The story goes that one day the legendary Diana Vreeland, fashion editor of Harper's Bazaar for years and editor-in-chief of Vogue, asked a stewardess on her flight for Apple Brown Betty. The horrified stewardess politely replied, "Oh! I'm afraid that we do not have Apple Brown Betty, Ms. Vreeland." Vreeland then threw up her red-lacquered nails, triumphantly exclaimed, "Fake it!" and more than likely dismissed the shaken girl back to her post.
It's as good a credo as any, and certainly one to which I have often subscribed. Just the other day, I was rooting around the refrigerator for something to make for dinner when I spied an excess 1/2 pound of wrapped, fresh ground pork sausage that we hadn't needed for our Chinese dumplings (but that's perhaps another post). I immediately thought of little pork meatballs for an Italian Wedding Soup but according to the recipe I found, I was shy on some of the ingredients. I had all the stuff for the meatballs, but I didn't have any carrots. However, I did have a cube of vegetable broth that went in with my cubes of chicken broth for the base. I didn't have escarole or arugula, but bursting sprigs of parsley added the lovely, familiar green touch as well as flavor. Orzo? No. But I had a box of Uncle Ben's rice. I would have liked to have shaved a nice piece of Parmesan on it but we sprinkled a plastic cup of grated Parmesan from a recent take-out order instead. So, there you are. Diana Vreeland's Wedding Soup! Delicious!
As I have maintained in the past, a stroke of ingenuity is as necessary as any pot or pan in the kitchen. So, the next time you're stumped there, or anywhere really, just remember the words of the outrageous, great lady Vreeland and do your damnedest.
I've tried several of the food delivery services, enticed by claims of convenience, portioned ingredients for three complete meals tailored to families or couples, all cleverly packaged in boxes with attractive, tidily composed recipe cards. Here's a basic re-cap: Quinciple (expensive, recipes good, striking, unique produce but nothing is pre-measured and not all ingredients are included); Hello Fresh (pricey still, decent recipes if not a little dull, the frozen fish is not great and I recall lots of chopping). In a 'Where's Waldo?' moment, I was even featured in a promotional Blue Apron video for a few fleeting seconds. I think Blue Apron kicked off the pre-measured ingredient idea but there's still a lot of chopping involved in their wildly varying yet only mildly interesting recipes of late.
So what ultimately did I discover then, this cooking out of all these boxes? Simple. As ideal as it sounds having a menu selected for you and where the only task is assembling the ingredients given to you, I realized I don't like to be told what to make in the kitchen. I prefer instead to be inspired to make a meal that I find intriguing. This does not include the proliferation of suggested slaws that seem to unite all of these food delivery services.
No, I much prefer making things I have a hankering for and I also love composing meals based on things we already have on hand. To wit, what to do with a box of pasta staring back at you from out of the cupboard? A pureed pouch of frozen butternut squash made a lovely sauce with sage for pasta (outlining a Tyler Florence recipe, I substituted here and there--such as ground sage instead of fresh and opted out of using chopped chestnuts entirely). Another bag of chopped frozen squash and zucchini for our daily vegetables was a great mixed-in topping. It all came together quickly and I didn't have to leave the house. How's that for cooking outside the box?
I made these Honey-and-Tea Jammers in my pajamas, so let's start there.
Dorie Greenspan recently shared her Honey-and-Tea Jammers adapted from Dorie's Cookiesin the Dec/Jan 2017 Saveur and I was immediately enraptured by her 'dream cookies' built on French shortbread with streusel in a delightful confluence of just what you'd expect--honey, loose tea and strawberry jam. In the actual recipe here, the cookies are served individually cut, like thinly rolled tarts made in a muffin tin, but lacking that particular device, I giddily fiddled about and created a single, thickly rolled large tart (seen above) with apricot jam in a spring-form pan. For another batch, armed with a two-inch cookie cutter, I neatly fitted nine cut-out cookies in a nonstick cake pan and eased them out readily once completely cooled.
The unexpected pockets of brown sugar in the genial shortbread! The luscious jam poking out of the crumbly streusel! Best of all, I had all of the ingredients on hand (friends had recently given us wild honey and homemade vanilla extract over the holidays and we actually had loose rose tea for the shortbread!) and didn't have to leave the apartment. Comfortable as I was in my jammies, I set out to make my honorary Tea Jammies.
The smell of a bakery right at home was so incredibly pleasing I couldn't help but think what a treat such aromas would be for guests upon arrival--even before taking a single, gorgeous bite. Since none of the ingredients are particularly perishable, stock up for the next pajama day! Just remember to change before any guests shows up. Or eat them by yourself. Or not. The important thing is that you do make them.
It began pretty much the same way this year as it always has since I was a wee one: I pour a small glass of eggnog, sip it, remember how cloggingly thick and goopy it is and instead of just throwing it out (or not buying it at all in the first place!) I wait until the whole carton expires, when it has slowly stiffened to a blue-ish green color in the back of the refrigerator.
This year however was different--I found a recipe for Eggnog Pound Cake and set to work! We didn't have rum extract, nor did I wish to search for it. Orange extract is an admirable substitute, as is orange zest for a different flavor.
My rooting around process was minimal and Melissa's Southern Style Kitchen readily stepped in with the recipe here.
Below is our loaf before the powdered sugar was sprinkled and before I delicately dripped the absolutely necessary glaze over the whole thing. Do enjoy and thanks to Melissa for this truly wonderful seasonal Eggnog Pound Cake!
I find that I've been baking a lot lately, which is not something I usually do. Perhaps I'm still in the honeymoon baking phase but everything has turned out really well. I used to think that baking was an exacting "other" when it comes to being in the kitchen; it's not the same as creating a cassoulet or making a meatloaf, where I think variations more readily adhere to personal taste (ie while it is perfectly fine for additional pepper in your pork chops, it is ill-advised to pour an undue amount of confectioners sugar into your glaze). But while I am making my way, carefully measuring out flour, cubing my butter for cakes and whatnot, stumbling here and there, I also remember that food just wants to be good. Certainly that's something we can all agree upon. So do give it a try, if you have a mind to - mix your dry ingredients and wet ingredients together with vigorous abandon and look for more baking adventures here!
Here is the link to Snowy-Topped Brownie Drops from the Dec/Jan 2017 issue of Saveur. I think I would omit the ginger next time and just let the orange zest speak out. Also, plan ahead with these cookies--they should be refrigerated overnight and certainly tasted the best the following day.
Have you ever looked deeply into a blood stone? Murky green with faint blemishes of crimson... This here is the real gem, elegantly positioned in a very old poisoner's ring, perfect to slip something dreadful into an unsuspecting victim's vichyssoise perhaps. How deliciously Borgian! The Murdery Delicious Blood Stone Manor is available on amazon and bn.com. Also, signed and personalized copies available on these links (hardcover or paperback) at your request from my personal collection on ebay (seller name phalseysherwood). Under notes please include any personal inscription you'd like. Do read on...
"Above the considerable burning fireplace, the portrait of Grandfather Wolfson Perigord presided, preserved in oils. It appeared that he just might crawl out of the frame and over the threatening flames on an evening. The defiant eyes were deep hollows, gouged into the painting, cut stern and gray, piercing the canvas under a shock of white, worrisome hair. His posture was slightly stooped, and the large knuckles of his clutching hands were white as well, the long fingers wrapped tightly around a glittering blood stone on the head of his black cane..."
Perhaps while constructing The Murdery Delicious Blood Stone Secret,I may have ventured past this simple entrance on an evening and with artistic licence paused to scribe, "Inside the great hall, an enormous, dazzling teardrop
chandelier hung down loosely, fragilely comprised of several others in
miniature, giving the effect of a tiered wedding cake, iced with faded
grandeur, even though newly installed. Just beyond, a winding, carpeted staircase
bordered with stiff rods angled up to the floors above..."
Discover what else hovers over the stairs in my thrilling new novel! Signed and personalized copies available on these links (hardcover or paperback) at your request from my personal collection on ebay. Or look up The Murdery Delicious Blood Stone Secret with seller name phalseysherwood and under notes include any personal inscription you'd like. Thank you!
After weathering a soul-shredding career as a theatrical agent that lasted entirely too long, Mr. Sherwood left his stable of actors from the stage and screen and went on to pursue his literary aspirations. He is currently the dining editor for Next magazine (nextmagazine.com) where he writes a weekly restaurant review column which also features Manhattan's best food and drink recipes from the finest chef's and bartenders on the island. In 2010 he was published in Foodista’s Best of Food Blogs Cookbook. He toiled as web editor for industry leader Interior Design magazine for several years and has also written for New York magazine, Travel & Leisure and Woman’s Day.
A proud graduate of the University of New Hampshire, one of the nation’s top drinking schools, Mr. Sherwood also studied voice and theater abroad at Regent’s College, in London’s historic Regent’s Park, and at the Royal Academy of Music. He spent a year at Hunter College in Manhattan.
Mr. Sherwood recently published his first novel, the pale of memory, available on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and iUniverse.com. He is in the midst of writing a second.
Twitter/tweet/twat him @kaleidabox