Ago: Grilled Bacon Salad with Arugula and Balsamic
2.5 Years Ago: Bacon Corn Hash
3.5 Years Ago: Whole Wheat Raspberry Ricotta Scones

Mushroom Marsala Pasta Bake

Prep time: 30 minutes, tops
Cook time: 30 minutes, tops
Servings: 4 really generous or 6 slightly more moderate ones
To serve a crowd: Double it in a 9×13-inch or lasagna pan

1/2 pound (8 ounces or 225 grams) pasta of you choice, such as a ziti or twisty shape
1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
3/4 pounds (340 grams) fresh mushroom, sliced (I used pre-sliced cremini, my new favorite thing)
1 small-to-medium yellow onion, halved and sliced thin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup (60 ml) dry marsala wine (see notes at end for more information)
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups (355 ml) stock or broth (chicken, vegetable or mushroom)
1/2 cup (50 grams) finely grated parmesan cheese
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

A tip: If we play our cards right here, this can be made entirely in one dish. I used a 4-quart Staub braiser (Happy Hanukah to me!) but any 3-to-4 quart stovetop-to-oven type dish will work.

Cook the pasta: Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes before perfect doneness. Drain and set aside.

Heat oven: To 400 degrees.

Make the sauce: Reheat your empty pasta pot over high heat. Add oil and once it is hot, add mushrooms and cook until they’ve begun to brown and glisten, but have not yet released their liquid. Reduce heat to medium-high, add onions, salt and pepper and saute together until the liquid the mushrooms give off is evaporated. Add Marsala and cook mixture, stirring, until it has almost or fully evaporated (depending on your preference). Add butter, stir until melted. Add flour, and stir until all has been dampened and absorbed. Add stock, a very small splash at a time, stirring the whole time with a spoon. Make sure each splash has been fully mixed into the butter/flour/mushroom mixture, scraping from the bottom of the pan and all around, before adding the next splash. Repeat until all stock has been added. Let mixture simmer together for 2 minutes, stirring frequently; the sauce will thicken. Remove pan from heat.

Assemble and bake dish: If you’re cooking in an ovensafe dish, add cooked pasta and stir until combined. (If you’re not cooking in an ovensafe dish, transfer this mixture to a 2-quart baking dish.) Stir in half the parmesan, all of the mozzarella and two tablespoons of the parsley until evenly mixed. Sprinkle the top with remaining parmesan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until edges of pasta are golden brown and irresistible. Sprinkle with reserved parsley and serve hot. Reheat as needed.

A bunch of notes:

  • Why marsala? Because it’s the Pantone Color of the Year 2015! More seriously, Marsala is a fortified wine from Sicily with a deep, complex flavor. It comes in dry and sweet versions; for savory dishes, use the dry. (For zabaglione, use the sweet. And invite me over.) It shares some commonalities with Sherry and Madeira, which aren’t exactly substitutes, but would also taste good here. You can buy dry Marsala it at wine shops inexpensively. I find that mine keeps open in the fridge for a year, but I have a feeling wine experts are grimacing. Seriously, though, ours still tastes for cooking great very long after it’s been opened and that’s all I need to know.
  • We don’t consume or cook with alcohol: Here’s what I’m not going to say, “But the alcohol cooks off!” as most recipes will tell you because it, yes, it largely/mostly does, but not completely. Since I’m cooking for a mixed-age family, I cook mine down to nonexistence (I’m after the flavor, not a nap, though naps = swoon, you know?) but I know that many people will not want to use it at all. And you don’t have to. This dish will still be incredibly delicious without it. If you’re looking to try something clever/delicious in a different way, you might rehydrate a few dried porcinis in 1/4 cup boiling water. Remove them, chop them find and add them to the other mushrooms for a louder mushroom flavor. Then, strain the porcini soaking liquid to remove any sand/grit, add 1 teaspoon sherry or red wine vinegar and use this instead of the Marsala for a little extra flavor oomph.
  • If it weren’t me making this: You might add some diced cooked chicken to the final baking portion. I personally am incredibly put off by chicken in pasta dishes, but seriously this is no time to start opening the terrifying large can of Implausible Things Deb Doesn’t Like.

Butterscotch pudding

One of my worst cooking traits is that when I get frustrated with a recipe, it can take me years to get back to it. I mean, I’m theoretically too old to be having tantrums, kitchen or other, but there’s no other way to describe this behavior where I get frustrated, throw my jangly measuring spoons in the sink and huff off to gaze at jeans I could probably fit half a thigh into, which is how I mope.* Sure, you could just say that I need a little space, a break, it’s-not-you-it’s-me from the recipe so I can gain some perspective, and consider other approaches but six years? That is how long it’s been since I last attempted to share a recipe for old-school, dead-simple butterscotch pudding from scratch which refused to set. A six-year tantrum. (Fine, I snuck some pudding pops in there, but it’s so cold today, I cannot even look at them.)

There’s a reason butterscotch pudding is a classic, and no, and I don’t mean custard or pastry cream with 6 egg yolks and over a quarter-pound of butter. I don’t mean mousse, with all of those egg yolks, twice the butter and also egg whites and heavy cream. I don’t mean budinos, flan or any of the other luxurious jiggly desserts we order in restaurants. I mean, butterscotch pudding, the kind a grandmother would make with just milk and a little thickener, like the kind that comes in a box but will never, ever taste as good as this.

I know food writer types are always trying to tell you how “easy” and “quick” things are to make — we’re always trying to get you out of the kitchen, aren’t we? — but butterscotch, the buttery brown sugar, vanilla and sea salted counterpart to white sugar caramel, really, truly is. Melt some butter, add brown sugar and let it bubble a little, then add salt and cream, finish with vanilla and you’ve got a dessert sauce from the gods. Stovetop butterscotch pudding uses this same process, adds a little thickener and then milk instead of cream, although you can use some of both if you’re a resolution-snubber. It sets in cups in the fridge, looking rather beige and suspect. But you don’t eat it for its looks. You eat it because there is more dynamic flavor compressed into single spoonful than you’re going to get from even the best scoop of ice cream. It’s rich and toasty, faintly buttery, comforting and unlike most butterscotch desserts, not tooth-achingly sweet. It’s something of a midwinter miracle.

But where’s the scotch? Would you believe that butterscotch, in the classic confectionary sense, doesn’t have scotch in it? I mean, I’m not saying butterscotch sauce and scotch (or rum, or bourbon) would taste bad together, but the name is misleading. Wikipedia says that the origin might be “scorch” (for heat) or “scotched” cut into squares, like the candy) instead.

Puddings, previously: Best Chocolate Pudding, Chocolate Pudding Pie, Coconut Tapioca Pudding with Mango, Vanilla (Bean) Pudding, Vanilla Custards with Roasted Blueberries, Caramel Pudding, Baked Pumpkin and Sour Cream Puddings, Almond-Vanilla Rice Pudding, Arroz Con Leche, Silky Decadent Old School Chocolate Mousse and Yogurt Panna Cotta with Walnuts and Honey

One year ago: Coconut Tapioca with Mango
Two years ago: Ethereally Smooth Hummus
Three years ago: Apple Sharlotka
Four years ago: Vanilla Bean Pudding
Five years ago: Caramel Pudding
Six years ago: Potato and Artichoke Tortilla and Fig and Walnut Biscotti
Seven years ago: Goulash and Lemon Bars
Eight years ago: Really Simple Homemade Pizza and Balthazar’s Cream of Mushroom Soup

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Sticky Sesame Chicken Wings
1.5 Years Ago: Slow-and-Low Dry Rub Oven Chicken
2.5 Years Ago: Blackberry Gin Fizz
3.5 Years Ago: Flatbreads with Honey, Thyme and Sea Salt

Butterscotch Pudding
You can make this pudding even more rich by swapping 1/2 cup of the milk with heavy cream. Read to the end for a dairy-free coconut version.

Cook time: 10 minutes plus 1 to 2 hours to set in the fridge
Yield: 6 1/2-cup servings or 8 petite ones (I love these glasses for tiny hands and also puddings). The photos here show a half-batch of pudding.

2 tablespoons (30 grams) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (95 grams) dark brown sugar
Several pinches of sea salt (I use a scant 1/2 teaspoon of flaky Maldon salt)
1/4 cup (30 grams) cornstarch
3 cups (710 ml) whole milk
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the brown sugar and reduce heat to medium-low. Let it heat and bubble for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Don’t let it smoke or burn, which brown sugar is always very eager to do. Reduce heat to low. Add salt and cornstarch, stirring until combined — it’s going to look like a thick paste. Switch to a whisk and add the milk in a thin drizzle, whisking the whole time, so that no lumps form. Once all of the milk is added, you can switch back to a spoon. Cook over low to medium-low, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a gentle simmer. Let it simmer for a full minute, stirring, it should clearly thicken at this stage, although it will finish thickening in the fridge. Off the heat, stir in the vanilla extract. Divide into glasses or pudding cups and let chill in fridge for 1 to 2 hours, until set.

Those decorations on top: A dollop of whipped cream and chocolate crunchy pearls. I highly recommend the dark chocolate ones (you can get them from Callebaut, Valrhona and a few other brands); they’re so much more delicious and fun to eat than chocolate sprinkles. I highly recommend that whatever you do, you never try the beige ones, which are made from Valrhona’s Dulcey Chocolate, their in-house take on salted, caramelized white chocolate. I regret ever discovering it. Trust me, the safest thing is to never find out how good it is.

Variation: Coconut Butterscotch Pudding: Okay, I realize that making butterscotch without butter is of questionable logic. But, I did it anyway, using coconut oil instead of butter, and canned full-fat (and well-shaken) coconut milk for the milk above, yielded a totally dairy-free pudding. The result is something distinctly delicious, a little darker and more translucent in color than the dairy version, with a nuttier butterscotch flavor. Don’t skimp on the salt here.

Popcorn party mix

Let me get the possibly obvious out of the way: I, Deb Perelman, unapologetically, shamelessly, unwaveringly love Chex Mix. Sure, the last time I made it to the letter I was in high school and decided to have a party where we’d invite boys too (yes, I was as cool in high school as you’d expect) and it seemed so strange to me, this aggressive mix of steak sauce, spices and butter, but holy moly was it good.

So, let’s not pretend this is anything but a Smitten Kitchen homage to this beloved mix — which I’m sorry to reveal, did not bring all of the boys to my yard, er, parents’ wood-paneled living room. These days, I make it a little differently. At some point, the Chex cereal became popcorn, not because I don’t like crispy crunchy magically woven pillows of corn, wheat and rice cereal, but because I love popcorn that much more. I add nuts, pretzels and something cracker-y to it. And then, as should surprise exactly nobody, I brown the butter for extra toasty depth. I add some mustard, in both Dijon and powdered English mustard formats; smoked paprika, because it completes me, and sometimes a tiny bit of dark brown sugar too. I tend to make massive amounts of it and

…Hide it from myself. I can’t be around it. I’ve tried again and again but it never works. It always leads to awkward dinnertime conversations like “Why aren’t you hungry, mommy?” and then I have to lie to my sweet, impressionable child and tell him it’s because I ate too much broccoli at snack time

So, do the right thing: make this and bring it to a party, preferably at someone’s apartment, far from the clubby madness below. Think about what a weird — here might be some grievances, but even I cannot stand the sound of me complaining — but also wonderful year it’s been — a new Smitten Kitchen! a new book on the (distant) horizon! and maybe even a redesign at last! — with, I hope, an even better one ahead. Cheers to you, friends. This wouldn’t be any fun without you.

More New Year’s Eve Snack Ideas: Over here.
More New Year’s Eve Cocktail Ideas: Over here.

Popcorn Party Mix

3 tablespoon olive or a neutral oil
6 tablespoons (70 grams) unpopped popcorn kernels
1 cup nuts (I used peanuts, which weigh 140 grams)
2 cups bite-sized pretzels, or bigger ones, broken up
1 cup broken-up plain bagel or pita chips, oyster crackers or melba toast
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons (8 grams) dark brown sugar
1/2 tablespoon smooth Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon mustard powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, adjusted to taste
1 teaspoon ground smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or more to taste
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder

Heat oven to 250°F (120°C).

Pop your popcorn: Place 3 tablespoons olive oil and 2 to 3 kernels in a 3-quart or larger pot and cover with a lid. Turn heat to medium-high. When you hear these first kernels pop, add the remaining kernels and replace the lid. Using potholders, shimmy the pot around to keep the kernels moving as they pop. When several seconds pass between pops, remove from heat. You should have just over 6 cups. Dump into a giant mixing bowl and add the nuts, pretzels, chips or crackers to the popcorn.

Brown your butter and make the sauce: Wipe out your empty pot and place the butter in it, set over medium heat (no lid needed). Melt the butter and keep cooking it, stirring occasionally and watching out for hisses and splatters, until the bits at the bottom of the melted butter puddle begin to turn golden and light brown. Remove from heat, and whisk in Worcestershire, sugar, spices and salt. If you ended up using pre-popped or seasoned popcorn with salt, or salted nuts or crackers, you might go easier on the salt. If you like your mix quite traditionally salty and none of your packaged ingredients were coated with salt, you might up it to a full teaspoon.

Pour butter-spice mixture over popcorn mix and toss, toss, toss, until all the ingredients are evenly coated. Spread out on your biggest baking sheet or two medium-sized ones. Bake for 45 minutes, tossing the ingredients around every 15 so that they cook evenly. Let cool completely on trays, then pack into jars and get on your way.

Roasted grape and olive crostini

Within the great file of my favorite food category, Things I Can Put On Toast, I dare you to find anything easier to whirl up in the minutes before a party than artichoke-olive crostini, the terribly named but unmatched in Mediterranean deliciousness of feta salsa or walnut pesto. Lightly broil a thinly sliced baguette — and I vote for preparing a batch of chocolate chip cookie dough, ready to bake off later, nobody minds — and voila: it’s suddenly a party.

This is my new favorite addition to the category. Although it takes longer to cook, it takes just as little time to throw together. This seemingly simple combination of two ingredients, roasted together, become so much more than the sum of their parts. Personally, I’m not a great fan of either on their own; I find most grocery store grapes too sweet and readily-available olives too aggressively salty and one-note. But in the oven together, these bugs become features. The briny bite of the olives tangles with the syrupy sweetness of the grapes and together, make a juicy mess that’s incredible with rosemary and sea salt, heaped on a ricotta-slathered toast

The best part is you don’t have to go hunting for that exasperatingly overused phrase these days, “the best ingredients.” I’ve made this with everything from NYC street cart grapes on their last legs and from certified organic, just-plucked Greenmarket blocks away and both were delicious. It doesn’t care if your olives have been imported from Greece, Italy or Trader Joe’s, that I used a baguette from a nearby bodega that also sells enhancement pills and 40s, and that I didn’t even make my own ricotta (gasp!). It just works, which means you’ll have more time to do things you’ll regret seeing on Instagram the next morning and other great holiday party traditions.

In The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook: These two ingredients tangle together in an easy weeknight chicken dish.

Planning a party? You’re going to need some drinks and snacks.

One year ago: Rum Campari Punch
Two years ago: Fromage Fort
Three years ago: Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze
Four years ago: Milk Punch
Five years ago: Pear Bread, Parmesan Cream Crackers and Walnut Pesto
Six years ago: Pizza with Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Onions
Seven years ago: Iceberg Wedge with Blue Cheese and Caramel Cake
Eight years ago: Gougeres and Stuffed Mushrooms, Russian Tea Cakes and Coq au Vin

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Cherry Almond Dutch Baby
1.5 Years Ago: Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw
2.5 Years Ago: Chopped Salad with Feta, Lime and Mint
3.5 Years Ago: Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes

Roasted Grape and Olive Crostini

I couldn’t resist using a pretty mix of olives and grapes, but, honestly, my favorite combination to use here are purple grapes and kalamata olives, seedless and pitted, respectively are ideal. I make it with fresh rosemary and ricotta, but other herbs and cheese would work here, such as thyme or blue cheese. The only pesky part of this recipe is that I find that the roasting time really varies. What you’re looking for is for the grapes to soften and get leaky — this can take anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes depending on how firm/juicy your grapes are (softer ones take less time). I have also seen many references to grapes roasting and bursting in 10 minutes in other recipes, but have never experienced this in my oven. Once these juices muddle with the herbs and briny roasted olives, it’s all unquestionably worth it. Don’t forget to spoon any messy pan juices over the toasts.

Yield: 12 crostini, a very small batch. I usually double this for a small party.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup grapes, seedless purple ones are my first choice, all will work
1 cup olives, pitted kalamata are my first choice, all will work
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary, divided
Sea salt and red pepper flakes
About 12 baguette slices, toasted
3/4 cup ricotta

Heat oven to 400°F (205°C). Combine olive oil, grapes, olives, 1 teaspoon rosemary, a couple pinches of sea salt and pepper flakes in a baking dish or roasting pan. Roast until grapes are wilted and leaking juices, about 35 to 55 minutes, rolling ingredients around in pan a few times throughout roasting time to encourage even cooking.

Slather each toast with ricotta, then heap each with grapes, olives and their pan juices. Finish with remaining rosemary and eat immediately.

Fairytale of new york

As far as Christmas songs go, Fairytale of New York is pretty bleak. Instead of chestnuts on the open fire, horses come in 18 to 1; instead of white Christmases, morphine drips; instead of coming home for the holidays, one waits them out in drunk tanks. It’s not the stuff of greeting cards. And yet, for a whole lot of people, myself included, it wouldn’t be December without The Pogues 1987 holiday anti-ballad on repeat. It comes in handy when you’re feeling a little grinchy* about the season; there’s something of a relief in a song where nobody does anything right but aren’t pretending things are any other way. The sentiments are honest, and in a way, a little magical, choirs and bells and bands in the street, imagining better times and better years ahead.


Not that I listen to the song anymore. I mean, I used to often enough that I’d drive my husband, less charmed by Christmas music, bonkers but then my son got old enough to start sorting out the words and abruptly, being a good parent won out, at least for another decade or so.

But my nostalgia for the song is so steep, when I spied a cocktail called the Fairytale of New York in this month’s Imbibe Magazine, there wasn’t a chance I wasn’t going to be making it (plus rugelach pinwheels, which are on repeat this year) for the next holiday party. The drink is essentially an Old Fashioned, except instead of muddling a sugar cube with bitters, you sweeten it with a “winter warmth syrup,” with raw sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves, walnuts, apples and pears. The aroma of this simmering on the stove is so reverentially amazing; if you had even a trace of holiday hesitation left in you, it would instantly eradicate it. And if it didn’t, well: bourbon.

I hope that wherever you’re spending the holidays, you are with the people you adore, getting to eat the food you love, and listening to all of your terrible holiday favorites (I like a steady mix of Pogues and John Denver and the Muppets, personally). And I hope that someone hands you one of these as soon as you walk in from the cold.

* warning, grimness ahead: …perhaps because you learned that one of the most famous crooners of the last century was a terrible parent or maybe you listened to Santa Baby in the wrong mood and found it grossly materialistic and paternalistic or perhaps because a certain song you once loved got ruined forever a few years ago…

One year ago: Gingerbread Snacking Cake
Two years ago: Fromage Fort
Three years ago: Cinnamon Brown Butter Breakfast Puffs
Four years ago: Crescent Jam and Cheese Cookies (still a favorite!)
Five years ago: How to Host Brunch and Still Sleep In and Spinach and Cheese Strata that will make you a hero
Six years ago: Braised Short Ribs with Potato Puree, Swiss Chard and Horseradish Cream plus Gramercy Tavern’s Gingerbread
Seven years ago: Austrian Raspberry Shortbread and A Slice-and-Bake Cookie Palette
Eight years ago: Parmesan Black Pepper Biscotti and Hazelnut Truffles

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Cherry Almond Dutch Baby
1.5 Years Ago: Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw
2.5 Years Ago: Triple Berry Summer Buttermilk Bundt
3.5 Years Ago: Blueberry Yogurt Multigrain Pancakes

Fairytale of New York
Adapted from Dave Mitton of The Harbord Room in Toronto, via Imbibe Magazine

This is essentially a winter spiced old-fashioned, a really wonderful variation on it for this time of year. The mulled simple syrup will make you home smell heavenly. I fudged the ingredients a little, using a whole apple because I didn’t have a half pear, using orange bitters instead of walnut ones, and ground cloves (a few pinches) instead of whole. Nobody was the wiser.

Winter Warmth Syrup
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup raw, demerara or turbinado sugar (granulated will do just fine if you do not have them)
1/2 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
1/2 pear, peeled, cored, and diced
12 walnut halves
3 cinnamon sticks, broken up
6 whole cloves
1 whole nutmeg

For Each Cocktail
1 piece of orange peel (about 1 by 2 inches)
3/4 ounce Winter Warmth Syrup (recipe above)
2 dashes of bitters (Fee Brothers black walnut bitters are recommended, I used orange bitters)
2 ounces bourbon, rye or Canadian whisky

Make the winter warmth syrup: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves, and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Strain into a clean glass bottle, cover and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 2 cups.

Make a drink: Place the orange peel, syrup and bitters in a low glass and muddle. Pour in whiskey, add a large ice cube and don’t forget to share.

Make a carafe: We brought 2 4-cup carafes of this to a party, using all of the syrup and about 5 1/2 cups bourbon. We tossed a few orange peels into each jar. Don’t forget to remind friends to pour it over ice (we forgot), so they are not asleep before, you know, Santa comes down the chimney.

Deep dark gingerbread waffles

I know, I know, we just talked about gingerbread two weeks ago, in a biscotti, hot chocolate-dipping format. It’s too soon! I completely agree with you. But this was a request; a commenter asked if there was a way to transplant the intensity of everyone’s favorite gingerbread cake into a waffle format. Asking me this is like asking a Muppet if they like to count. I live for this; I thought you’d never ask.

True enough, the so-called gingerbread waffles I browsed on the web seemed to be in name only; pale beige specimens, softly spiced, more gingersnap than gingerthud. Proper gingerbread should make an entrance, with no restraint in the ginger or molasses department. It should be dark and a little sticky. It should either be adored or reviled; there’s rarely any middle ground. Lucky for me, my family, both young and old, cannot get enough.

Pretty much everything about these will remind you of the Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread. The waffles are deeply spiced, colored, fragrant and yet harmonious and addictive. But, as I always strive for honesty here, I have to tell you that it might remind you of the worst part of the Gramercy gingerbread too — these guys really want to stick to the waffle iron. But they won’t. What they need is a little extra careful coaxing when you lift them from the waffle iron, little by little, being careful to avoid big tears (nobody will be the wiser to the small ones). You’re probably going to curse me a little. But, I want you to know that I would never put you through such a pesky retrieval if these were not absolutely, unwaveringly worth it. Plus, the moment they hit the plate, they begin to firm up. Within one minute, they’ll fulfill all of your waffle hopes and dreams: crispy edges, soft center, and a flavor that will make it impossible to have another winter holiday without them for breakfast ever again.

One year ago: Breakfast Slab Pie (the other way I’d feed houseguests for breakfast)
Two years ago: Cashew Butter Balls
Three years ago: Parsnip Latkes with Horseradish and Dill
Four years ago: Spicy Gingerbread Cookies
Five years ago: Mushroom Marsala Pasta with Artichokes
Six years ago: Seven-Layer Rainbow Cookies and Grasshopper Brownies, two of my favorite sweets in the archives
Seven years ago: My Favorite Peanut Butter Cookies
Eight years ago: Zucchini Latkes and Short Ribs Bourguignon

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Frozen Coconut Limeade
1.5 Years Ago: Espresso Granita with Whipped Cream
2.5 Years Ago: Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken
3.5 Years Ago: Linguine with Pea Pesto

Deep Dark Gingerbread Waffles

These waffles use more sugar than any other I’ve made, but they don’t end up tasting excessively sweet because the sugar is necessary to balance the intensity of the molasses. That said, you absolutely will not need syrup on top of these, despite my suggestion of it in photos. Just a dusting of powdered sugar and maybe, if you’re feeling fancy, a dollop of unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche will make these even more perfect. Serve with a mixed citrus salad (favorites: 1, 2, 3) and crispy bacon, if that’s your thing. And if it’s not, you can send it here.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Yield: 15 small rectangular waffles; serves 4 to 5

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
1/2 cup buttermilk, yogurt thinned with a little milk, fresh apple cider or even stout beer
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus extra for brushing waffle iron
Powdered sugar for serving

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, molasses, sugars, egg and butter until combined. The butter will likely firm up and make little white splotches throughout; this is a-okay. Pour the wet into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.

Heat waffle iron to a middle heat. Either brush waffle iron with melted butter or spray it lightly with a nonstick cooking spray. Ladle gingerbread batter into waffle iron until they’re about 3/4 filled out. Cook according to manufacturer’s directions. In my waffle iron, I like to cook them 1 to 2 minutes more.

To remove waffles: Open waffle iron. Wait about 30 seconds, giving them a chance to steam off a little. With tongs in one hand and a small spatula in the other, gently, carefully lift corners of each waffle section enough to slide the spatula underneath, then lift and slide some more until you can get the section out. Curse Deb, because these waffles are very sticky and eager to tear. Trust Deb, that they will be worth it. Spread them on a tray in a single layer to let cool slightly; within 1 minute, they should be crisp to the touch and easier to lift. Repeat with remaining batter. Try not to stack waffles — even though they’re firm, they will stick.

Serve immediately, dusted with powdered sugar and, if you’re feeling fancy, a dollop of barely or unsweetened whipped cream or crème fraîche.