“All is fair in love and quar(entine)!” my sister tweets, only half jokingly. Funnily enough, this is one of the lessons I’ve learned through this stay-at-home period. What I mean by this is, there are no rules (well maybe just fewer rules) when you’re stuck at home on lockdown during a global pandemic. One of those rules that I have since relaxed is trying so hard. I don’t need to be my very very best everyday. These are obscenely stressful and uncertain times and I don’t need to hold myself to the standards of regular, more certain times. Before the pandemic, I was a from-scratch type of girl (no judgement if you aren’t!). I expect to return to that girl someday soon. Hell, some days I still am that girl. Some days I feel like building the eiffel tower out of homemade brioche, but some days I wake up just barely in time to start my day job. Right now, things are hard and just like how I have to listen to what my body wants and needs physically (it’s usually a long walk with a mask and some pasta), I need to listen to my head and heart, and give them what they need emotionally and spiritually. So along with long walks and meditation, I’m cutting myself some slack when there is slack that needs to be cut, so to speak.
Enter these cream cheese brownies. Yes, they are made from a box and dressed up with a simple cream cheese, sugar, egg white mixture. They look and taste fancy and that’s what matters right now. If you are feeling low, like me, you don’t even really need to swirl the cream cheese. Just dump it in a smooth layer on top and you know what? They will taste exactly the same as if you swirled them. Now is not the time to push yourself, friend.
I hope you are doing well, staying home (if you can) and making very easy cream cheese brownies. Be kind to yourself, to your community (look up if there are mutual aid projects near you!) and listen to your body, heart and mind. I’ll be thinking about you.
1 Box of brownie mix and the ingredients needed to prepare per the package’s instructions
1 egg white
4 oz cream cheese (half a block), melted
white sugar to taste
Preheat the oven to the temperature listed on the brownie box. Prepare a pan with parchment paper. Prepare the brownie batter per the instructions on the box. Pour the brownie mix into the prepared pan. In a microwave safe bowl, melt the cream cheese in the microwave. Add in sugar a tablespoon at a time until it is to your taste. Whisk in an egg white. Pour the cream cheese mixture in dollops over the brownie batter. Swirl the dollops together with a knife or chopstick. Bake according to the brownie box’s instructions. Allow to cool slightly and enjoy.
As 2019 winds to a close, I find myself reflecting on what a magical year it was in food. I pushed myself in the kitchen, I tried new techniques, and I had so many exciting dishes in so many beautiful restaurants. In fact, they excited me so much that I felt called to immortalize these experiences, if only for my own nostalgia. So, in no particular order, these are my top ten restaurant dishes of 2019.
The first time I tried these dumplings was on the one year anniversary of Anthony Bourdain’s death. I had recently read several of his books and was moved by how he spoke of his time traveling and eating in the Sichuan province of China. I was surprised to learn that Bourdain even counted Mapo Tofu, a Sichuan dish of soft tofu, minced beef and a spicy, bright red sauce, amongst his favorite dishes in the world. After reading a beautiful review of Song in a local magazine (I regretfully cannot remember which) I thought it would be the perfect place to celebrate Anthony Bourdain’s life and what he meant to me.
We sat down, ordered cold Tsingtao beer, scallion pancakes and vegetable Chengdu dumplings. Our frosty, green bottled beers arrived and we toasted to Anthony Bourdain as we waited for the food. The dumplings reached our table, trailed by a thick train of steam, and were then lovingly tossed in an electric red chili oil tableside before being presented to us. To simply say these dumplings are very flavorful would be verging on criminal. The stunningly red chili and soy sauce that clings to these glossy steamed dumplings is nutty, spicy and sweet in a way that only something laden with raw garlic can be. The soft filling is neatly packaged in a perfectly chewy half moon dumpling wrapper. While writing this description, I have made plans with two different people to go back to Song for these Chengdu dumplings. You’re welcome to join me.
My boyfriend used to joke that if you say your favorite food is pizza, there’s a chance you’re kind of boring. Then I took him to Antico Forno and ordered us the Al Quattro Formaggi pizza followed by a tiny frozen espresso mousse. This pizza has four cheeses, which when said in English, doesn’t make it sound all that gourmet. But, when you say it in Italian and take into account that the cheeses are fresh mozzarella, ricotta, fontina (!) and parmesan, it’s clear that you need this pizza as soon as possible. It’s safe to say he hasn’t made that joke since this pizza.
This restaurant makes me feel proud to be from Connecticut. Proud of our produce and farms (and farmers!), proud of our creativity and ingenuity and proud of our community’s love for local and unquestionably delicious food. The menu at Cafemantic changes with the breeze, featuring any local product the restaurant can get its hands on. Dry aged steaks, duck eggs, New England cheeses and beers, the list of local wonders featured by Cafemantic goes on and on. However, one dish that (thankfully) never seems to change is the Whipped Ricotta. This light, herby and supremely creamy cheese topped with fruity extra virgin olive oil is transcendent on the restaurant’s own country bread. Every bite of this velvety ricotta feels lovingly prepared and leaves you feeling cared for and excited about the adventure that awaits you. I have had many (many, many) show stopping dishes at Cafemantic (for example, 28 day dry aged, truffle rubbed steak or sauteed local greens with chile, breadcrumbs and burrata) but the Whipped Ricotta is the starter that I can always count on to prepare me for the incredible dinner I’m about to embark on.
I had been dreaming about Tatte for months, staring lovingly at the Tatte instagram page, dying for a chance to visit. Finally, my dreams materialized and I got to try a few of beautiful offerings at their Brookline location. The poached pear tart was nutty and delicious, the morning bun was soft and coated in perfectly crunchy cinnamon sugar, and the Kouign Amann was supremely buttery and flaky. I recommend every one of these pastries but the items that stuck out the most to me was the Egg in a Hole. This dish features two fried eggs with golden, runny yolks that rest snugly in a sesame seed Jerusalem bagel, covered in super sharp Vermont Cheddar. The whole dish is finished with a chopped salad of red onions, tomatoes, cucumbers and parsley that is reminiscent of both pico de gallo and Israeli salad. I know a dish is special when I feel compelled to recreate it at home…over and over again. My attempts to reproduce this dish have been delicious but have not achieved the magical quality of Tatte’s Egg in a Hole with Vermont Cheddar.
Tucked away inside a strip mall in an otherwise culinarily unremarkable college town, is one of Connecticut’s most wonderful and hidden gems, Little Aladdin. My regular order is fried cauliflower with hummus, greek salad and then usually an extra side of hummus. It comes to you warm, drizzled with fruity olive oil and dusted with paprika with a steaming foil packet of soft pita. This hummus is deeply savory, incredibly fluffy and rich with tahini. It is both filling and impossibly light, nutty, rich and still somehow refreshing and palate cleansing. The hummus at Little Aladdin is one of the few perfect foods I’ve been lucky enough to try.
This beet and stracciatella dish topped with arugula is so simple and yet surprises me every time with just how delicious it is. This restaurant is one of my neighborhood favorites and there hasn’t been a single time this year that I’ve visited without ordering this salad. The beets are soft and earthy, the cheese is milky and creamy and arugula adds texture and a necessary peppery element. It is the perfect start to a meal and pairs deliciously with prosecco.
Instead of waking up early to shop this black Friday, I woke up to get the astonishingly good Burrata Toast at Seed Bagel Shop in Glastonbury, CT. It has thick slices of crunchy, toasty bread, jammy red peppers, herby, bright pesto, olive oil drizzled and arugula topped burrata. It is colorful, crunchy, milky, sweet, peppery and perfect. Move over wheaties, this is the new breakfast (and lunch and dinner) of champions.
Not to be dramatic but this donut is the platonic ideal of donuts. This is how donuts are supposed to be, how I imagine they used to be, how they could be in the future if we keep supporting good donut content™ like this double glazed donut at King Donuts in Manchester, Connecticut. The raised dough is airy, soft and chewy while the glaze is thick, sweet and nearly opaque. I love you Double Glazed Donut.
When I ate this life-giving, sweet and citrusy and umami-y edamame, I was bleary-eyed, aching and had spent the whole beautifully sunny October day walking around Portland without sunglasses. This dish brought me back from that blistered feet, blinded by the sun place and restored my long weekend spirit. The soy caramel was sweet like molasses and salty like the sea. It coated the edamame pods in a glossy, bronze sheen. The togarashi adds just enough heat to cut through the sweet and saltiness. This was a dish that stayed at the front of my mind long after I’d eaten every last soybean.
Vintage only uses produce they can procure locally which is a beautiful thing but requires some creative problem solving when it comes to things like lemon in drinks (Connecticut isn’t known for its citrus). Vintage has come up with a cold-drink-with-lemon alternative that will wipe any thoughts of lemon water or lemony iced tea from your memory. This magical drink is the seasonal fruit spritz. Local Hosmer Mountain seltzer is mixed with a housemade syrupy compote of seasonal, local fruit. It sounds simple, but there is nothing simple about this drinking experience. When I was last at Vintage in very late August, I was having dinner before an evening concert. I had a peach spritz and it tasted like end of summer sun. It was juicy like the perfectly ripe summer peach of my dreams. I’m pretty sure I ordered three of these and have been thinking longingly about them ever since.
The holidays are upon us, and they have brought with them, for me at least, complicated feelings about self-worth. While it’s a season of feasting with friends, gift giving and receiving, and (real or imagined) holiday cheer, it also can be an incredibly stressful time. I’m starting to feel some of that pressure myself.
When so much of our holiday lives revolve around food, judgmental thoughts about our bodies can easily float to the surface of our minds. I wish it wasn’t so, but we live in a diet-obsessed culture that tries it’s hardest to keep us from enjoying our lives. Reuniting with friends at holiday parties is much less heartwarming when dieting dominates the conversation. Celebratory meals and desserts can feel overwhelming and scary, rather than fulfilling, both physically and emotionally.
It’s not fair that we put ourselves through such frustration and insecurity this when we’re supposed to be enjoying a magical time of year. This is not to say that I don’t still enjoy the winter holiday season, or that I don’t have magical moments. It’s just that a lot of those magical moments are sometimes preceded and followed by moments of self doubt, body checking, guilt and financial stress.
I wanted my conclusion to be something about being gentler to ourselves, cutting ourselves some slack, taking time for ourselves. We should, and must, do those things. We should obviously take care of ourselves as well as possible at all times, especially in times of stress. But I think it needs to be more active than that. This holiday season has me thinking about ways we can begin to dismantle this way of thinking, to stop perpetuating our shame and frustration filled behaviors.
This looks like stopping diet conversations and negative body talk in their tracks. You never know what others in the room are going through with their body image or relationship with food, including yourself. Why allow a celebration to be clouded with thoughts and words of guilt or shame? Set the tone and lead by example as you calmly direct the conversation away from your aunt’s monologue about how “fattening” holiday food is, or how she’s being so “bad” by having another cookie. You and I both know food has no moral value, right? So let’s not sit idly by while others to spread that nonsense. Preparing yourself with some positive and non-body related conversation starters can help you to feel more confident heading into a party.
This also looks like unfollowing irresponsible “fitness influencers” that push poisonous “detox tea” and other diet culture-y, anti-woman, get-fit-quick products. These products are not only unregulated and not approved by the FDA, but they also irresponsibly place so much value on thinness (which doesn’t equal health , but you knew that). Our society’s worship of thinness is an alienating and damaging idea that has been proven to contribute to the development of eating disorders. Content pushing harmful diet supplements is extra popular around this time of year and I find that it just piles onto our already elevated stress levels. Instead, follow accounts that place value on more interesting parts of life. In other, much cheesier, words, fill your head with thoughts of sugar plum fairies, not critical thoughts about your body.
And finally, this looks like taking a day off. It can feel like we need to be constantly celebrating during the holidays, or else we might miss some magic. This obviously leads to feeling run down and over extended, potentially getting sick or just feeling down in general. Even though we’re trying to get the most out of the holidays or make everyone happy by being constantly on the go, we’re actually cheating ourselves out of quality when we focus on quantity. Pick the events that are most meaningful to you, and skip the ones that just cause you stress. I know this sounds obvious, but in practice it’s hard to turn down an invite when you feel you “should” go. Do you hate your office holiday party? Girl, don’t go! It’s not selfish to RSVP no if you’re too tired or are going to be stressed all night! Save your energy for something you actually enjoy (what a concept!) and stay home with a nice dinner and your pajamas. Might I suggest my truffle pasta?
I truly hope this winter holiday season is your most gentle, joy-filled holiday season yet. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, take time for yourself, make some truffle pasta (you deserve nice things!) and have a quiet night. Not everything around the holidays has to be bustling and busy, and you should enjoy some peaceful downtime.
Truffle Pasta with Crispy Mushrooms and Thyme Butter
Serves 1 or 2
For the pasta dough:
1 cup all purpose flour
1 egg plus 1 yolk
a few drops of water
a fat pinch of salt
a glug of olive oil
1 tsp trader joes truffle powder
For the sauce:
1 spring thyme
6-8 mushrooms, cut in half lengthwise
1.5 tbsp butter
a glug of olive oil
parmesan or pecorino to garnish
In a bowl, add flour and make a well in the center.
Add the egg and the yolk into the center of the well, as well as a small glug of oil and a fat pinch of salt.
Whisk the eggs into the flour by incorporating flour into the center little by little. If the dough seems too dry, add a few drops of water.
Once the dough comes together knead for a few minutes until the dough is smooth and supple.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
After the dough rests, roll the dough out the dough until you can read a newspaper through it.
Once the dough is thin enough, using a sharp knife cut long strips that are about an inch wide.
Dust these noodles in flour and arrange into nests.
Drop the noodles into heavily salted water and boil until they float (about 1-3 minutes).
Drain and set aside.
For the sauce: Saute mushrooms in a tablespoon of olive oil until there is a hard sear on one side.
Add one and a half tablespoons of butter and the leaves of one sprig of thyme to the pan and season with salt and pepper.
Once the butter is lightly browned and the thyme is fragrant, add the pasta and toss to coat in the sauce.
Plate and top with parmesan or pecorino shavings and enjoy.
Below, please find lists of black- owned restaurants, businesses, books and movies to educate yourself, as well as places to donate. I urge you, if you have not done so already, begin working on yourself. It is long past time to do better, to be better. Please DM me on instagram or email me at email@example.com if you have anything to add to this list. Thank you and Black Lives Matter.
Let’s talk about cooking for a sec, okay? I love to cook, and I love to cook without a recipe. If I want something in particular, I’ll often google a few recipes, skim and get the gist of the techniques and ingredients, and then set off on my own. This is freeing and it helps me learn. What happens when I add this ingredient in first? Can I deglaze the pan with wine instead of stock? What if I got a hard sear on the mushrooms before continuing with the rest of the cooking?
Obviously this approach doesn’t work in some cases. For example, following a baking recipe is super important. Too much deviation and you’ll be left with soggy-bottomed crusts and not so puffy puff pastry.
This approach also assumes some basic kitchen skills. If you know when to deglaze, how to thicken something with a roux, how to cook some al dente pasta in salty water (and reserve some of that water for the sauce!) then you’ll be fine untethered.
So this is where the pumpkin soup enters the scene. It’s an non-recipe recipe. More like a set of guidelines to make you more comfortable straying from an actual pumpkin soup recipe. My hope is that cooking a recipe-less pumpkin soup will help you branch out on your own in other dishes, because the feeling of making something from scratch without clinging to the recipe is so very good.
1 15oz can pumpkin puree
1-2 tbsp olive oil
1-2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cups liquid- stock, broth, water, cream or milk (or a combination)
2-5 leaves of sage, bruised
salt and pepper to taste
hot sauce, togarshi, sambal, chipotle peppers in adobo or another spicy thing of your choosing
Saute the onion in the olive oil and add a smashed garlic clove and togarashi, if you’re using it. Season to taste. Add the pumpkin puree, sage leaves and chipotles in adobo, if you’re using them, and cook for a few minutes over medium heat, stirring constantly. Once the garlic is fragrant and the puree has been cooked for a few minutes, add liquid and hot sauce, if you’re using it, and simmer until the soup is fragrant and thick. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup until smooth and velvety. Top with sour cream or crema and some fried sage leaves and enjoy.
When I first started writing about food and developing recipes for this blog, I wanted everything to be profound. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, I have an art degree after all. In my defense, food is profound. It’s tied to our culture, our memories, our families and friends. But I wasn’t defining profound correctly. I thought my recipes needed to be delicate, made from imported or farm fresh ingredients and dripping with cultural significance. Obviously, some of the finest meals I’ve eaten possessed one or more of those qualities. But some of the best things I’ve ever had have been profound in their simplicity, their pedestrian nature, or in this case, their peanut butter cup topping.
I’m speaking, of course, about these peanut butter cup brownies. These brownies transport me back to trading halloween candy with my sister on the family room floor. We’d wake up so early the morning after halloween and dump out our pillowcases full of candy. First, we’d sort the candy into piles by type, and then the bartering began. Sour patch kids and Reese’s peanut butter cups were my preferred candies, and I’d trade just about anything for them.
Now that I’m an adult, I can just buy a bag of peanut butter cups but somehow, this just isn’t as rewarding as finding a coveted orange wrapper peaking out of my pillowcase.
I wanted to write an essay about how gardening is magic. What a romantic notion it is to grow your own food. Tilling the soil, tenderly watering each sprout, nurturing a budding life. It’s all very fairytale-like when you put it that way. But that’s not at all why I love gardening.
When nothing is coming up Emy, I can count on my garden. It’s a measurement of my research, dedication and hard work. My produce reflects that.
There are no office politics in gardening. Your flowers don’t grow based on how much you suck up, but rather how hard you try. Your vegetables don’t care about your outfits or the embarrassing story you told at dinner yesterday. None of that matters. What matters is that you keep showing up, keep weeding, keep watering, keep trying.
What else in life can you get a return that almost exactly correlates to the work you’ve put in? Unless there’s a blight (which is pretty rare), if you weed and you water and you dedicate some time, you’re going to see some results.
Now I’m not saying that gardening doesn’t sometimes feel magical. When you pick that first, deeply ruby tomato of the season and feel its perfect weight in your hand, it feels like heaven has opened up above you. But that feeling has nothing to do with magic.
To say gardening is magic is to sell yourself short. It’s not an unknown force that strikes you by chance or by luck. It’s a record of your continued hard work. It’s a direct reflection of your follow-through. You have control of your garden’s destiny, and it shows in your crops. And to me, that’s much, much better than magic.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and grease the foil with olive oil. Leave the goat cheese out at room temperature to soften while you do the next few steps.
Roll the galette dough to about 1/2 an inch thickness and place on the greased baking sheet. Put the baking pan in the fridge while you do the next step.
To make the zucchini roses, peel the zucchini with a wide vegetable peeler to make long strips of zucchini flesh. Lay a few strips on the counter in a long row with their ends overlapping. Roll the peels together to create roses and cut in half width-wise to create two, shorter roses.
Spread the softened goat cheese on the galette dough in an even layer and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.
Arrange the zucchini roses on the goat cheese and sprinkle with pecorino cheese.
Fold the edges of the dough around the border of the goat cheese. This should look rustic.
Whisk together one egg and one tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Brush the edges of the galette with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Bake the galette at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.
Remove from oven, allow to cool slightly and sprinkle half a teaspoon of lemon zest over the top.
Sprinkle a little more pecorino over top and enjoy!
A few weekends ago, I attended a couple local cultural festivals. A Greek festival and a Polish festival to be exact. I am neither Greek nor Polish in the slightest (although my boyfriend is very Polish so maybe I’m a little Polish by proxy). Either way, I really don’t have any very strong connection to Greece or Poland. In fact, according to my boyfriend, I hadn’t even tried “real perogies” until attending this Polish festival (an accusation that I strongly refute).
However, being at these events lit a little fire inside me. It wasn’t just trying foods that were lovingly prepared and somewhat new to me, although that was hardly a drawback. All these people, so connected to where they are from, looking in their element, looking free and happy, that’s what did it.
Even though I’m not Polish or Greek, bearing witness to this celebration of culture made me linger on what makes me feel connected to where I come from.
Pasta making is one of those things. Cracking the eggs, separating those golden yolks, building the flour well, chiffonade-ing the herbs and handling the supple, sunset-colored dough. The process of it all ties me into the same magic that worked through my nonna’s hands as she kneaded, chopped, rolled and sliced.
These are the things that make me feel whole, and I need to be doing more of them. We all do.
For pasta dough:
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour, sifted
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped finely
a pinch of kosher salt
a glug of olive oil
For the dish:
8 snap peas, sliced lengthwise
1/4 cup flavorful olive oil
7 chives, chopped
2 lemon wedges,
2 scallions, thinly sliced
5 springs fresh parsley
parmesan for garnishing
On your counter or other flat surface, make a well of the flour.
Crack the egg and the egg yolk in the center of the egg along with a glug of olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt and the chopped parsley.
Slowly whisk the eggs, incorporating the flour little by little until a dough forms.
Knead the dough until it is springy, supple and not sticky.
Wrap the dough in plastic and rest for at least thirty minutes, but longer is better, up to twenty four hours.
After the dough is rested, roll out the dough to paper thinness.
Flour both sides of the thin pasta sheet and fold the dough over itself until it forms a long tube.
Cut the dough width-wise to make oval discs of rolled up pasta.
Unroll the pasta and toss the noodles in flour.
Form the noodles into small nests and arrange on a baking sheet until ready to cook.
Once ready to cook the pasta, boil a stock pot full of water and season heavily with kosher salt.
Once the water is at a rolling boil, drop the pasta nests and gently stir the water to make sure the noodles don’t stick together.
Cook the noodles for about 5-6 minutes and drain.
Toss the pasta in very fragrant olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Add the snap peas, chives, green onions, and parsley springs and toss gently.
Plate with a lemon wedge and shaved parmesan and enjoy!
I have to admit I’m a little obsessed with the CW’s show Riverdale. It’s based on Archie Comics and it has me on the edge of my seat (well… the edge of my couch). Of course, my obsession has carried over to the food they eat on Riverdale. It’s all very retro: soda pops cherry phosphates and of course, strawberry milkshakes. With strawberry season fast approaching, I figured now is as good a time as ever to make my very own strawberry ice cream. My original thought was to turn this ice cream into a milkshake but after taking one look at the swirls of luscious, roasted strawberries, I knew this needed to be served by the scoopful, preferably on a cone. (Sorry Archie!)
The beauty of this ice cream is in the roasting of the strawberries. A slow roast in the oven turns strawberries into their best selves. The flavor is more strawberry than strawberry. It’s the strawberry essence of your dreams.
Have I mentioned this ice cream is no-churn? Once the strawberries are roasted, it takes less than fifteen minutes for the ice cream base to come together, and only a few hours to freeze. Make this ice cream in the morning and you’ll have perfectly frozen, silky smooth strawberry ice cream by the afternoon.
I hope this silky smooth, deeply strawberry no churn ice cream makes you feel free to whip up homemade ice cream on the regular.
2 cups heavy cream
1 can sweetened condensed milk
4 cups sliced strawberries
2 tsp vanilla extract
a couple pinches of kosher salt
2 tbsp water
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
Line two large loaf pans with parchment paper.
Combine strawberries, vanilla, sugar, water and a pinch of kosher salt in a oven-safe skillet or roasting pan and roast in the oven for an hour.
After an hour, pour the strawberries and their syrup into a large bowl and allow to cool completely.
Whip two cups of heavy cream to stiff peaks.
Gently fold together the whipped cream and sweetened condensed milk until combined. Be careful not to beat the air out of the whipped cream.
Swirl the roasted strawberries into the ice cream base.
Transfer the ice cream base into the lined loaf pans and freeze for at least four hours.
Sorrento, Italy is my happy place. The lemons, the ocean, the cobblestone streets. It’s one of my mind’s favorite places to wander. However, Madrid is my fearless place. If you don’t have a fearless place, let me explain.
I went to Spain on an exchange four or five years ago. I was in my twelfth year of learning Spanish and it was time for me to test my abilities. When I applied, I was so excited. I had been waiting to apply for this trip for so long, waiting for my level of Spanish to be high enough for this trip. The application was due six or seven months before the trip was set to happen. I applied, interviewed and was accepted. I was over the moon. It was happening!
Then the waiting period started. And so did one of the most tumultuous parts of my life. The summer after my acceptance, I had to undergo a sudden, invasive surgery and a grueling recovery period. Even after my body recovered, an unshakable fear followed me around. My trip to Spain, the prospect of which was so exciting, had now become a terrifying monster that inched closer and closer each day. I desperately tried to find a way out, but deposits had been mailed and commitments had been made. There was no getting out, and I had to sit with this fear.
My first night in Madrid, my host family took me to a covered market with a myriad of food stalls, flamenco guitar performers and carafes of deep red sangria. The family buzzed around, picking out small plates for me and presented them to me one after another. Pieces of Manchego with thick pieces of bread, saffron laden rice dishes, and finally, bechamel croquetas.
This night, and indeed this entire experience, was transformative. The world was not to be feared, but to be explored. As I zip-lined through the wilderness on the outskirts of Madrid, or traversed through Las Ramblas, my fears and worries lagged farther and farther behind me, until they couldn’t really catch up to me at all.
In many ways, an unshakable fear still lingers behind me. After all, anxiety is a powerful demon and it can often feel that it’ll tarnish my every experience. But sometimes, there are these moments where I’m completely free, breathing deeply and feeling unencumbered. If I ever need a quick dose of that feeling, my mind takes a trip to Madrid and I become just a little more fearless.
1 shallot, finely chopped
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp + 1 tbsp olive oil
1 3/4 tsp kosher salt + a fat pinch
2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup flour
black pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
an inch of vegetable oil
3 tbsp mayonaise
1 tbsp smoked paprika
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp lemon juice
fat pinch kosher salt
In a large saucepan over medium low heat, melt 1 tbsp butter and add 1 tsp olive oil.
Add shallots and a pinch of kosher salt and caramelize until they deepen in color and become fragrant.
Remove the shallots from the pan and set aside.
In the same pan, melt the remaining two tablespoons of butter and add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.
Add the flour and whisk until it thickens and combines.
Cook this mixture, known as a roux, until it is light brown.
Once the roux is light brown, add the milk little by little, stirring to combine.
Stir in one and a quarter teaspoons kosher salt and black pepper to taste.
Add the shallots into the white sauce and stir to incorporate.
Transfer the white sauce to a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight.
After the dough is chilled, scoop a couple tablespoons and roll into a ball. Repeat until all the dough is scooped.
In a separate bowl, beat an egg until fully combined.
Toss three quarters of a cup of panko breadcrumbs with a pinch of black pepper and a quarter teaspoon of kosher salt.
Dip the dough balls into the egg, then the seasoned breadcrumbs and set aside. Continue until all the dough has been dredged.
Heat up about an inch of vegetable in a wide pan over medium heat.
Once the oil is hot and slightly shimmery, drop a few balls of dough in at a time and fry until brown and crispy, turning them to get all sides.
Drain the croquetas on a paper towel lined tray and allow to cool lightly.
While the croquetas cool, stir together all of the ingredients for the dipping sauce until well combined.