You guys, it’s the end of an era. The Minimalist is no more.
I’ve read Mark Bittman’s Minimalist columns in the New York Times for years now. His writing has been an inspiration, a lifeline, a swift kick in the pants. His recipes always look delicious. I want to make them all. Someday, I will.
So today’s post is a tribute of sorts. I’ll admit, though, that this is not a Minimalist recipe.
But I’m sure he’d approve.
One of the reasons I love to cook is that it allows me to indulge my own particular tastes. Like anyone else, I can get finicky, and sometimes the only way to get a really satisfying version of a favorite dish is to conjure it up myself. Case in point: stuffed bell peppers.
Up until recently, I’d never had a stuffed pepper that really hit the mark with me. (Chiles rellenos are a whole other beast; someday I’ll get around to writing about how Mexican food is my high-speed transport to my happy place.) The traditional American stuffed bell pepper usually involves a) ground beef, which I think tastes like cow-flavored gravel, b) instant rice, which creeps the hell out of me, and c) enough tomato sauce to drown a small mammal. And most recipes instruct you to cook the filling entirely in the pepper, so that by the time the meat and the rice are fully cooked, the pepper is soggy and bruised, a shadow of its former crisp self. Not really my idea of a good time.
So I set out to do American tradition one better.
Back when I was a wee ‘un, just old enough to be a help in the kitchen rather than an underfoot pest, the very first thing my mother taught me to do was make salad dressing. More specifically, she handed me a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of vinegar, and a spoonful of mustard, and said, “Mix these, please.” So I did, and the rest is…well, you know.
Making vinaigrette was my introduction to home cooking, and it’s still one of my favorite things to do. Homemade vinaigrettes are mind-bogglingly quick, impossible to screw up, and way more flavorful than anything that comes from a bottle. Salads are also a fantastic way to practice being creative in the kitchen. I could write volumes about this stuff. In fact, I’m about to, so bear with me.
I know I just wrote a lot of pretty words about cooking, and health, and fresh vegetables and herbs and spices. But my birthday was on Friday, so that’s all on hold. Today, I’m talking about cake.
First, let me make a confession. I am not a great baker. Only rarely can I summon up the patience to pull out the measuring cups. I’m a freewheeler in the kitchen, working in pinches and splashes; scooping, fluffing, leveling and dumping a cup and two-thirds of flour is not my idea of fun. But birthdays are different; I’ve had enough indifferent supermarket cakes in my life to overcome my disdain for precision in the kitchen. And when I can find an interesting recipe, it actually becomes…fun. There’s something satisfying about taking the traditional fluffy-buttercream layer cake and turning it on its head. For my birthday, I want a sophisticated and memorable dessert, something that makes you linger just a little longer over that last lick of your fork.
And let me tell you, this year’s cake delivered.
To paraphrase some movie I’ve never seen: Blogs are like hemorrhoids. In the end, every asshole gets one.
I’ve been thinking long and hard about this First Post, this Great Manifesto of Coming-To-Be, that will explain exactly why the world needs another food blog. And, for weeks, I’ve been stymied. There are so many brilliant cooks, writers, and photographers out there, ready to scratch every possible culinary itch. And I’m just some punk kid with a spatula and a computer.
So I’ll try to make this brief. Continue reading