Cavatappi with Anchovies, Garlic, and Red Peppers

Following a recipe can sometimes feel like you’re on a mad voyage with a crazed captain determined to set your kitchen ablaze in a quest to capture that ephemeral, culinary white whale.

“Are you out of your mind?” I wanted to yell at Melissa Clark, whose Pasta with Caramelized Peppers and Anchovies inspired this particular dinner. “Put the anchovies in the hot oil first? Before the peppers?! And use a whole jar?” The spatter coated not just the whole pan, but the tea kettle next to it and my entire stove top. I was ready to jump overboard. But the resulting dinner had Craig aflutter, moaning “Oh my God” upon taking the first bite. As a person who makes pasta on a biweekly basis (in the two-times-a-week sense), this may be the most potently flavorful pasta I’ve ever drummed up in my kitchen.

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Rice Gone Wild, Salmon Adventures & The Night I Served A Pork Chop To A Vegetarian

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Necessity is the mother of invention (its Baby Mama, if you will) and so it was that a few weeks ago I had carrots, onions, celery, and some Arborio rice on hand and because I didn’t feel like food shopping that evening, I set out to make a risotto with just water. I’ve told you about this before; it’s something I saw Lidia do on TV, so you know it’s legit. You just bring a big pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then make risotto like you’d normally make risotto, only using the salted water instead of chicken broth. The key is to finish it with some butter and lots of cheese. It’s good stuff.

But I’m not here to tell you about making risotto with water. I’m here to tell you about what you can do with the leftover risotto the next day.

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Chicken with Plums, Zucchini with Almonds

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A few times now I’ve mentioned the technique of searing a chicken breast–skin-on, bone-in–in a skillet with hot olive oil, skin-side down, flipping it over when golden brown, finishing it in the oven, removing it from the pan and making a sauce with the brown bits on the bottom, something to deglaze those brown bits, and a little butter. See: lemon juice and butter, tangerine juice and butter, etc. There’s another technique, though, that I learned from Melissa Clark in writing my cookbook that works very well in this same chicken scenario, even though she taught it to me with duck. That technique is similar to the previous technique only it involves fruit.

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Cutting Board Graduation

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There comes a time in every home cook’s life when you bid farewell to a favorite cutting board and replace it with something better. My cutting board, for the past five years (or longer), has been a neon green rubber affair, one that I purchased at Williams Sonoma after getting knife lessons at the Union Square Cafe for my first book. The advantages were pretty clear: you could scrub the hell out of it and it wouldn’t warp. You could even throw it in the dishwasher. It was big, sturdy, and, most importantly, didn’t damage your knife. I loved how versatile it was (oh no, I’m talking about it in the past tense). You could put raw chicken on it and you didn’t have to worry about salmonella seeping into the pores. You could put several vegetables on it at once and still have room to maneuver. It really was a thing of beauty.

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Melissa Clark’s Spicy Pork Stew with Hominy and Collard Greens

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Here’s a cooking tip: if you have something in your pantry that requires a long soak (dried beans, for example, or dried chickpeas), rip open the bag in the morning, pour them into a bowl and fill it up with water even if you have no idea what you’re going to do with them later in the day. What’s great about this approach is that it narrows the field for you after 5 o’clock; instead of choosing from endless recipes, you know you need to find one that features soaked-beans or chickpeas. It’s a win-win because you have a component that’s normally a pain in the butt and some direction for your dinner.

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Blood Orange Olive Oil Cake

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The question often comes up: “Do you like baking more than savory cooking? Or the other way around?”

I always give a thoughtful, complicated answer but there’s a much easier way to address the question: look to your right, scroll down. See where it says Recipes By Category? Look at the numbers. 36 salads. 22 soups. And (drumroll) 153 desserts. Um, so yes, I really like baking and, more importantly, I really like dessert, both making it and eating it.

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Melissa Clark’s Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread

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You may be wondering about a post that was on my blog on Friday wherein I made Melissa Clark’s Sticky Cranberry Gingerbread live on webcam (using LiveStream) and then interviewed Melissa Clark on my cellphone afterwards. Many of you attended, though you missed the ending when the cake came out of the oven because LiveStream cut out. Not only that, but LiveStream didn’t archive the video (even though I hit “record”) so I had to take the post down because there was nothing left to see. Luckily, though, there’s this picture of the finished product and my profound ability to capture its essence in words.

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Melissa Clark’s Chocolate Chip Pecan Loaf Cake

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[A note on the above photo: that was taken by my friend & neighbor Rob Meyer who came over for cake and let me tinker with his SLR because I’m thinking of getting one. Has the time come? What kind should I get?]

The idea of a snack cake really appeals to me because, for most of my childhood, I’d come home from school and snack on cake. Only the cakes I’d snack on were the kind of cakes you find at a rest stop on the highway: Yoo-Hoos, Twinkies, Ring-Dings (my brother’s favorite) and Entenmann’s lemon coconut cake. My mom always kept plenty of these snacky cakes on hand and to this day, when it’s four in the afternoon and I’m feeling a bit sluggish, my favorite pick-me-up is a berry scone from Birdbath Bakery or, even better, a slice of some kind of cake that I made myself. This post is about one such cake.

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