2014 has opened with a bang and the Sunday Lunch series is back on with a vengeance. The latest one was a perennial favorite – Cassoulet Sunday! Nothing gives a bigger middle finger to polar vortexes, dibs on shoveled parking spaces and wearing thermal underwear to the office than a steaming clay pot of beans, tasty duck parts and equally tasty pig parts. It’s a helluva dish and if you’re not making it, then I feel sorry for you.
Not long ago, I had a discussion on Twitter regarding baked donuts. I ascertained that a baked donut is not a donut at all. More of a muffin really, than a donut. A round muffin with a hole in the middle. In my opinion, a donut – or doughnut – needs to be fried and I was quite adamant about it. Absolutely, no question, in my mind that skipping the deep fat is skipping a crucial step in the delicious donut process. The doughy masses greatly benefit in both flavor and texture from a little swim in some hot oil. But it got me to thinking. While I still believe a baked donut is more of a muffin, could they be as delicious as a donut? I aimed to find out.
Like many travelers, I became obsessed with pizza while traveling through Italy. It’s unavoidable. It was the late ’90’s, my boyfriend and I had quit our jobs and were taking three months to travel right after I finished my final graduate school course in Rome. To make our limited funds last the entire trip, we’d alternate between really nice and really cheap meals. It’s no surprise that we ate a lot of pizza while in Italy – cheap, plentiful and filling, it made for a good snack or meal. And it was delicious! Truth be told, we ate a lot of everything in Italy. It was glorious. There were authentic Napoletana style pies down south and thick slices sold by the weight farther north. We tried them all. It was where I enjoyed my first real pizza margherita overlooking an old city wall in Naples, discovered incredibly fresh buffalo mozzarella that couldn’t have been more than a day old, and to my delight, a pizza with an egg in the center, the yolk running deliciously every which way. All were wonderful, other worldly. Between the pizza and the gelato, I was happy. I discovered a lot of glorious things in Italy but this is definitely when my obsession with pizza di patate began.
Early in our adult life, a former boyfriend and I couldn’t always afford to buy plane tickets home to Arizona for the holidays. This made me a little sad, as Christmas is quite the thing in my family. Being poor was depressing enough but missing our traditional holiday meals only compounded the situation. No Christmas Eve oysters? No pierogies? No crazy cooking marathon with my mom or opening stockings on Christmas morning like when we were kids? Exchanging gifts isn’t nearly as fun when you’re not there to see the recipients face. Luckily we had some family nearby and many friends who were happy to invite us to their celebrations, and this helped. One year, we were invited to the family home of a good friends girlfriend for what became a rather memorable Christmas.
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If you made anything besides the standard pumpkin pie last week, which neatly uses exactly one can of pumpkin puree, chances are good you opened your refrigerator this weekend to find a half full can of pumpkin. You probably unearthed it as you removed containers, dishes, bags and bowls of Thanksgiving leftovers and wondered “what the hell am I supposed to do with that?” If you’re like me, you probably shoved it right back in with an instantly forgotten mental note to deal with it later. Well, if you haven’t already tossed it, now is the time.
Every Thanksgiving growing up started the same way: warm Pillsbury whack-a-tube caramel rolls and Swiss Miss hot chocolate with extra marshmallows in front of the TV watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in our PJs. We’d sing along with whatever popstar was floating down 5th Avenue, ooh and aah at the balloons, wait eagerly for the Broadway numbers, wonder why the Rockettes weren’t freezing and freely judge the Santa was based on very important factors like beard length (Was it real? Incredibly important) and costume authenticity. Then we usually snacked on the turkey livers, squirted some Reddi-Whip in our mouths when our mom wasn’t looking and waited out the long, endless afternoon until Thanksgiving dinner and a few football games.