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Last month, Ruth Reichl, food writer extraordinaire and the last editor-in-chief of the now shuttered Gourmet magazine, rounded up her 10 favorite recipes from her magazine years for Epicurious. It’s possible I’ve never clicked on a link faster. I adored the magazine; in my early years here, it really helped me crystalize a vision of what I love in cooking and do not. I cooked so many of the recipes — and yet, almost none of these. A raspberry crumble tart by Ruth Cousineau in August 2006 (just weeks before I launched SK) in particular jumped off the page. Reichl writes:

From the first moment I tasted this tart, I knew I’d be serving it again and again. I love the simplicity of the recipe, which allows the fruit to shine. I love the way it looks—a gorgeous burst of vibrant color peeking out of a shaggy top. And I really appreciate that you can use the most insipid supermarket raspberries (they emerge from the heat of the oven with a surprising intensity of flavor).

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[Welcome to the Sous-Chef Series, a new, sporadic feature on SK in which I invite invite cooks I admire over to my small kitchen to teach me — and thus, us — to make one of their specialties. Spoiler: I’m the sous!]

I first heard of the Russian restaurant Kachka when I was last in Portland, Oregon on book tour (hi, Powell’s!), when no fewer than a dozen people separately told me I had to go while I was there. A few said it wasn’t just their favorite restaurant in Portland, but their favorite restaurant, period. This made me all the more sad that I didn’t have time to make it happen. My regrets snowballed when I finally dug into the restaurant’s eponymous cookbook last summer. I was no further than the first page — where the confusion as to what is “Russian” food when “food from the former Soviet Union including Russia but also the countries surrounding it like Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine…” would be more accurate is humorously laid out — when I became deeply, emphatically obsessed with all that I’d missed.

The book is a delight on every page; a bit of history, a substantial amount of wry observations, some hilarious guides (how to navigate a Russian grocery store, the rules of the “drunk fest” known as a pyanka, how to “tetris” your zakuski spread, and I will never stop laughing about the day in the life of sauerkraut, kickbacks and all, in the former Soviet Union) and recipes that will make you want to take the vodka bottle from your freezer (or start keeping it there, have I not taught you anything), have a rowdy group of friends over, and cook, eat, and drink until you make plans for next time. I immediately bought another copy for my mother-in-law and a third for a friend. I could go on and on, but then we’d never get to the wild thing that happened last month.

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A month ago, I made kaiserschmarrn, a shredded pancake, for my kids for a weekend breakfast at the suggestion of my neighbor (coincidentally the partner of the neighbor who challenged me to make dutch apple pie, and thus definitely someone with good taste). It was, as predicted, delicious, and as it’s the year 2019, I posted a photo of it on Instagram Stories in the moments before my children demolished it. It was only then, through an avalanche of DMs, that I learned how deeply beloved it is.


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I’ve become the kind of person (a grandmother, perhaps; you can say it) who always implores you to stay for dinner. But it’s less benevolent than it sounds. I mean, yes, absolutely I’d love your company and not just because it will provide a welcome break from our usual dinner conversations of “Please take a bite. Of anything.” “No, I promise, that’s not a parsley fleck.” Or “But you liked roasted carrots last week!” And not just because I’ve found it takes 47 group texts to make dinner plans but if I say “just swing by at 6,” the answer is far more often a simple “Yes!” Not just because it’s part of my ongoing ulterior agenda to make entertaining less fussy — nobody is imagining you’d bring out a tray of hor d’oeuvres on a Tuesday night, thus nobody has to be disappointed that that will literally never happen — and therefore a more frequent thing in our lives. And not just because once you’re already making dinner, accounting for a serving or two extra is barely a hurdle.

Or, it’s not exclusively for these reasons. Mostly, I find it makes weeknight cooking more fun. I usually use it as an excuse to try something new that is maybe a step more effort than I’d usually put in, not entirely sure my family will receive it with the standing ovation and outpouring of gratitude that I believe each and every one of my cooking efforts are owed. (I’m kidding. Probably.)

It’s one of these evenings a couple years ago that led me to this soup. It seemed to have an element for everyone. Meatballs go over well with both kids and adults, keep well (when dinner isn’t going to start on time), and warm up well when there are leftovers. The broth is rich and quick; no bag of food scraps or chicken bones required. We served it with rice on the side, so that people who wanted to could add as much as they wanted (ahem, kids) and people who were not eating rice could skip it and still have a great soup. I couldn’t find lemongrass that day and added some spinach instead, but ended up keeping the spinach in in later rounds. We served it with lightly pickled red chiles, fresh mint and cilantro, and a lot of lime on the side and it was so good, I’ve made it many times since.

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When it’s quiet around here, it generally means one of two things: 1. I’ve been cooking a series of duds, or certainly nothing good enough to clear my throat into this microphone and sign the praises of. Or 2. We’re heading for another episode of Just What Has Deb Gotten Herself Into This Time (see: any Friendsgiving or wedding cake adventure). A couple weeks ago was the former; last week was resoundingly the latter.

I took over first night Seder (a ceremonial dinner on the first two nights of Passover) duties last year, instituted Harry Potter haggadahs, and it was all going well until I got to planning this year’s meal (seemingly: writing potatoes, carrots, onions, eggs, almonds on a grocery list over and over again), decided we needed to shake up the guest list a little — really, I think I just miss my dad making bad jokes and trying to get us to stick even a tiny bit to the prescribed topic — and suddenly we were 17 (plus a waitlist; “only in the Smitten Kitchen…” a friend said), we definitely didn’t have this many chairs or table space, my fridge and freezer were bursting at the seams (the ice cube tray got evicted), and I haven’t even gotten into the part where a chef came over that morning to teach me a new dish that had nothing to do with Passover (but promise something fun is coming). The whole week was a heady mix of panic and delight. Someone is going to tell me it’s because I’m a Gemini, but truly the only thing that motivates me is being at the edge of a disaster, and that’s where the bulk of this month has vanished to.

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If this were still April Fools Day, I’d tell you that my next cookbook will be about how to doctor up a can of beans. But, like the best April Fools Day jokes, it’s only funny if it could be true. Rest assured, I would never, but it’s definitely crossed my mind. It’s usually at lunchtime on a weekday, which is my single biggest failing as a home cook. Maybe you’re shocked that a person with so many ostensibly quick, five ingredient or fewer, and lunch-specific recipes at my disposal would not enlist them during a workday. Or you might gather that between thinking about breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for a family as well as all of the recipes I might create for this site, books, or columns, when it comes to the relatively low stakes of my own lunch, slacking is inevitable.

That is, unless I spot a can of beans. One of my favorite things to do with beans is to treat them as you would pasta. I don’t do this out of any grievance with pasta/gluten/carbs. I do it because most of our favorite pasta sauces translate so well to other ingredients. From here, I’ve landed on pizza beans, weeknight beans on toast, and this grilled zucchini and white beans with pesto.

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[Welcome to the final installment of ✨ Newer, Better Month ✨ on Smitten Kitchen, when I update a few SK classics with new knowledge, new techniques, and with real-life time constraints in mind. Previously: Perfect Spaghetti and Meatballs, Extra-Flaky Pie Crust, and Extra-Billowy Dutch Baby Pancake.]

French onion soup is not just a forever favorite of mine, it’s — along with the other recipes I updated this month — what I consider a core recipe in my arsenal because it aligns with so much that I think is important in cooking. It’s totally budget-friendly (and downright cheap) to make. It’s made from buy-anywhere ingredients and very few of them — 99% of the flavor comes from just onions, cooked very slowly, transformed by a technique you need no advanced cooking skills to master. And it has a depth of flavor that is unparalleled in almost anything else I know how to make.

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[Welcome back to ✨ Newer, Better Month ✨ on Smitten Kitchen, when I get update a few SK classics with new knowledge, new techniques, and with real-life time constraints in mind. Previously: Perfect Spaghetti and Meatballs and Extra-Flaky Pie Crust.]

Sometimes “newer, betters” emerge because the original recipe wasn’t as good as it could be. But most of them — like this — come from real life. Like, when you’re really tired on a Saturday morning and you look at a recipe that you swore by at some time in your life when nobody dragged you out of bed at 7am on a Saturday [and then, instead of handing you a cup of coffee for your troubles, as you’d once daydreamed they’d be trained to do by now, demanded pancakes] and say “WHUT.” A blender? No, I am definitely not getting the blender out right now. Wait, why am I turning on the stove and the oven? Do I really need this much butter? Why are there lumps in the batter? Why isn’t this as puffy as I thought it would be? Can I go back to bed yet? I mean, just for a random example that’s definitely not going down in my kitchen as we speak.

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[Welcome back to ✨ Newer, Better Month ✨ on Smitten Kitchen, when I get update a few SK classics with new knowledge, new techniques, and with real-life time constraints in mind. Previously.]

The concept of “newer better” is always going to be relative, and no more so than in this recipe. For all of the years I’ve been cooking, I’ve made pie dough one way. I shared the recipe with you in 2008, have referenced it in every recipe for pie since, and, until a couple years ago, never veered from it. My recipe is not an outlier; it contains the same ingredient ratios as 99% of American-style pie crust recipes out there. There might be variations in types of fats, preferred flours, sometimes there’s a little buttermilk or apple cider vinegar instead of some of the water or a little more or less sugar and salt, but they’re almost all the same ratio of fat to flour to water. It makes a great pie crust. Here’s where the relativity comes in: If you make pie crusts the way I’ve long made pie crusts and you’re happy with these pies, stop reading now. There’s nothing to see here! This isn’t for you! This is for people who have tried that fairly standard formula and found it lacking. A little tough. Not flaky enough. It comes up! I’m listening.

So let’s talk about what that last one percent of pie doughs do differently. It’s not the butter or the liquid; by and large, these recipes use the same amount. It’s the flour — they use less. If you’re thinking, “but if you use less flour and the same amount of butter and water, the dough might be stickier and harder to work with?” — you are correct. I began auditioning these lighter-on-the-flour doughs a few years ago and found them a little pesky and if you’re wondering if “pesky” is smiled through gritted teeth, well, you are correct again. And I feel pretty comfortable with butter-flour doughs! What does this mean for people who do not? Given that making pie dough at all from scratch is even for some of the most skilled home cooks a hurdle they do not wish to surmount (hi mom!), why suggest a trickier recipe? Why raise the hurdle? (Why download DuoLingo and start with Russian, Deb? Ahem, I digress.)

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A little background: Smitten Kitchen is approaching its 13th anniversary on the internet, and I’m hoping for all of our sakes that its 13th year is nothing like mine (some very bad bangs decisions and a whole lotta awkwardness). When I began this site, I knew how to cook very few things. What I did know was what I wanted from the things I was cooking and where the dishes I was auditioning either exceeded my expectations or fell very short. I logged it all here like a dutiful aughts-era blogger with no larger agenda for what it would become, because how could I have known? I never knew I’d still be at it 1200 recipes, two cookbooks, and two children of unparalleled cuteness (no bias here whatsoever) later, although still in a small kitchen because I’d missed the Buy Tech Stocks or Possibly Have Become A Banker memo, but this is not a complaint — not about this lot, not in this lifetime.

I’ve learned how to cook hundreds of things over the years, and I’ve learned hundreds of things from the things I’ve cooked. An editorial conundrum I had never considered but that comes up pretty frequently is what I should do with a recipe way back in the archives that I no longer cook the way I once did. I could leave it. I mean, this website is an Important Historical Artifact. It’s essential that every stupid thing I’ve said in 13 years remain preserved intact on the web for all time. For, like, science. Needless to say, I am not devoted to this point of view.

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