I’m not sure if starting with this: “I made cheese crackers that taste just like the ones from a box!” works effectively as a selling point. But I mean that in the best possible way. Sometimes, I get an itch to recreate my favorite manufactured snacks at home. Usually, they come out better and more revelatory than the store-bought varieties. Marshmallows, for instance, become light and ethereal instead of dense and gummy.
Were I not so bleary-eyed yesterday, I might be able to express my glee about this salad. But I slept poorly, woke up early, and skipped my morning coffee and sat at my desk all day without so much as a drop of caffeine. This morning treated me to a migraine and I decided to work from home where I can be in a dark and quiet room. But this salad is a revelation (it’s basically a kale Caesar salad if you think about it), and it’s going to be on regular rotation this winter. I’ve already made it three times in the span of ten days. I would have made more, but I ran out of lacinato kale. Not to worry, more is coming this week and I plan on making loads more of this come Thursday night for our book club dinner, which I’m hosting this time. But as for you, you must make it as soon as you possibly can. It’s not at all time-consuming and you’ll be amazed that you might start craving a salad this time of year. I can’t implore you enough – go now!
Right around this time of year, I face the perennial problem of how to eat more greens while most everything I see at the farmers’ market is brown. I think because it’s been so bitterly cold outside (six degrees out yesterday morning!) I’m turned off by traditional salads with crunchy lettuce and the usual out-of-season salad accouterments – the last thing I want on my place something cold. I want greens that’s chewy, almost meaty, with a strong, nutty bite and a toothsome quality. Give me something I can sink my teeth into!
My mother makes her own farmers cheese. Hers is a simple process, but a lengthy one that takes about a day, with milk and buttermilk slowly simmering together on the lowest heat imaginable until they slowly curdle and form amazing, delicate, tangy cottage cheese. It is a farmers cheese I cannot get enough of when I go home, and if it traveled well, I’d be bringing lots back to New York with me. Unfortunately, I cannot give my cheese experiments twenty-four hours – I have to leave the apartment building for work, gym, errands, and something about an unattended pot makes me anxious.
But ricotta cheese – that’s another story. It takes very little time to make and most of it is hands-off time – letting the milk boil, draining the curds. Simple and quick! And I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to actually make it. So simple, it’s nothing more than a few simple ingredients. When combined, they do something transformative and magical and create delicious, creamy ricotta.
These are the kinds of things in the kitchen that really put a smile on my face. I generally like to putter around in there and find contentment in chopping things and baking and braising. But things like baking bread or making ricotta cheese, or butter, these are things that make me feel closer to the elements. They’re truly simple pleasures: basic, fundamental and true.
Which brings to another basic, fundamental and true thing: love. As I type this, a tiny furry creature is curled up to my right, blissfully asleep. Periodically, he sighs, rolls over and falls back asleep. World – meet Pushkin McLovin’ – a new addition to the Sassy Radish household. He’s mighty pleased meeting you and he’s super playful and very soft and I’m terribly, terribly smitten with him. I’m not sure at what point I fell in love with him, but here I am, a little unsure of what’s next, but very excited to have him. It feels very simple and basic and wonderful.
Back to ricotta – I can’t stress how easy it is to make and how delicious. I’m pretty sure that once you try this at home you may never buy the store version ever again because it is a pale, pale comparison to its homemade cousin. It also has a million uses, from stuffing manicotti, to cannoli filling to something I’ll talk about in my next post. Because I like to keep you guessing.
Which I think is what Pushkin will do as well – keep me guessing for awhile. What kind of cat will he be? Lively or mellow? Affectionate or aloof? Only time will tell, but I can tell you this much – this not knowing, is actually quite nice.
In every relationship there is stuff you agree on, and there’s stuff you work out. If your values and fundamental beliefs are in agreement, provided you share the same goals about your future, things have a much better way of working themselves out. Of course, there’ll be little thing here and there to tweak. Right side of the bed or left? Squeeze the toothpaste from the middle or bottom? Fold clothes neatly and put them away, or throw them on a chair in hopes that they will magically hang themselves?
To all that above, I say, these are the passing, fleeing moments, that while might cause a slight bit of friction for some (though not for all), aren’t indicative of much, or all that weighty. They’re topical, superfluous, and they do not a relationship make. Or break.
There is of course the issue of breakfast. I’m convinced that everyone, and I mean everyone, loves breakfast. Even if you think you don’t love breakfast, you really do, you just don’t know it yet. Brunch, is even a more glorious event combining the growling of a hungry breakfast stomach with a weekend leisure a weekday cannot simply afford. At least for those of us who have to be at work before 8 am.
Lucky for me, both KS and I are breakfast people. Hardly a weekend goes by without our morning sit-down meal, which typically, is eggs and toast, sometimes accompanied by bacon, always doused in hot sauce, often served with coffee, but sometimes tea. And jam – jam is key for me, people. And were it not SO economically pointless for me to make it, this site would be full of jam recipes.
But when you dig deeper into the breakfast preference, two camps firmly emerge: the eggs camp and the pancake/French toast camp. I, proudly, place myself in the latter camp, but with a caveat. The pancakes have to be lighter than air, melting in your mouth almost instantly, leaving you with a full, but not a heavy feeling. And that is hard to find. KS, on the other hand is an eggs-for-breakfast devoté, usually preferring them over-easy, sitting atop a toasted bread.
And since you can’t really just make pancakes for yourself, seeing as the smallest batch of batter feeds at least 2-3 people, we rarely, if ever make them at home. But a few months ago (yes, months, I am this backlogged), I convinced KS that we had to have lemon ricotta pancakes for breakfast. This was right after our trip to the Bowery Kitchen Supplies, housed in the Chelsea Market building, where we stopped at an Italian grocery store and I went crazy with glee, picking up creamy ricotta among other items. The ricotta was begging to be cooked, and who was I to refuse it?
And so I did some research online and approximated which recipe out there (as there are many) would produce the lightest, fluffiest, most delicious pancakes. And the winner was Bobby Flay, who has yet to fail me with his amazing take on recipes – the man is a genius, really! And while I tweaked the recipe a bit, I have to credit him with the inspiration and the base. These were truly the most incredible pancakes I’ve ever had. I won’t tell you how many I had, but it was a bit embarrassing, as I had more than a few.
I took out the lemon curd altogether. I don’t know if it’s just me, but anything that has a name “curd” attached to it, is an automatic turnoff. Maybe because it rhymes with “turd”? Who knows, really? I also used buttermilk instead of milk, because I find that the tingly sour taste of buttermilk makes the pancakes softer, lighter, full of air. Milk tends to bring out the heaviness in pancakes.
And since it was a gloomy, sunless, cold winter day, anything lemon flavored was akin to letting a little bit of warmth, sun and the promise of spring into our winter existence. And for me, it was the next best thing.
In the days leading up to me starting my new job, I was in a perpetual state of lamentation like woe is me, when will I ever find time to cook? What’s to become of my blog that I’ve maintained in my two months of leisure? What would I feed the boyfriend if I am coming home at 9 o’clock at night thinking of little besides Lean Cuisine?
In one of those particular stretches of despair, I found myself casually flipping through a Williams Sonoma catalog, wishing I could just wave a magic wand and the entire contents of the store would magically outfit my kitchen. I should be so lucky. Plus, my ant-sized kitchen can barely fit a few pots, nevermind an arsenal of cookware and cutlery. And as I was about to flip another page, regretting my budget and my limited shelf space, I spied a recipe so good, I paused to read it, and made mental note: mozzarella stuffed meatballs!! Bliss, happiness, melted cheese! Can anything be more perfect and breathtaking? And then I got distracted by a photograph of a ladle. And flipped the page.
A few hours later, after the boyfriend, flipping through the same catalog mentioned the recipe to me, my heart was set on making the meatballs. Soon, I promised him, maybe Tuesday. And sure enough he wasn’t about to let me forget. “Is it meatballs night,” he wrote Tuesday morning.
After running my pre-work errands that evening, I stopped at Bazzini to pick up the ingredients. I will tell you now, that I modified the recipe – so if you go and look up the stuffed meatballs recipe on Williams Sonoma website, you will get a slightly different version than I have here. Personally, I think mine’s a lot better, but that’s just me here. I’ll tell you what I did differently. I omitted the parsley and instead finely chopped an onion – I think it gives the meat deeper taste. Secondly, instead of beef, I opted for turkey. I figured with equal parts of veal and pork, beef would be maybe a little too rough in flavor and that turkey would give it a gentler taste, not to mention make it a tad healthier. So those have been my changes. I stand by them and think you ought to make your stuffed meatballs my way.
But then again, you have the right to have those balls any way you like.*
*The author is in no way, shape or form suggesting anything lewd and is shocked and appalled that your mind would even go there. ;-)