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linzer cookies

It’s been quite a couple of years. We haven’t been posting recipes — or doing much of anything — during the pandemic, but cooking, being the necessity that it is, has been the exception. One could argue cookie-making is not much of a necessity, but I got a stand mixer for Christmas (after 3-and-a-half years bereft of one, my old one having broken midway through making my wedding cake) and trying it out was an imperative. Oh, how I missed having a stand mixer! I can make brioche again! I can cream butter and walk away from the mixer! I am once more whole.

I was compelled to commit this recipe to the internet out of fear that I might lose the paper printout I’ve been using for years (dated 12/17/10; this was back in the days where all my recipes were Food Network and Epicurious printouts, this one being the latter). It lives stuffed inside of the front cover of my copy of Bravetart and comes out every year the week before Christmas. It’s one of my most-made recipes, and I look forward to it every year. In fact, I’ve made very few other linzer cookies in my life mainly because I don’t have any reason to, as these include my favorite nut (hazelnut) and are perfect in every way: tender, with a soft, warm flavor cut by the brightness of raspberry jam. Not to mention they last half a month in the fridge and get better with age!

I follow the OG Epicurious recipe nearly exactly for the dough, and I used to just use store-bought jam for the filling, but this year I couldn’t find raspberry jam anywhere and decided to buy some frozen fruit and make my own. After this year, I am never going back: not only is the jam dead simple, but it elevates the cookies to a whole different plane. You can, of course, still use store-bought jam, but if you’re going to go to the trouble of cutting dozens of windows in finicky cookie dough, you might as well go all out, right?

zucchini enchiladas

The things people do with zucchini have a tendency to perplex me. While cauliflower has become a standard-bearer for the potential of vegetables to replace meat in a variety of dishes and kale is ubiquitous in everything from soups to salads to risottos to noodles and everything in between, zucchini is often relegated to being a less tasty addition to bread than bananas or – more tragically – standing in as an alternative to pasta (I refuse to use the abominable portmanteau) that is perhaps healthier for the body (though certainly not for the soul).

I find this all baffling because zucchini has so many strengths as a vegetable. It has a wonderful fresh flavor and delicate firmness that are both retained when cooked. It roasts wonderfully without needing gobs of oil (I’m looking your way, eggplant). Left raw and sliced thin, it can form a salad of itself with a light vinaigrette.

I could go on and on; really, I should just say that zucchini is a vegetable I frequently consider when replacing meat in recipes. And as a New World crop, it was a natural inclusion when I started working on a recipe for vegetarian enchiladas – something I had wanted for a long time, and something that can be difficult to find at restaurants.

That’s not to say that restaurants don’t have vegetarian enchilada options. If you go to a Mexican restaurant, usually (assuming it’s not an all-meat affair) you find up to two options for vegetarian enchilada options: cheese enchiladas and a somewhat nebulous garden enchilada. Both can be great, but both have their issues.

The cheese enchilada is smooth, heavy, and cheese-centric. If you want that, it’s a great option, but sometimes you want texture and a more complex flavor. The garden enchilada, meanwhile, usually refers to an enchilada containing a hodgepodge of ingredients, including spinach, onions, corn, squash, mushrooms, etc. There’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it often comes across more as health food than something you want out of an enchilada (Emily took this a step further and said they often come across as being made of the frozen vegetable medley bag from the grocery store). They also tend to fall apart midway through eating.

In making these enchiladas, I wanted to pair a savory, earthy filling with a tangy, spicy enchilada sauce. I also wanted some melted cheese without overdoing it. It took a few tries, but I think I’ve put together a recipe that does zucchini justice.

Is the recipe perfect? It is a time-consuming recipe, and because it takes up lots of stovetop real estate, it can make it difficult to make a side of refried beans or Mexican rice. That being said, I think the effort is worth it, and you may not even need a side accompaniment. I also criticized garden enchiladas for falling apart when you eat them, and these zucchini enchiladas start falling apart before you even bake them, so they don’t address that problem. But considering how they taste, I’m pretty sure you’ll be scraping the plate anyway.

buttermilk biscuits

Despite spending the first quarter of a century of my life in Arkansas, I must admit I didn’t really get into biscuits until I was around 20 years old. Part of this is a result of my upbringing (though I grew up in Arkansas, my parents’ food habits were more similar those of the upper midwest that they grew up with), and part of it is a result of where in Arkansas I grew up (Northwest Arkansas, which in a lot of ways is more midwestern than southern, culturally speaking). Regardless of the reason, the only biscuit I really remember eating as a kid was from Cracker Barrel, and it left little impression on me.

At some point it occurred to me to make biscuits — I’m not sure if it was the result of Nathan waxing poetic about the biscuits of his youth, or if I was really craving bread one day and didn’t have the strength to wait 4+ hours for a yeast bread to be ready — but once I started making biscuits at home, it became an almost weekly thing. I’ve made many recipes over the years for biscuits, trying out different ratios, ingredients, and techniques, and over time I began to craft what has become my go-to recipe. The key is in the ratio: a 3-2-1 mix of flour, buttermilk, and butter that turns out consistently excellent biscuits time and time again. These biscuits are best fresh out of the oven, but they’re not too bad a couple of days later heated up in the oven, too.

vegetarian ramen broth

Way back in 2018 (during a rare spurt of posting somewhat consistently on this blog), I posted a recipe on this blog for ramen noodles, which Emily and I started making frequently after we became obsessed with noodle soups after visiting Japan. That recipe promised that a vegetarian broth would follow shortly.

Sixteen or so months later, I’m finally making good on that promise. While making a vegetarian dashi (the basic broth at the heart of tons of Japanese favorites, including most soba and udon soups) is relatively straightforward – omit the bonito and use more kombu – coming up with an all-purpose ramen broth proved more challenging.

This is because meat – or, more specifically, animal bones – are ubiquitous ingredients in a typical ramen soup. Cloudy tonkotsu ramen is produced by boiling pork bones for days. Torigara – or stock made from chicken bones – is a more common base, often flavored further with marinated pork. Not only are both bases heavy on meat, but they’re also notoriously complicated: purists often claim that replicating the flavors at home is impossible and can only be enjoyed at a ramen counter.

Coming up with a soup that mirrored the umami complexity of bone stock seemed a quixotic task at best. Instead, I considered the vegetarian ramen stocks I’ve liked – and the ones I haven’t liked – in coming up with this recipe. A good vegetarian ramen stock should provide a nice, savory undercurrent to the other ingredients. It shouldn’t feature bold flavors that overpower the other ingredients in the bowl. And it should be versatile enough to accommodate a wide variety of fresh and cooked ingredients (surprisingly good inclusions I’ve had that don’t come to mind when you think of Japanese cuisine include a trifecta of New World foods – roasted tomato, avocado, and corn).

It took me lots of tries, but I finally managed to create a soup base that I’m satisfied with for this blog. I do still think that there is room for improvement, but this is definitely a sufficient starting point for vegetarians eager to eat a Tokyo-style ramen at home.

(For the record, the ramen bowl featured at the top of this post consists of noodles, black sesame seeds, stir-fried bok choy stems, fresh bok choy leaves, and broccoli microgreens.)

cookie cake

Several years ago, on the day before I was to graduate from college, I had an intense craving for cookie cake.

Not just just any cookie cake, but cookie cake from Great American Cookies, the cookie cake of my childhood. There was (and still is, I think) a Great American Cookies in the mall in my hometown, and as a kid every single time we went to the mall* I remember demanding I get either a slice of cookie cake, or, even better, a Double Doozie, always with M&M cookies.

That day, I convinced Nathan to take me to the nearest Great American Cookies (which was only about 10 minutes away, fortunately), and when we were there, we asked for a cake, which they were able to make (and decorate to our specifications!) right there on the spot. I wish I still had a picture of it, but I think it said something like “Happy Graduation” or something to that point.

That was on May 10, and it was the best day ever. We enjoyed that cookie cake so much that we declared May 10 to be Annual Cookie Cake Day, and since then, we’ve had cookie cake in some form every year on that day, give or take a few days.

About three years ago for Annual Cookie Cake Day, rather than buy cookie cake like we usually did, I wanted to see if I could try to make my own. It took me a while to come up with a recipe, because regular chocolate chip cookie dough pressed into a sheet pan, while delicious, didn’t create the cookie cake texture I was looking for. I wanted a cookie cake that was more soft and limp and chewy than regular cookies, like the cookie cake of my childhood. I’m not totally sure how Great American Cookies does it, but I’m guessing there may be some sort of hydrogenated oils/ingredient wizardry going on to keep the cake so dense and so moist and soft. But I didn’t want to start using shortening instead of butter or turn my kitchen into a science lab, so I started thinking about ways I could change the ratio of a basic chocolate chip cookie dough to get the texture I wanted.

The key ended up being using a larger-than-normal ratio of butter to the rest of the dough, and using melted rather than softened butter, which creates a very dense, soft, and oily cake. This is not the recipe I would use to make drop cookies (although I doubt they’d be bad!), but for cookie cake it is perfect. And an added bonus of using melted butter means the entire recipe comes together in one bowl without the need to cream any butter. (Ever since my stand mixer died, this is even more of a plus than normal.)

You could certainly add nuts to the dough (or M&Ms; I’m trying that next), but I love it simple with plain semisweet chocolate chips. Topped with piped dots of American buttercream, the cake is as close to the cake of my childhood as I think I’m going to get.

This year I only used vanilla frosting, but in years past I have added cocoa powder to half the icing to make a black-and-white cake.

*This is excluding my brief Dippin’ Dots phase, where for a few months I eschewed my usual Double Doozie and instead opted for a cup of Cookies ‘n Cream “ice cream of the future” when a Dippin’ Dots stall opened up in the mall. Yes, I have always been obsessed with dessert.

easy skillet potatoes

The potato is far and away the most consumed vegetable in the United States, so it surprised me when, a few years ago, Emily pointed out to me that it was rare that we ever ate potatoes. Every now and then we would make home fries with bean burgers, and I might make a potato soup or gumbo in the fall, but I could probably count on a hand the number of times I bought the ubiquitous five pound bag of russets from the store every year.

As it turns out, the reason we ate so few potatoes is that I don’t make very many side dishes. One of the greatest difficulties of eating a pescatarian diet is figuring out ways to incorporate favorite side dishes into meals. Some side dishes naturally work with any diet – it’s not difficult to add a side of steamed green beans to any meal. It’s a lot more difficult to come up with a way to eat something that’s often served as an accompaniment to meat – for instance, potatoes.

And all things considered, it’s probably good that Emily and I eat fewer potatoes than the average American, as they aren’t exactly the most nutritious vegetable in the world. That being said, they’re delicious, and I was determined to figure out a way to eat them more frequently.

As is often the case with our meals, the key to eating more potatoes involved figuring out how to make them as a main meal. After looking through a variety of cookbooks for ideas, I finally decided I wanted to make a one-dish skillet hash in which soft on the inside, crispy on the outside potatoes were topped with vegetables and a sauce to make a complete meal, trying a few different cooking methods to get the potatoes just right. After a little trial and error, I finally hit upon a fool-proof method in which you both fry and steam the potatoes, getting a nice crust on them while also ensuring that they cook through completely. You do need a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet and a lid that can cover it to make the process work (and if you don’t have these in your kitchen, we strongly encourage you to invest in them).

The potatoes themselves are incredibly versatile, so feel free to experiment with flavor combinations. I really enjoyed topping them with roasted bell pepper, scallions, and salsa (a combination to which Emily often adds a fried egg). You can also serve them as a side or use them in another dish.

simplest pancakes

As a notorious homebody (married to another notorious homebody), I knew that upending our lives by moving from Arkansas to New York was going to be tough.

Five-and-a-half years in our last Arkansas apartment was the longest either of us had lived in one place since we had lived with our parents, and when we finally moved out last December, the firmly ingrained carpet dents throughout the empty space were both literal and figurative.

Without a doubt, we were ready for a change. But were we ready to live in Airbnbs and sublets for three months?

At the outset, I said yes — “It’ll be fun! Like an extended vacation! We’ll get to see so many different neighborhoods of NYC as we haul our suitcases in and out of every subway station!” — and, now that we’re settled, I would probably say the same thing. It was fun, while maybe not so much like a vacation as I would have thought, and it was incredibly interesting to live in so many different neighborhoods throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn for three months. But after countless weeks of sleeping in other people’s beds and using other people’s towels and worrying that I was going to leave water rings on other people’s furniture, I was, without a doubt, homesick, not for Arkansas, but sick to have a home of my own.

The thing that made me the most homesick was not baking anything for months. At first this was no big deal — we were in New York after all, and I was happy to eat my way through the city’s finest bagels, donuts, black and whites, and cheesecakes. But after a while, even in greatest food city in the US, I still wanted to bake myself.

I remember when we finally moved into an Airbnb with a kitchen in late January. I was SO excited to finally get to bake, and Nathan was so excited to finally get to cook. But then I realized that not only did the Airbnb not have any baking pans, sheets, or anything I would remotely feel comfortable sticking in an oven, it also had no measurement tools apart from 12 Ikea juice glasses and two wine glasses. It was a major disappointment, and I was resigned to continue to go out for all my baked goods until I woke up one morning with an insatiable craving for pancakes.

I have never been a pancake person. They were always the last thing I’d order at a restaurant, and, similarly to donuts, were something that I never understood why people went so gaga about. Similarly to donuts, however, something in me changed the moment I moved to the Northeast, and now I too am obsessed. I can’t tell you why I didn’t like them before, and I honestly can’t tell you why I like them now, but I love them both now. Perhaps I’ll never know what happened.

But I digress. I was craving pancakes, and I didn’t want to go out for pancakes, and our Airbnb DID have a frying pan and a mixing bowl, but no whisk and no way to measure ingredients besides said juice and wine glasses. But I was intent on making it work.

I took a look at a number of recipes for pancakes on the internet, and boiled them down into simple ratios. It seemed like the key was equal parts milk and flour, and then for every cup of milk, one egg and about two or three tablespoons of butter. I realized that those juice glasses appeared to be about 8 ounces each, and with a leap of faith, measured out equal parts by volume of milk and flour, mixed everything with a fork, and heated up the frying pan.

And the results? They were fantastic! Even though I put in an arbitrary amount of baking powder and salt, and mixed everything together with a fork, and had only make pancakes a handful of times in my life. I was shocked.

Since then, I’ve made this “recipe” more times than I would care to admit, and every single time it has worked out. When we moved out of that Airbnb and into a sublet with some actual measuring tools and a whisk, I made the recipe again, actually measuring this time, and the pancakes were great. And once we moved into our amazing brownstone apartment, I made the recipe again, measuring out the ingredients by weight this time, and whisking with my trusty balloon whisk, and the pancakes were again great. I definitely recommend you measure your ingredients when following the below recipe, but even if you are in an Airbnb with nothing to measure, as long as you get the 1-1 ratio of milk and flour right, you should be golden.

red beans and rice

When I graduated from college in 2010, I quickly discovered I was a little naive when it came to the difficulty involved in getting a job following a deep recession.

Something that did ease the burden somewhat is that I was learning how to cook at the time, and it is significantly cheaper to make your own meals from scratch than it is when you’re relying on sauces, mixes, and the like to make dinner. I started skipping the jarred spaghetti sauce, the seasoning mixes, and the frozen chopped vegetables for canned tomatoes, unmixed spices, and fresh vegetables and noticed an immediate savings on my grocery receipts.

When it comes to cheap meals, though, few things beat red beans and rice, which I once calculated can cost as little as 34¢ for a huge serving if you use budget ingredients (and perhaps less depending on where you shop). That said, even if you splurge on heirloom red beans and ingredients from the expensive grocery store, the meal is still among the most inexpensive you can make.

Admittedly, my red beans and rice recipe might be a little controversial, as it involves creating a roux. Roux is a typical component of Louisiana gumbo, but it’s certainly not in most recipes you see for red beans and rice, and it’s nearly certain to raise dismay among grandmothers from Louisiana. That said, those grandmothers undoubtedly cheer for LSU, which means we can discount their dismay – in addition to their general worldviews – entirely (editor’s note: the authors of this blog grew up in Arkansas).

When making a roux, be very careful – the oil becomes incredibly hot, and you can burn yourself easily if you’re not careful. You also need to be careful not to burn the roux: some cooks even say you need to stir a roux constantly. Personally, I’ve found making a roux to be fairly forgiving, but I would suggest stirring more frequently the first few times you make it, as differences between stoves can cause the timing to vary significantly.

Red beans and rice is a great meal on any cold night – or any time you’re looking to save some money, of course. We often eat it by itself, but it’s also great served with a side of greens and buttery pistolettes.

skillet-baked ziti

One of the issues with running a food blog is trying to figure out if the recipe you’re posting is good enough. Sure, you might like it, and it’s reasonably close to your Platonic ideal of the dish, but there are a zillion other recipes for it out there in the blogosphere, and does the world really need another one if it’s not bringing anything new to the table?

It helps immensely when you’re planning on posting a recipe and your test batch comes out exactly the way you wanted it to, as it did when I happened to make the best baked ziti recently. With a complex flavor and a great texture, the meal was the perfect accompaniment to a cold (well, for Arkansas, anyway) winter night.

This dish was also great because I was able to make it in a single skillet, so I didn’t even wreck the kitchen in the process of making it. You start by building the sauce, frying an herb paste and tomatoes, before cooking the pasta directly in the sauce (with some added liquid, of course). You then add the dairy before finishing the dish in the oven.

This recipe does call for a nonstick, oven-proof skillet, and if you don’t have one – or if you’re nervous about using your cast-iron skillet for a gooey, acidic dish – I have successfully made this dish in a regular metal skillet, though I did stir things a little (read: a lot) more frequently. You could also cook the dish on the stove in a nonstick skillet and transfer everything to a lightly oiled oven-proof dish before adding the dairy.

Of course, everyone has different preferences when it comes to baked pasta, and this dish allows for some easy variations. Prefer browned cheese to a gooey mix of cheese and pasta? Use part-skim instead of fresh mozzarella (and stick it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to really brown things up). Want a saucier dish? Add tomato sauce with the tomato juice. As long as you follow the basic method, you should end up with a great pasta dish.

caramel ice cream

Ice cream is, without a doubt, my favorite food. Our ice-cream maker is one of my most-used appliances, and there is almost always a quart of homemade ice cream in our freezer. Winter or summer (or spring or fall), I’m either making ice cream, eating ice cream, or thinking about the next time I’m going to be making or eating ice cream.

When I first started making my own ice cream, I adhered strictly to the bible that is David Lebovitz’s The Perfect Scoop. I’ve made almost all the ice cream recipes in that book, many of them multiple times, and they are all fantastic.

After making dozens of batches of ice cream from recipes, though, I began to get the hang of the basic proportions needed, and learned the subtle differences that occur when increasing/decreasing the proportion of cream, milk, and eggs in a recipe. Nowadays, I rarely look at a recipe when making ice cream, but my classic ice-cream ratio is quite similar to Lebovitz’s standard vanilla recipe in the book. It’s rich, but not indulgently so — the perfect base on which to experiment.

This caramel ice cream was something I threw together when I had one of my regular cravings for ice cream a few days ago. I had made caramel ice cream in the past, always following a recipe of some sort, but I never quite got what I wanted; the ice creams never had quite the right sweet/salty/rich/creamy balance. I really was just throwing things together while making this ice cream, but I think my lack of over-thinking in this case helped me finally attain caramel ice cream perfection, with the perfect blend of sweetness and salt, and with a texture that stands on its own but doesn’t overwhelm when accompanying something like apple pie. There is a bit of standing-over-the-stove, making-sure-your-caramel-doesn’t-burn time at the beginning, but after that the recipe is basically foolproof.