I’ve been told many times over the years that my approach to cooking is weird. Namely, I view recipes the way the Pirate’s Code is viewed in Pirates of the Caribbean – I think of it more as a set of guidelines. When I’m in the mood to make something new, my method is to look up as many different variations on that recipe I can find, pick and choose the ones I like, and make the rest up. Consequently, I don’t actually have solid recipes so much as basic concepts I re-use and tweak based on what’s in my refrigerator and what I feel like eating that day. I have tried submitting these as recipes with notes like “improvise here!” and “change this for this new form of the same thing!”, but I have been roundly told that that is not how recipes work. Which, as far as I’m concerned, sucks.
One of my favorite bases is something I found online that was called “bread pudding muffins.” The idea was that you took a cupcake liner, filled it with stale bread and half an egg, and baked it. And that’s a cool enough idea, but it’s super boring and clearly demands improvisation. But after two years of using this idea as a base, it has become my favorite thing ever. I eagerly await us having enough stale bread to make this. I’ve tried every variation under the sun. Sometimes I make it in cupcake tins. Sometimes I make it in a pan as a bake. I’ll add veggies, fruits, beans, spices, bacon, or pretty much whatever I can find hiding in my refrigerator. You can do anything with this. The sky is your limit. These two years of bread pudding experimentation have been delicious ones, and I have desperately wanted to write about this, only to realize that “get bread, eggs, and improvise!” did not pass muster as a recipe. And so I held off until I found one variation on it I loved enough to post.
I am proud to announce that I have found that variation.
I have a vendetta against restaurants. It’s a thing.
First of all, the word “restaurant” is just really irritating to spell. That u always evades me. Where does it go? Why does it look wrong no matter where I put it? I also have a phobia of restaurants that stems from a childhood bout of food poisoning in one, which doesn’t help matters. But most of all, I really hate “quality” restaurant menus. Whenever I go to a restaurant, I feel like I’ve been set up on an awkward blind date with the menu. It’s a perfectly nice menu, but it’s like the kind of menu that’s never gotten laid and is trying way too hard to impress me by appearing more worldly and cultured. I am never attracted to that person/menu. I usually end up sleeping with the Kid’s Menu, their much sexier younger sibling, and the waiters all judge me for it. “The kid’s menu?” They ask, like I’m one of those middle-aged men who refuse to date anyone over the age of thirty. “I mean, I guess you could order from that if you want…”
Yes, yes I do want.
I will admit that, in general, I am kind of a health nut. It’s mostly because I was raised to think that way, and I’m sure if my mother was reading this (hi, Mom!) she’d laugh at me, but it’s true. Compared to most people, or at least Americans, I’m a very healthy eater. Lots of fruit and veggies, all-natural and organic, as few byproducts and chemicals as possible, use olive oil instead of butter, leaner cuts of meat, rarely eat red meat – the whole shebang. But if there’s one area that I completely fail at eating healthy, it’s desserts.
Partially, it’s quantity. I just have a massive sweet tooth, and it’s hard to say no to a cupcake when the only interesting thing to eat besides that is a yogurt. And, partially, it’s the fact that when I eat dessert, it’s never healthy (for a dessert), like a piece of chocolate and fruit, or a light coffee cake. No. Whatever. I’m eating dessert. I want it to be bad for me. I want it to be terrible for me. That’s why I’m eating dessert. That, and because when food is bad for you, it’s kind of delicious.
My parents were away for the weekend, my sister was out for the day, and I was home alone with a refrigerator full of food and my mother’s vague instructions that maybe I should do something with it instead of sitting on my couch all weekend watching the all-day Dogs v. Cats marathon on Animal Planet. (Which, whatever, was totally awesome.) I’d sauteed up the kale, I’d made some turkey meatballs that were good but the recipe needed tweaking before I was comfortable showing it to anyone, and all we had for dessert was a frostbitten fudgesicle, mango sorbet, and three over-ripe peaches that my mom told me I should get rid of. And then somewhere between my billionth episode of Dogs 101 I had a terrible, brilliant idea.
I should make up a dessert recipe.
I’m never sure how many people are familiar with Judaism in the world outside of my little urban-suburban East Coast super-Jewish bubble, but to recap, Passover is a week-long festival. During Passover Jews celebrate being freed as slaves from Egypt (though then we went and wandered in the gosh-darn desert for forty years, so I’m not sure it was much of an upgrade).
It’s celebrated by having a seder which is a big, traditional meal that, in a truly Jewish fashion, involves you sitting around and talking about how much your ancestors suffered so you could sit here and eat brisket. That’s not why it sucks. I like that part. I can listen to some stories of suffering if it means I get potato kugel at the end of it. No, the part that sucks is that on Passover, you cannot eat anything that is leavened, or has risen at all. Basically, does it have flour in it? You’re probably not allowed to have it. And this means that every food that has ever made you happy is pretty much cut from your diet for a week. Bread? No. Pasta? Nope. Rice? It depends on where you come from, but most Jews say nuh-uh. No cereal. No crackers. No chips (except potato chips). No pizza. Nothing with a breaded crust. No baked goods. Pretty much all desserts are gonzo.
Fear not, though, because Jews have a (really, really terrible) solution known as matzah. It’s basically a giant, crumbly cracker that’s used in various states of being ground up, and it pretty much instantly dries out everything, including your mouth. Also, if you eat too much of it, it gives you constipation something fierce.
Once upon a time, I was invited to a holiday party.
I had never been invited to one before just as myself. I’d been to plenty of holiday get-togethers and potlucks, but my parents had always cooked. And then, my internship was throwing a potluck Christmas party, and I was invited. And totally stoked.
After much consideration I chose this recipe for ultra easy coconut tarts to make. Easy, rich, and would make a lot if I multiplied it. What could go wrong? I mean, besides everything?
If I had to choose one thing it is actually possible for my dad to love more than my mother or us kids, it would be garlic.
My father adores garlic. He cherishes it. He has garlic magnets, garlic t-shirts, garlic cookbooks, and garlic chewing gum. He has attended garlic festivals (and yes, I have been dragged along). There is no way that we are in any way related to any vampires, because if we were, they would be dead from the fumes that radiate from our house in a half-mile radius come dinner time. When my twin brother and I were born, my dad, the son of a photographer and a photo hobbyist himself, posed our unresisting, swaddled infant bodies for portraits to send to the eagerly expectant crowd of family and friends who had been watching my poor, tiny mother swell to roughly double her size. And to break up the soft, off-white background (and to differentiate us, I’m guessing, because newborns all look kind of the same) he curled some pink ribbon and some blue ribbon and placed it next to us where a normal parent would perhaps place a stuffed animal. Only since my dad is not a normal parent, guess what he tied it to?
That’s right. A bunch of garlic.