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Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock's Dark Molasses Gingerbread


Sunday morning, pad quietly into the kitchen. Kettle on, cupboards open. Pull out the box of cake flour, just the right amount still in the bag, the bottle of inky molasses, soda, baking powder. Two eggs from the fridge, cold and smooth in my hands; spices from the freezer, their bottles frosting immediately in the warm kitchen.

Baking first thing in the morning, before the first cup of tea, before opening the door to get the paper, before even being entirely awake, is one of life's small pleasures. One of my life's small pleasures. I love the silent, solitary work in the kitchen, the concentration, the satisfaction at seeing a few simple ingredients come together under my hands and blossom into something else entirely.

It so happens that the best recipes for this kind of early morning venture are plain and homey ones. They have to be. I'm not interested in four-layer cakes at 9:00 am on a Sunday, or in rolled fondant, or pastry cream. What I revel in making are recipes that dirty just one bowl, that surprise you with their ease, that come laden with history, the knowledge that they've been made a hundred thousand times before, in thousands of kitchens, by thousands of slightly sleepy home cooks who don't have the luxury to worry about whether or not the cake will rise or turn out as it should.

This recipe seems to have been made for this purpose - you whisk together the dry ingredients: cake flour and leaveners for lightness and a mix of cloves, ginger and cinnamon for warmth and flavor. Then you melt a stick of butter in boiling water and whisk that, along with a couple eggs, into the flour. That is it. Quite literally. What results is a dark and moodily cracked cake that, if left to its own devices for a day, gets moister and more complex, and if eaten while still warm, is a very good snacking cake, best if served with whipped cream to round out the hard molasses edge.

The cake is from The Gift of Southern Cooking by the late, great Edna Lewis and Scott Peacock, which doesn't have the same bewitching lilt as Miss Lewis's The Taste of Country Cooking, but is packed with information and interesting recipes from a region that I used to know very little about culinarily. The baking recipes, in particular, are just the kinds of things I like to think about making early on a weekend morning, while the neighborhood still sleeps and the day stretches languidly, full of promise, ahead of me.

For a short film on Edna Lewis, go over to Gourmet's website, right here. The first photo you see of her, a black-and-white one with her in profile at 0:21, kills me.

Dark Molasses Gingerbread
Serves 8
Note: This cake is also delicious the day after it is baked. The spices meld and the texture gets more like a steamed pudding.

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, more for pan
2 cups cake flour, more for pan
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups dark molasses
Freshly whipped cream, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round baking pan. Sift flour, baking soda and baking powder into a large mixing bowl. Blend in spices and salt with a wire whisk.

2. In a small pan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Melt 1/2 cup butter in it, then whisk water into flour mixture. Beat eggs and add to mixture, along with molasses. Whisk until well blended. Pour into pan.

3. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a skewer plunged into center comes out with no trace of raw batter. Interior will be moist. Serve warm with freshly whipped cream.

Rose Bakery's Potatoes Gribiche


A secret: for nigh on 4 weeks now, I've had a plastic bag full of potatoes sitting on my butcher block counter. They've been sprouting strangely pretty purple and green nubbins, which I rub off each time I pass them. Their skins have grown wrinkly and I've felt worse and worse every time I enter the kitchen, seeing the potatoes in their dusty bag reproach me silently for not ending their misery and cooking them.

The thing is, I've not really been in the mood for wintery mashed potatoes or herbed roasted ones. Those are for the real winter, when all you want to do is wear wool socks and watch the snow fall and listen to old jazz from the 40's on the radio. Today I want sourness and spice and sharp, bright flavors, a little heat to wake up my taste buds, gustatory jolts to shake off the remaining winter doldrums.

Now think about this: a little pile of minced shallots, a tiny mountain of diced cornichons, a palmful of salted capers, soaked and squeezed, a spoonful of sharp mustard, a few glugs of vinegar, and smoked paprika, glowing red. All of these things, plus some nice olive oil, mixed together, then used to dress that whole bag of potatoes, roasted. Can you imagine that? Is the water running together in your mouth now? You're welcome.


Actually, thank Bread Baby and Clotilde, for drawing my attention to Rose Bakery's way of getting rid of excess potatoes (though they probably don't use that exact - er - phrasing). The dressing is sort of a deconstructed sauce gribiche, a classic mayonnaise-based sauce, though it's lighter, of course, and instead of being used to dress a calf's head, you use it to dress a pile of salt-and-pepper-flecked roasted potatoes.

The salad tastes really, really good and it's simply such a relief after the relentless march of cold weather potato dishes. I, for one, can't stand them any more. The capers and pickles and mustard provide nice little zings and pops of flavor, the shallots give the salad a faint bite, the chopped eggs add creaminess and ballast, and the smoked paprika is just its usual mysterious and alluring self. Seriously, smoked paprika is like the Penelope Cruz of the spice world.


Clotilde didn't much like this salad the next day, but I had so many leftovers that I didn't have a choice but to refrigerate them and turn them into lunch the next day. I think the salad stands up just fine - all it needs is to be brought to room temperature and tossed with a fresh glug of good olive oil, which helps to brighten the flavors that have actually melded quite nicely overnight.

But a cook's work is never done, is it. Though my CSA's winter share is over (praise be), I still have about three more pounds of potatoes to fight through. I figure I've got at least another week of ignoring this batch before they start to sprout...

Potatoes Gribiche
Serves 4

1 1/2 pounds small waxy potatoes
Olive oil
Salt, pepper
2 hard-boiled eggs, diced
5 to 6 cornichons, diced
2 tablespoons capers (if using salted capers, soak for a few minutes in water first)
1 shallot, peeled and minced
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Put the potatoes in a medium saucepan, cover with cold water, cover with a lid, and bring to a boil. Drain immediately, let cool for a minute, cut in two-bite wedges, and transfer to a baking dish large enough to accommodate them in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, toss to coat, and roast until golden and crusty, about 30 minutes.

2. In the meantime, combine in a salad bowl the eggs, cornichons, capers, shallot, mustard, vinegar, paprika, a bit of salt and pepper, and 2 and 1/2 tablespoons olive oil.

3. When the potatoes are ready, add them to the salad bowl, toss gently to coat, and fold in the parsley. Taste for seasoning. Let cool to slightly warm or at room temperature.

Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez's Chana Punjabi


I have been rendered mute by a chickpea. (Can you say mute when you mean your ability to type?) To be more specific, a jumbo can of chickpeas simmered for close to an hour in a thick, spicy tomato sauce spiked with jalapeño and lemon juice and finished with fresh cilantro (two nights in a row, people - can you believe it?). Mute, I tell you. All I can think to tell you is that I loved this dish, I loved it, and I will make it again and again until the end of time. Who cares that the only Indian take-out place near us stinks? I will never need them again. Who cares that times are tough and money is short? This recipe costs barely anything to make. Who cares that the world has too many people that eat too much meat? I would gladly never eat meat again.

Chana punjabi, I think I love you.

This recipe comes from Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez, who runs darling little Lassi in the West Village and has a way with Indian food that makes me weak in the knees. It is simple: you make a quick tomato sauce, with ginger and garlic and jalapeño and warm spices (garam masala, you make my heart sing), then puree it into a creamy mass. Into that go the drained, rinsed chickpeas (canned! hurrah!) which stew and stew in their sticky, gorgeous sauce while you do other things, like daydream about moving to India. In the last 20 minutes of cooking, bang a pot of rice on the stove and you're pretty much set for the best dinner you'll have all week. (Aren't I presumptuous? What do I know about what you've been eating?)

Apparently, this is meant to serve four people. I answer that by dissolving into bright peals of laughter. Four? Are you serious? Barely even two. We had to settle for a salad after we scraped the pot clean like a pair of Dickensian orphans, and let me tell you that never has a salad been so resented. Next time I'm doubling this recipe. In fact, you should go ahead right now and double the ingredients you'll need to buy to make this yourself - don't even bother making just one batch.

Chana Punjabi
Serves 2

1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1 small Thai bird chili, chopped or 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
2 large tomatoes, chopped or a 14-ounce can of diced tomatoes, drained
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon salt, or as needed
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
Cooked rice for serving (optional)

1. In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, heat oil and add onion. Sauté until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, ginger and chili, and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and 1/4 cup water. Cover and cook until tomatoes are very soft, about 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

2. Purée mixture in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to pan and place over medium heat. Add paprika, 1 teaspoon salt, coriander, the garam masala, turmeric and lemon juice. Add chickpeas and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low.

3. Cover and simmer until sauce is thick and chickpeas are soft, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir pan about every 10 minutes, adding water as needed (up to 1 1/2 cups) to prevent burning. When ready to serve, sauce should be thick. If necessary, uncover pan and allow sauce to reduce for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until desired consistency. Stir in cilantro, adjust salt as needed and serve with cooked rice, if desired.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Rice Noodle Salad


I don't know what it was like where you were on Saturday, but here - just a week after a snowstorm closed schools and streets, and dumped close to a foot of snow on some parts of the (sub)urban area - the sun came out, the snow melted, and my heart bloomed in the warmth of the air.

How is it that every spring, like clockwork, seems to surprise us all, captivate us with its newness and glory? How do we manage not to lose that reliable sense of wonder at the first shoots we spy pushing through the crumbly earth? The first real rays that warm our bones as we stroll down streets, pushing scarves once-essential off our suddenly sticky-hot necks? The relief we feel each year that the cold and the snow is just a passing thing, something to endure; that we'll be rewarded in the end for our patience with a rebirth of ourselves, our parks, our neighbors, our world?

Spring, oh, spring.

In honor of its valiant efforts to blow the cobwebs out of my head, I made a springy, herbal Vietnamese rice noodle salad for dinner, first spied here, and originally from here. I have a severe weakness for Vietnamese rice noodles and fish sauce. When I first moved to New York, I lived near a wonderful little Vietnamese restaurant on the Upper West Side and although I'd had my fair share of pho in college and of nem in Paris, I dare say that I didn't really fall in love until I was able to eat a plate of bun every week, the cold, silky noodles slipping gently down my throat, the heady mixture of fish sauce and lime and palm sugar making the juices run together in my mouth.

This salad is a spring-addled cook's dream. All you have to do is spend some time at your cutting board, deftly slicing cabbage and peeled carrots and washed scallions into neat little strips. In the meantime, you can poach a chicken breast or two. (So much easier than roasting or grilling - just bring a pot of water to boil, add some salt, a garlic clove, and a slice or two of fresh ginger, then slip in the chicken breasts and let cook, at a bare simmer, for about 15 minutes. Drain, cool, shred, eat.) In a moment or two, you can whizz together the dressing (so good that I briefly contemplated bottling the leftovers to swig surreptitiously, like a good bourbon from a flask) and "cook" the noodles. The rest is just a matter of assembly. Do you make neat little piles of the vegetables and herbs and toppings? Do you bang everything all together, willy nilly? It's up to you.

You know it doesn't really matter, of course. What matters is what happens when you put that first forkful in your mouth: sweet, spicy, sour, slithery, crunchy, this salad is a joy to eat. It's fresh and cooling and the herbs play off each other just so, the fish sauce giving the salad this lovely, moody depth. I added mint to the original recipe, because mint simply seemed to belong there and wouldn't you know, we polished off the whole thing - leftovers meant for lunch this week! - in one go. Sigh. I don't blame us. It was just so good.


Molly renamed this Almost-Summer Rice Noodle Salad and so it's only natural that in my mind, now, it will always be called Almost-Spring Rice Noodle Salad. Because, of course, this weekend ended and a rather nasty cold rain moved in and I spent the day drinking hot tea and shivering in my inexplicably cold office, my toes cramped in their wet shoes. What I'm trying to say is, we're not quite there yet. But the other night, with the windows open and the loamy scent of new earth in the air and a salad fit for warm evenings and balcony dinners, I let myself believe that spring was right around the corner.

Rice Noodle Salad
Serves 4

1 pound thin rice noodles
3 large cloves garlic, peeled
½ cup Thai or Vietnamese fish sauce
2/3 cup water
½ cup fresh lime juice
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ to ½ cup brown sugar, to taste
1 to 2 hot chilies (red bird, jalapeño, or serrano), seeded and minced, or to taste
6 to 8 leaves Napa cabbage, thinly sliced
8 scallions, thinly sliced
1 large carrot, peeled and shredded or julienned
1/4 cup mint leaves, sliced
1/4 cup tightly packed cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 grilled or roasted chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup roasted peanuts, coarsely chopped

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the rice noodles, stir gently, then turn off the heat, cover and let sit for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain the noodles in a colander, rinse with cold water, and place them in a large bowl.

2. Place the garlic cloves in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse to mince. Add the fish sauce, water, lime juice, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, and chilies, and purée them together. (The mixture will get quite frothy.) Taste, and if necessary, add more chile and adjust the sweet/tart balance.

3. Toss the vegetables, herbs, chicken and peanuts with the noodles, and pour dressing to taste over the salad. Toss well and serve. (Save any remaining dressing in the fridge - I used the leftovers plus a bit of olive oil to dress a big bowl of baby arugula mixed with a diced avocado and some cold poached chicken breast for dinner the next night.)