So that dinner I made for my friend Alex’s birthday (the one with the soup) began a few days earlier when I e-mailed Alex a very important question: “Dear Alex,” I wrote, “what are your Top 5 favorite desserts of all time?”
Alex wrote back: “Hmmm…top five favorite desserts…I’ll do this w/o thinking too much: pecan pie, warm cake with cream cheese frosting, strawberry rhubarb pie, chocolate lava cake, lemon cake.” Seeing as she did this stream-of-consciousness style, I had to trust that the first dessert she named was truly her favorite. Which is why I ended up making what turned out to be (in my opinion at least) the greatest pecan pie ever.
Dealing with expectations is a tricky endeavor for every cook, whether at home or at a four-star restaurant.
Granted, the four-star chef has a harder time: diners at a four-star restaurant expect impeccable service, pristine surroundings, and food at the cutting edge of what food can be. At home, things are a little different. You don’t have to make a streak of sauce on the plate with the back of a spoon, you don’t have to scrape crumbs off the table with a crumb-scraper, but if you’re going to serve something familiar, as I did recently with Butternut Squash Soup, it better be the comfortingly sweet version that everyone knows and loves. Sad to say that this one, which comes from one of my favorite cookbooks ever, Suzanne Goin’s “Sunday Suppers at Lucques,” isn’t.
“By the time the intercom buzzes, I am assembling the greatest grilled cheese sandwiches of all time and the fridge is filled with seriously good Champagne, so packed that the bottles that can’t stand up on the top shelf lie on their sides like stockpiled ammo down below. This is not the day I want to be drinking any of that chardonnay-sweet or over-yeasted bread-dough shit. I want tight effervescence, chalk on my tongue and the roof of my mouth, sugar turned to cold glass.”
That passage comes from one of the best pieces of food writing I’ve encountered in recent memory, Gabrielle Hamilton’s essay “Christmas Eve” which appears in the new Canal House Cookbook, Volume No. 5.
There are certain dishes everyone should know how to make; Spaghetti & Meatballs is one of them.
It’s funny, though, because even though I’ve been cooking consistently for the past six years, cooking my way through the staples (here’s my favorite chili, my new standard roast chicken, my go-to chocolate chip cookie) I’d never really tackled Spaghetti & Meatballs. I once made fancy meatballs in a sugo that had orange zest and I titled that post “Not Your Mama’s Meatballs.” What I wanted, though, was the opposite: I actually wanted your mama’s meatballs. And I think, finally, that’s what I’ve found.
Hey fans of The Taste Test, the show where I taste three different foods all of the same kind to compare and contrast them, there are a bunch of new episodes up on the site: don’t miss sugar, butter, olive oil, beer, and milk (which has a shocking conclusion.)
The last time I wrote about dishes on this blog it was in April 2008 when I wrote a post called “Meet The Plates.” Serious Eats was amused and linked to it in a post called “Adam Roberts’s Quirky, Idiosyncratic Plates.” The idea back then, in 2008, was that each of my guests at dinner would be given a uniquely patterned plate that possibly reflected how I felt about them (if you were given a flower, it meant that I thought you were virginal; if you were given golf clubs, it meant that I thought you were a lesbian.)
But times have changed and I’ve changed with them. The time had come for new plates and today, with a little help from my mom, I finally bought them.
Those of you who loaded up the blog today may have noticed a new section in the navigation bar above: that’s a new blog-within-the-blog called Not Food where I plan to write about everything that’s not food related. So load it up and you’ll see reviews of the book “Nixonland” and the Broadway revival of “A Little Night Music,” a story from last year about Lolita catching a mouse, a video of Meghan McCain on Rachel Maddow (w/my thoughts), an essay about making your writing personal, and the epiphany I had about a sexual Beatles lyric. If you enjoy the blog you can subscribe to its RSS feed here.
If you make the ice cream in the previous post, you’re going to find yourself with an excess of egg whites: specifically, six egg whites that you should not, by any means, throw away. Resourcefulness is what separates good home cooks from great ones; and there, with that bowl of egg whites, you can make a delicate, memorable dessert, especially if you top it with whipped cream and berries. The dessert in question is pavlova, named after the Russian ballet dancer Ánna Pávlova. Depending on your taste for sweets, it may either be the best or worst dessert you’ve ever tasted.