Rainbow Cookie Cake

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My mom knows the key to my heart and every time I come home to visit her in Boca it’s waiting there in the refrigerator; a plastic container of my favorite cookies of all time, rainbow cookies, purchased from Bagels With just down the street. They’re not really cookies, more like squares of almond-flavored sheet cake with multi-colored layers, slathered with jam, the whole thing covered in chocolate. I’ve blogged about rainbow cookies before (here and here) but weirdly, I’d never made them. Then, this past weekend, I was having some friends over for their birthdays (four friends, three birthdays) and figured it was a perfect opportunity to try my hand at rainbow confectionary. Only, instead of cakey cookies, I made a cakey cake.

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Clams with White Wine, Sweet Corn, and Basil

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If you were to do a graph–and I’m not a graph person, so you’d have to help me out here–measuring the effort you put into a dinner vs. the pleasure you get from eating it, chances are there’d be a real corollary between the work put it in and the pleasure received (see, for example, lamb merguez with eggplant jam). Every so often, though, there’s an outlier: a recipe that’s so incredibly easy, so simple to put together, it doesn’t make sense that the results should taste as good as they do, but they do. And I’d wager that of all the recipes that fit into this tiny category, the ones at the very apex of “easy to do” and “good to eat” are recipes involving mussels and clams.

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Quick-Brined Pork Chops with Pan-Fried Cauliflower

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For the past few months, I’ve been buying kosher chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s not because I prefer kosher chicken breasts but because Trader Joe’s is underneath my gym and it’s way easier to grab chicken there than to make an extra stop on my way home. The problem with this is that kosher chicken breasts are brined in salt water and, as a result, they’ve spoiled Craig for more ethical, more sustainable chicken from our local butchers. I know this because I recently bought chicken from one of them, sprinkled it with salt, and cooked it and though Craig enjoyed it–he enjoys all of my cooking–he didn’t like it as much as the brined stuff I get much more cheaply after jogging for 60 minutes to the Footloose soundtrack. Brining, it turns out, is a powerful technique.

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Lamb Merguez with Eggplant Jam and Green Olives

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Sometimes you make dinner, and everyone nods in approval, eating pleasantly and saying, “This is very good. Nice job.” That’s most of the time. Then, every so often, you make a dinner that has people piping up a bit more enthusiastically. “Ooooh this is delicious,” they say. “Where did you get the recipe?” But only once in a blue moon you make a dinner that has people eating in stunned silence, taking their time to process the glory that is happening in their mouths, only to mutter–after a several minutes have gone by–“This is incredible.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this is that dinner.

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How To Host An Indoor Clambake

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My usual dinner party process goes like this: a day or two before a dinner party, I grab a handful of cookbooks off my towering cookbook shelf and casually thumb through them. The goal is not to frantically search for the perfect recipe, it’s to let the perfect recipe come to me. Usually that happens best when, while flipping, I meditate on who my dinner guests are going to be and, also, what foods I’m most excited to make. Which is why, on Wednesday of last week, a certain recipe from Michael Symon’s Live To Cook positively lifted itself off the page and smacked me in the face. It was a recipe for an indoor clambake and considering that I was going to be cooking for seven hungry guys for my friend John’s birthday on Friday, a more perfect recipe couldn’t have existed at that particular moment. Now all I had to do was ready myself to make it.

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Tangerine Sour Cream Pound Cake

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I have a theory that Starbucks has heightened our tolerance for bad, sad pastries. There’ve been moments in my life, at an airport, at a rest stop, where I break down and order a slice of a Starbucks lemon pound cake to go with my coffee. It tastes fine. It’s not bad. It’s sweet, cakey, nicely glazed. But it’s not, by any means, good. Most people don’t know that because most people don’t take the time to make their own glazed pound cakes; but if you do take the time, yours will be light, where theirs is dense. Yours will be authentically flavored, whereas theirs tastes synthetic. Yours will be made at home with love whereas theirs is made in a warehouse. Plus, if you make your own, you can use tangerines instead of lemons.

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Bruschetta with Homemade Ricotta, Roasted Yellow Peppers, and Green Garlic

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So once you have your homemade ricotta, the next question is: what to do with it?

Me, I decided to be ultra-spontaneous. Well mostly spontaneous. On Saturday, I bought a nice loaf of bread, made the ricotta, left it overnight in the refrigerator to drain. Then, on Sunday, with dinner guests coming at 5:30, I opened up my CSA box in the morning to see what was in there. Whatever I found, I’d make up some kind of bruschetta. Lo and behold, I found…

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Ricotta Worth Making At Home

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Confession: I’ve made ricotta at home before and found the experience underwhelming. True, the process couldn’t be easier, but after dumping a gallon of milk into a pot, adding some lemon juice, turning up the heat, waiting for everything to separate, and straining out the solid stuff in a colander, I wound up with the tiniest bit of lumpy homemade cheese. “Eh,” I said as I ate the fruits of my labor with a spoon. “I’d rather just buy it from the store.”

Then I read Molly Wizenberg’s new book Delancey and found myself totally intrigued by her ricotta recipe. Yes, there’s almost a gallon of whole milk but, instead of lemon juice, you use buttermilk for the acid and then you also use cream. Most impressive of all: the recipe promises to yield ONE POUND of ricotta. That final bit seemed too good to be true so I knew that I had to make it this past weekend.

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