There's a scene in the fourth season of Mad Men where Sterling Cooper Draper Price just lost its biggest client and the agency is floundering, so Peggy marches into Don's office and gives him a pep talk. She tells him to change the name of the agency, just like they would if a product wasn't selling. Change the brand. Start fresh.
Earlier this year I wrote about change and the urge I was feeling to reconnect with some books I hadn't visited in a long time. When I look back on the almost four years I've written Cooking After Five, I realize it's made me into a home cook. Though I was full of enthusiasm, I knew far less about cooking when I began and made plenty of mistakes (like over-reducing balsamic vinegar and nearly burning down my kitchen making mozzarella sticks). Cooking After Five also helped me find my voice, which is why I believe I'm ready to move forward with a new project. The time is right, I can feel it.
I've decided to channel my voice into a new forum by turning Eat This Poem, the series I recently started here, into its own blog. For this reason, I hope that for most of you, this is not goodbye. I'm still blogging, cooking and welcoming you to join me in my little corner of the web. I just changed the name, changed the brand. There's a whole world of literature out there dedicated to food, hunger and the idea of nourishing our bodies and minds. It's just waiting to be adapted to our kitchen! I'll read poetry (and a little prose, too) and create recipes inspired by it.
I first went to Pizzeria Mozza for lunch in 2009. It was my birthday, and a group of colleagues decided to make the drive from Century City to Hollywood for the occasion. Since then, Nancy Silverton's pizza has been the standard of comparison for every other restaurant. Knowing this, it should come as no surprise that I pre-ordered the Mozza cookbook as soon as I learned about it, for the sole purpose of having her somewhat-modified-for-home-kitchens pizza recipe.
What is it about this time of year that makes us want to start fresh? It's not the same back to school feeling of September, either. It's not new pencils and homework assignments and blank notebooks, because all of that is routine. Your life begins and ends with the school bell, and while it's a new year, a new grade and a new teacher, it's more of the same. A comfortable routine. Right now, I'm talking about actual change. New ideas. Clearing out the physical and mental clutter. Making lists of tasks that will refresh and inspire us. Achievable, for the most part, so come March we aren't completely disappointed with ourselves.
As for me, I've had an itch lately. At first, I wasn't entirely sure what for. What I did know is I struggle with the decision to read a novel instead of the latest food manifesto. Lose myself in a story, or learn the inner workings of our food system? Both are important, but the latter seems more useful somehow, though that wasn't always the case.
I was one of those teenagers that thought coffee cake actually tasted like coffee, and since I didn't like coffee yet, I presumed I didn't like coffee cake. It was a sad, sad time. One night I was hanging out with two of my friends who had just come back to the store with a red box of Aunt Jemima coffee cake mix. Even then, seeing that coffee didn't make an appearance in the ingredients, I was still skeptical. Then I took a bite, and the brown sugar crumble topping won me over. I made that cake for years, from the box, whenever I craved it. Then I started cooking, learned to bake, and well, I'm sure you can see where this is going.
The truth is, breakfast is simpler than I originally thought. I'm used to the 30-second approach: remove a bowl from the pantry, fill it with cereal, splash milk over the top, eat. Aside from the no-cook method, I also love cereal for the slightly sweet, crunchy o's swirling in my almond milk. I'm a texture person, and I've loved cereal for as long as I can remember. Since it's one of the last bits of processed food I eat, I wanted to at least make an attempt to let go, so I made a pact with myself towards the end of last year that I'd make a concerted effort to give up cereal.
Over the last two months, I'm happy to say that I've almost eliminated it. Almost. There was no use removing it completely, at least until I came up with some new things to eat. Now that I have a growing aresnal of morning meals, I wanted to share a few of them with you.
It's that time of year. Here, a look back at my favorite CAF recipes from 2011.
JANUARY | Red Lentil Soup
This soup was all about simplicity. Minimal ingredients, simple preparation and the beauty of making something wholesome from scratch.
FEBRUARY | Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt
This is a near-perfect pantry dish with lots of flavor and a comfort-food quality perfect after any busy day. It was also something I never cooked before, so I loved that it taught me something new.
By the time Christmas comes along, I've had my share of cookies, pies and late-night sweets. More than my share, in fact. I usually give baked goods away, but then I made an amazing batch of cookies, froze the dough, and proceeded to eat a cookie (or two) for dessert every night for a week. (No complaints from Andrew, mind you.) Then there was the caramel pie I ate for dinner once. Chocolate cookies. Cookies with ice cream. Cake. Sugar. Butter. Flour....
Between cookie exchange parties, baking for school and office parties and whipping up dessert for yourself or gifts for neighbors, there are many sweets vying for your attention this season. These cookies are not frosted, painted, or rolled in sugar, but they are the best chocolate chip cookies I've had, so that's worth something, I think.
I was always skeptical of these 24-hour cookie recipes. Who wants to wait that long to eat a cookie? Beyond the time commitment, there are two types of flours, neither of which are all-purpose, so that might seem inconvenient unless you happen to have them in the pantry. Andrew and I did a little quality control just to be sure this cookie was worth everything it claimed. We baked two cookies from the freshly made dough, and chilled the rest as instructed. They were good, but the next day's batch was exceptional.
The last time I made this dish was in 2008 after reading Molly Wizenberg's Bon Appetit column. I posted a lone photograph with a link, and offered very little insight into the finished dish. It was time to revisit one of my favorite, long lost appetizers.
When two friends came over for dinner earlier this month, pumpkin risotto was on the menu, but I also wanted to make something that could serve a dual purpose of appetizer and entree side dish, should anyone need to munch on something after licking their risotto bowl clean.
Last year I read Melissa Clark's cookbook cover to cover and marked with red tabs all the recipes I wanted to try. Among them was this cornbread. Not just any cornbread, but nutty, brown butter cornbread flecked with tender corn kernels. It sounded irresistible, and it only took me a year to finally make it.
We had a friend over for dinner recently and I made a vegetarian version of this beef chili. Since chili isn't complete without cornbread, I finally had an opportunity to try this recipe, and I might be done looking, actually. When you combine our internet searches, cookbooks, magazine subscriptions and food blog browsing, you sometimes don't know where to start when it comes to deciding what to cook, or which recipe to use for a particular dish. It's very easy to become overwhelmed with the amount of recipes there are in the universe.
The color of buckwheat flour has tinges of gray, so when you're mixing the flours with the wet ingredients, your bowl appears to be filled with asphalt instead of batter. It's sort of beautiful in that way and made me think of all those initials and dates you see etched into the sidewalk where people waited patiently for the asphalt to dry just enough before they could carve their name into the road with a stick.
These waffles make an exceptional breakfast. With little sugar (only a tablespoon of honey) and only whole wheat flours, you're in for a healthy morning. One of the problems with traditional pancakes and waffles made with white flour is they are don't sustain me and less than an hour after finishing my meal, I'm usually hungry. And when I'm hungry, I'm cranky, so you can see how this is just a downward spiral, but these waffles have enough fiber and other goodies to keep me full for several hours.
Very early in our marriage, Andrew was working late one night so I made myself stuffed peppers for dinner. No big deal, right? At the time, he was disappointed he was to have missed out on something that sounded so scrumptious. It was completely adorable, actually. We've shared plenty of memorable meals in the six years that have followed, but I always have a little chuckle thinking about it so many years later. Of course, the memory surfaces whenever I consider adding stuffed peppers to our weekly menu, and I thought about it while making the pesto and sauteeing the zucchini this time around, too.
I like cooking again. Thank goodness. It took a couple of months to adjust to having Emma around, but I think we're starting to understand each other. I've discussed this before, but after bringing her home in September, dinner lost a bit of its lustre. Sandwiches, breadcrumb pasta, ramen. Whatever took the least amount of time and didn't have to be eaten at any particular temperature. I'm still not preparing anything lavish, but we're working our way back.
I recently undertook the enormous challenge of cleaning out my pantry. I found dried cranberries from 2009, hazelnuts likely from the same year and a box of Sprinkles red velvet cupcake mix someone had given me. I also discovered exactly 1/2 cup of black rice stashed away in a plastic bag hiding underneath said hazelnuts.
If I hadn't cleaned out my pantry this past weekend, I wouldn't have made this lovely salad. It's everything a fall salad should be: warm, crunchy, bright and hearty. I couldn't stop eating it, and I'm sure I'll make it many more times this season. I've been really inspired by all the beautiful Thanksgiving side dishes in magazines and on my favorite blogs this year. There's a lot to be said for well prepared, thoughtful ingredients that bring just the right amount of cozy to a winter afternoon.
If you were hanging around the food blogosphere or Twitter universe anytime in October, you may have noticed fellow bloggers committing to eat unprocessed for 31 days. While I didn't participate in the movement officially (roughly 97% of my diet is already unprocessed), it happened to coincide with the week that I ran out of cereal.
Cereal is the one processed food I've never wanted to give up. I love it too much. It's crunchy, slightly sweet and pairs beautifully with milk. I even switched to almond milk on a whim this summer, which made me feel even better about my cereal habit. I used to eat the sugary stuff, like Frosted Flakes and Frosted Mini-Wheats, then gradually reduced the sweetness with Honey Nut Cheerios and finally, Multi-Grain Cheerios, which I found to be perfectly wholesome (you know, minus the corn, additives and ingredients I can't pronounce). I bought the giant pack at Costco that lasted me a month and savored my bowl every morning, and sometimes in the afternoon as a pre-dinner snack if I knew we'd be eating later. I really didn't think I could go without it.
I used to be one of those people that was adamant about my dislike for dill. It just wasn't my herb. Ina Garten had a phase where she added it to just about everything and I always omitted it because on the few occasions I did try it, something didn't sit well with my palate. But I've evolved. I won't go so far as to say it's my favorite herb, or even my second favorite, but I can certainly appreciate its unique qualities. It was featured front and center in this salad by Cook Your Dream. Because the original recipe looked so beautiful, I decided to use the dill. I winced for a moment when tasting the dressing, but when the sour note hit my tongue, I rather enjoyed the pickled flavor. Then I imagined it smothered on boiled potatoes and smoked salmon and realized it would be alright.
My evenings have changed a bit. Ever since welcoming an almost three-month-old puppy into our home, dinner has become less of a special event and more of a chore to fit in between taking Emma outside and keeping her occupied with chew toys. We still enjoy our meals, but they're often interrupted.
As the name of my blog expresses, I advocate for easy home cooking every night of the week, a philosophy even more important now that my time is more limited. Easy, quick cooking recipes are essential for most of us, which is why I was so happy to see this dish on Ashley's blog a few weeks ago.
The November issue of Food & Wine stopped me in my tracks last week. First, there was a turkey on the cover, reminding me that Thanksgiving (and all the good food that goes along with it) is fast approaching. Second, there were so many recipes I wanted to try, I must have dog-eared every other page.
Because I wanted to make these cookies so desperately, I was thrilled to find exactly 1/2 cup of cocoa powder left in my tin. It was meant to be. And although Dorie calls these cocktail cookies (and they certainly could be), I like the idea of savoring them for dessert alongside the last sips of red wine.
I imagine we all have moments where our cooking acumen is tested, when we are forced to rely on instinct and practice instead of recipes from trusty blogs or cookbooks. This is where I stood one Sunday afternoon. We were a week into house training the dog, somewhat ragged, and had a friend coming over for dinner. I had already planned the weekend's meals but when I made the Hungarian goulash I wanted to serve, it wasn't quite right, and I'm not fond of serving guests anything I'm not extremely certain about, so I saved it for dinner the following night.
What, then, would I serve for dinner? Walking to Chipotle or our neighborhood sushi restaurant crossed my mind (the easy way out), but then Andrew reminded me I had bought shrimp for something later in the week, and in preparation I had just cooked the beans, so the decision was almost made. Except for the inconsequential detail that I had no recipe.