Cookie dough

Today I ate cookie dough for the first time. It was tasty, but this won’t surprise anyone. Because I am nothing if not an academic in the kitchen, I immediately wanted to research it: When did Americans start eating cookie dough? How wide-spread is the practice? Google gave me the answer indirectly; I found no cultural history of cookie dough, but learned that eating it is simultaneously so popular and so dangerous as to incite government campaigns with messages such as “Say No to Cookie Dough” and ominous scenarios: “It seems harmless. While making cookies, you decide to taste the dough…”

To be continued…

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I am a cheese pancake

Though I prefer the term lazy dumpling,  thank you.

I’ve earned the name by being a devout consumer of papanași, a Romanian breakfast sweet that has no easy equivalent in English. The dictionary calls papanași a cheese pancake, though papanași are usually round. In Russian they’re called lazy/mock dumplings, because they are not wrapped like varenyki. So these are lenivye vareniki. They’re also a bit like arancini, the Italian round balls of cheesy goodness.

It’s not hard to find a recipe for papanași, though ultimately you always have to go by feel. It’s one of those recipes with few ingredients, but many variables. You need to use farmer’s cheese, which comes more or less moist and more or less fat. Draining gets rid of the extra liquid, but I am still figuring out how a fattier cheese affects the end result. To the farmers’ cheese you add eggs and semolina, then a bit of sugar, followed by vanilla and lemon zest. It comes together very easily, but you really have to develop a feel for the dough so that it’s not too sticky or too moist, nor too hard.

Here are the steps:

1) Set a medium pot of water to boil. Make sure to salt the water.

2) Mix farmer’s cheese, eggs, semolina, sugar, vanilla, and lemon zest until you have a mixture that is not too sticky.

2) Form the mixture into walnut-sized balls.

3) Drop the balls in the salted boiling water, and turn the flame down to medium.

4) Let the balls rise to the surface, then boil them gently for ten more minutes.

5) Meanwhile, warm a bit of butter in a pan, add some bread crumbs. Toast, then add sugar and ground nuts, giving it another minute or so until it becomes fragrant.

6)  Drain the papanași one by one and nestle them in the bread crumbs mixture. Add more sugar if you like.

Bon appétit!

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Braised endives

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Until two weeks ago I’d never tasted an endive; they just always seemed too white for a vegetable and I imagined them to be bland. This is certainly not true once they are braised – sautéed in butter then cooked for a long time in a low oven, with a bit of lemon and salt. The result is buttery, soft and sweet, with only a hint of lemony bitterness. They are my new favorites and I want to make them all the time, like it’s some new exciting dish, even though it comes straight from the cuisine bourgeoise of the 1950s. 

A walk through Chinatown

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I went for a walk in Chinatown to let a bad mood go. A first attempt to distract myself failed and I left my shopping basket by the exit of the Honk Kong supermarket on Hester Street and walked out, leaving behind a honeycomb-pattern small bowl and mugwort-flavored mochi cakes filled with red bean paste.

I crossed Canal Street and came to Lung Moon bakery on Mullberry. The bakery is famous for serving fresh moon cakes year round, and not just during the Mid-Autumn Festival for which they are usually reserved. I chose the sweet lotus paste moon cake with a salty egg yolk – the symbol of the full moon! I loved it – or rather, the few bites I took before wrapping it up for later. Moon cakes are delicious, but dense and highly caloric.

Lotus seed moon cake with salty egg yolk

Lotus seed moon cake with salty egg yolk

On a whim, I also picked up a wrapped package of winter melon cakes. Not that I know what winter melon is, but I was curious. And I was even more delighted when the internet responded to my query about winter melon by telling me that winter melon cakes are in fact most often referred by another name – wife cakes!

As it turns out, the wife cakes are a flaky pastry with a chewy filling made of candied winter melon and glutinous rice. I had two because I was hopeful and wanted to be intrigued by these pastries with such an amazing name, but in truth the whole thing is disappointing: the flaky layers have the non-taste of shortening and the winter melon doesn’t taste like much either aside from…banana flavoring (see ingredients list). But even though I’ve not fallen for them, these pretty drab cakes gave me something else to think about and took away a uselessly bad mood.

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Winter melon/ Wife cake

Because!

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Because popcorn is both joyful and forgiving. Popcorn dinners are for movie theaters and movie nights, but also for times when cooking is just too much to attempt.

And because though I love cooking and writing about food, I am also terrified to begin. Popcorn dinners is a banner to remind me that it’s all good, whether I’m excited or feeling uninspired to cook or too dull to write.

There you go, and so I begin!