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Fritters, with fair warning

Some recipes should come with warning labels. Take, for example, my great-grandfather’s egg nog, which should come with a built-in breathalyzer test. Or a certain salad that, in all fairness, should be branded with the label “May Be Habit-Forming.” For the average single-occupant household like mine, a recipe for macaroni and cheese should come with a warning from the Surgeon General, and a batch of chocolate-covered coconut macaroons with the caution “May Steal Your Soul.” When it comes to the threat of danger, cigarettes, radiation, and other documented hazards have nothing on the output of one home cook and her kitchen. Especially when said cook is contemplating fritters, doughnuts, and other things deep-fried: a category of recipe that rubs seductively against danger, first-degree burns, and a delicious lot of fat. It’s the extreme sport of foodstuffs.

I love a good deep-fried something, but I also love my fitted jeans, so when I clipped a recipe for yogurt fritters from the pages of Saveur, I filed it under “Do Not Attempt Alone,” lest I tempt fate and a big, fatty bellyache. I have said it before, and I will say it again: no one—single occupant or not—should find herself solo with fifteen homemade balls of fried batter. So I sat back and waited for Brandon to visit, so we two could tempt fate together, and rub each other’s bellyaches.

Which we did, and I can’t exactly warn against it.

Tangy with yogurt and laced with a tinge of lemon, these fritters fry up to the size of a small child’s fist and go down in a half-dozen bites. The crust of each little orb is uncannily crisp, meeting the tooth with a good, satisfying crack. Beneath, the crumb is moist, dense, and deceptively light, somewhere between cake doughnut and sponge cake. Even with a snowy cap of sugar, they’re only subtly sweet—the sort of thing that goads you, ever so slyly, into a second helping. I ate two and a half and only sort of wanted to die—until, of course, I ate another. Consider yourself warned, if you want to.

Lemon - Yogurt Fritters
Adapted from Saveur

While deep-frying is not exactly a healthful practice, I find that a fritter every now and then does the morale good, especially when eaten in good company. These are a cinch to make, and very quick too. If you, like me, are inclined to think that fried dough makes for a good dessert, whip up a batch of batter before you make dinner, slip it into the fridge to chill, and then heat the oil while you eat your main course. These fritters would also be a wonderful—and wonderfully unfussy—addition to a brunch menu, with the special bonus of being easily made the morning of. And should you have any leftovers, be sure to let them cool thoroughly before sealing them in an airtight container or bag, so that they don’t get soggy.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup whole-milk plain yogurt
2 large eggs
3 Tbs fresh lemon juice (about 1 lemon’s worth)
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs vegetable oil, such as canola, plus more for frying
Powdered sugar, for serving

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.

In another medium bowl, combine the granulated sugar, yogurt, eggs, lemon juice, honey, and 1 Tbs of the oil, whisking until smooth and well combined. Add the flour mixture, and gently fold and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Do not overmix. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate the batter until chilled, about 1 hour.

When you are ready to fry, pour oil into a wide heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven to a depth of about 2 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat until its temperature reaches 325 degrees Fahrenheit on a candy thermometer. Scoop the batter by scant ¼ cupfuls—I used a heaping two-tablespoon ice cream scoop—into the hot oil, and fry, about 3 or 4 at a time, turning occasionally, until the fritters are deep golden brown all over, about 5 to 6 minutes per batch. Transfer the finished fritters with a slotted spoon or spider to a large plate lined with paper towels. Repeat the process with the remaining batter.

Dust the fritters with powdered sugar while still warm, and serve.

Yield: About 15 fritters


Sex, lies, and lentil soup

My name may not be Dr. Ruth, Ann Landers, or Dr. Phil, but where love and marriage are concerned, I do have this advice: sometimes self-deception is a future spouse’s best friend. Especially at the dinner table.

Take, say, Brandon, my own handy example. Though a vegetarian, born and raised, he has developed a rather sneaky strategy where certain fleshly foods are concerned. His solution is a close cousin of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, something best described as “Ask, But Don’t Hear the Answer.” When served a given food item, he tries in earnest to ensure that it is vegetarian-friendly, but should he learn otherwise, in certain cases, he will—very consciously, and quite conveniently—forget. It’s quite simple, and with more than two decades of practice, he has it down pat. This policy applies to fish sauce, shrimp paste, gelatin, chicken stock, and, among other things, the sauce on Di Fara’s square pizza, which gets its supple, sumptuous body from a porcine base. He has his priorities, and no dietary restrictions will keep him from a Thai or Vietnamese restaurant, a homemade marshmallow, a good soup, or New York City’s finest slice. I am marrying a veritable master of self-deception, and as you might imagine, I really couldn’t be happier.

Brandon’s consciously self-deluding habits have led to many a good meal, the most recent being only a few days ago, mere hours after he arrived in Seattle for this month’s tide-me-over visit. Between bites of sandwiches and French fries at Baguette Box, our conversation turned—as it inevitably does—to our next meal, and the following exchange ensued.

Molly: I was thinking we could make a lentil soup tonight—maybe that one from the Zuni cookbook? [She hesitates.] We could use that chicken stock I made last weekend.

Brandon: You mean that vegetable stock? [He winks.]

Molly: Oh, right. Vegetable stock! We’ll use that vegetable stock I made last weekend.

A trained professional might not agree, but the little lies that we tell ourselves bode rather well, I think, for our future happiness, especially where lentil soup is concerned.

Black Lentil Soup with Black Pepper and Cumin Seeds
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook

Every cook needs a good lentil soup, no matter how simple, in her repertoire. Though there are many worthy ones to be made, this version currently tops my list. It is rustic and full-bodied, and surprisingly complex. I venture to guess that nearly any type of lentil would work here, but if you can, try to find black (also known as Beluga) lentils, which sport a plump, round shape; a rich color; and a sweet, earthy flavor. The same note goes for the stock: while a good vegetable stock would work in a pinch, a homemade (or best-quality store-bought) chicken stock will bring wonderful body and flavor. Lastly, be not afraid of the amount of peppercorns called for here: they settle softly into the background, lending only a subtle undertone of spice—more fragrance, really, than bite. And the aroma that rises from the mortar when you crush them into a few cumin seeds really should not be missed.

3 Tbs good-quality olive oil
½ cup finely chopped red bell pepper
½ tsp whole black peppercorns
¼ tsp cumin seeds
¼ cup finely chopped carrot
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup finely chopped yellow onion
1 large garlic clove, smashed and chopped
1 Turkish bay leaf
1 sprig of Italian (also known as flat-leaf) parsley, chopped (both stem and leaves)
1 cup lentils, preferably Beluga
4 to 4 ½ cups good-quality chicken stock (such as the homemade version also in The Zuni Café Cookbook)
Salt, to taste
Crème fraîche or sour cream, for serving (optional)
A few leaves of Italian parsley, finely chopped, for serving (optional)

Place a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat, and add 1 Tbs oil. When the oil is warm, add the bell pepper and cook, stirring regularly, until it softens a bit, about 5 minutes.

In a small mortar, crush the peppercorns and cumin seeds. Add them to the bell pepper, and cook the mixture for 1 minute. Add the remaining 2 Tbs oil, carrot, celery, onion, garlic, bay leaf, parsley, and lentils, as well as 3 cups of stock. Stir the mixture together, and bring it to a simmer. Reduce the heat, and cook the soup uncovered, barely simmering, until the lentils are tender and have absorbed most of the liquid, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes to allow the lentils to soften.

Using an immersion blender (or, alternatively, a blender or food processor), partially puree the soup, so that about half of the lentils are still whole. The soup should be a bit creamier, though still rustic, and a touch lighter in color. Add a bit more broth—I added 1 cup total, in ½-cup doses—to bring the soup to your desired texture. Simmer briefly to rewarm, taste, and add salt as necessary. Serve with crème fraîche and/or Italian parsley, if you like.

Yield: About 4 servings


Spring, sliced and straight from the bowl

I try to keep things exciting for you. Really, I do. So far, in the lifespan of a single food blog, I’ve baked savory flans à la Dr. Seuss and had night sweats. I’ve declared a national emergency in the name of Brussels sprouts. I’ve made—and consumed—an heirloom egg nog containing five pints of ½-and-½ and four types of alcohol. Hell, I even went and got engaged. It’s a lot of work, frankly, and after so much excitement, sometimes a girl just wants to sit on the floor, shout Jeopardy! answers at the television screen, and eat the same dinner, seven nights in a row, straight from the serving bowl.

Lucky for both of us, dear reader, said serving bowl contained a very special salad, the sort of thing that would be worthy of note whether or not I had eaten it every evening for the past week—which I have, of course, and happily. In all truth, I’ve been eating variations on this supper at least twice a week for the past two months. In a show of my sickness, I’ve even forced it—and an evening of America’s Next Top Model—upon Shauna, who gamely gave both her hearty endorsement. I also dragged this salad schema to New York, where I risked my life to cross the threshold of Fairway on a Saturday afternoon for a few heads of endive and a package of feta. I may be a creature of habit, and an aggressive one at that, but I could do a lot worse, I think, than this spring slaw of sorts.

A cousin of the chopped salad, this sliced version is built on a four-point foundation: endive, cilantro, radishes, and feta. Though not initially an intuitive combination, together their sum is much greater than its parts, especially when a good, kicky vinaigrette is involved. The bitter earthiness of endive is subdued under a smear of soft, salty feta, and the watery crunch of a wafer-thin radish borrows brightness and character from whole cilantro leaves. Anything else is unnecessary, really, but I like to add radicchio for its color and bracing bite, and avocado for its creamy, mellow quality, which smoothes, softens, and unites the separate components into a delicious, seamless whole. Elegant and yet easy to eat while watching television, it makes for an entire meal, satisfying to both jaw and belly. I’d take this mess of sliced stuff over a simple green salad any day—or, really, actually, every day.

Sliced Spring Salad with Endive, Cilantro, Radishes, and Feta

This salad is a study in small variations: I rarely make it the same way twice, but it never strays far from its core ingredients. Aside from the endive, cilantro, radishes, and feta, the list of ingredients below is a rough sketch. I’ve been known to substitute fennel for radicchio, and occasionally I add a few nuggets of Parmigiano Reggiano, some meaty flakes of smoked trout, or even just a few canned chickpeas, drained, rinsed, and dried. The key, in any case, is the quality of the ingredients. For salads like this one, I like a Hass avocado that’s on the firm side of ripe: not hard, but solid, with just a hint of give—the potential for softness, you could say. I buy my endive on the small-to-medium size—no larger than 3 ounces each—with no bruises, brown spots, or other blemishes, and I look for tight, compact heads of radicchio, each about the size of a large man’s fist, with smooth, shiny leaves. I serve this salad on its own, as the center of the meal, with a hunk of crusty bread or a few roasted sweet potato “fries” on the side.

1 medium Belgian endive, root end trimmed away, sliced crosswise into ¼-inch strips
¼ head radicchio, sliced as thinly as possible
2-3 red radishes, sliced into paper-thin rounds
A small handful of cilantro leaves, from about 6-8 sprigs
Red Wine-Mustard Vinaigrette, to taste
¼ medium avocado, sliced into ¼-inch strips
1 walnut-size nub of French feta (or more), crumbled

Optional additions or substitutions:
½ medium fennel bulb, sliced as thinly as possible
A small handful of smoked trout, torn into bite-size pieces
A small handful of chickpeas
Parmigiano Reggiano, broken into small nubs

In a medium bowl, combine the endive, radicchio, radishes, and cilantro leaves. Toss with vinaigrette to taste. [I find that endive salads take a bit more dressing than plain green ones.] Add the avocado and feta. Serve straight from the bowl.

Yield: 1 serving.


A man, a plan, a lot of gratitude

You, dear readers, have outdone yourselves. Brandon and I are awestruck, humbled, and deeply touched by this rush of cheers and soggy Kleenexes. I thought that you came to Orangette because you love food, but the truth is out: what you really love is a love story. Me too.

Wow. Thank you, and thank you.


A man, a plan, a food blog

I am not a magician. I have no magic wand, no card stashed up my sleeve, no giant quarter to pull from your ear. But last June, when I offered the online equivalent of a rabbit pulled from a hata man named Brandon, seemingly pulled from the ether – you kindly accepted my sleight of hand. You cheered. You sent congratulations. And you were respectfully restrained in your questions. You, dear reader, have been very patient. For all the stories that I have spun into the fabric of Orangette, this was the spottiest and the most sparse. It was the most significant, but also the scariest to tell, because Brandon came into my life just as you have, dear reader: through the open window of this website. While I was busy telling food stories, this food blog was spinning for me a story of its own.

It all began on April 3, 2005, with an e-mail. “I’m sure you get this all the time,” its sender announced, “but your site is wonderful.” “The main problem,” he concluded, “is that you live in the wrong city. If you were in New York, I would like nothing more than to take you out to Balthazar for some French martinis and a Balthazar Salad.” Three weeks, two dozen e-mails, and one very long phone conversation later, the sender flew to Seattle. He sat with me on the Harbor Steps and ate pistachio gelato. He bantered with the boys at Frank’s Produce in Pike Place Market. When I asked to kiss him, he obliged. The next morning, we retrieved our dirty dinner plates from the kitchen table, wiped up the crumbs, and walked—more than a little wide-eyed and woozy—into an indefinite future of long-distance phone calls and cross-country plane tickets, dates at Di Fara this month and Pike Place the next. I knew that Brandon would be in my life for a long time, and that snippets of that time would slip naturally into Orangette. But I was afraid of sounding like a People magazine story—“Blog Brings Them Together,” maybe, or “Food Lovers Find Love Online!”—so I made ours the one story that I would not tell.

But it isn’t every day that a website lands a wonderfully food-obsessed New Yorker in my life, unplanned, unexpected, and with an uncanny eye for a proper Neapolitan pizza crust and a palate to match. A year ago today, it brought Brandon to me, and last Wednesday, March 29, 2006, on a bench on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, it made me his fiancée.

And to celebrate—after, of course, a bottle of Taittinger Domaine Carneros, a few Di Fara slices, and several Black Hound bittersweet truffles on the subway ride home—I vowed to sit down and tell you the whole story, from start to finish, fan mail to engagement. Awards are alright, and good press is pretty nice, but not even a magician could have pulled from this food blog a better surprise: a New Yorker with a one-way ticket to my northwesterly city, a wedding to plan, a husband-to-be, Brandon.