Jessica Cooks

It’s only in the past few years, my mid-to-late 40s, that I’ve learned to love cooking. Not only that, learning I’m a good cook is also a relatively recent discovery. (I blame that on trying too many poorly written recipes early in my young adulthood, before I knew there was such a thing as a poorly written cookbook.) It helps that I have a family of adventurous food enthusiasts.

This isn’t going to be a cooking website. Ever. And? I have repeatedly been asked for recipes that I make often (and post to social media often), and since I’m tired of searching for the same damned links repeatedly I thought I’d get smart about it and file them all in a place I could refer to easily.

And, voila. This is that place.

Butternut Squash & Black Bean Enchiladas

This is one of the household favorites. I use 2 cans of black beans, a full 1 tsp of chili powder, and I also add the “very hot” red chili flakes (from Penzey’s) to the onions at the very beginning. I skip cilantro (I’m one of those people who doesn’t care for it) and never have scallions on hand, so I skip those, too. I rarely measure the squash, usually adding way more than is called for, so the “enchiladas” are typically filled more like burritos would be. Oh, and I ignore everything in the ingredients list about “low carb” or “reduced fat.” Hashtag eyeroll.

Kale Salad

I think I’ve only made this as written once (I never add the almonds or parm anymore), but it’s literally the only way I like kale when it’s raw. And it’s not even quite raw here, as the lemon in the dressing changes the texture and flavor of the raw kale in a way that I liken to how fish is “cooked” by the acid in ceviche.

I don’t measure anything for this one. I chop up a bunch or two of kale, whatever kind I have, then dice an apple or two (firm apples work best) plus a hunk of sharp cheddar cheese. For the dressing, I use the mini-food processor thingie on my immersion blender. I squeeze the juice of one or two lemons into the little container, then add as many cloves of garlic as I’m feeling like at that moment. After blitzing that so the garlic is completely broken down, then I add in a whole bunch of olive oil, some coarse salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and a smidge of agave. Blitz that again, and then add more of whatever on the ingredient list isn’t coming through enough.

I usually end up adding way more olive oil and more agave; I’m looking for a certain texture, but I’m also tasting constantly to get the balance right. The whole mixture gets dumped on the salad and this is one of those brilliant salads that benefits from being made in advance so the kale can wilt appropriately. I’ve made this a day before eating and it’s fantastic.

Orecchiette with Sausage and Broccoli

I’ve loved ordering this dish in many a restaurant. While the version I make at home isn’t exactly authentic, it’s one of my favorites. It’s so freaking good that dessert is often a second helping.

Here’s an actual recipe, if you’re into that sort of thing. When I make it, though, I never look at a recipe… So here’s how I make it.

Saute chopped onion in EVOO, adding some extra-spicy dried chili flakes and few cloves’ worth of minced garlic. Meanwhile, mix a pound of ground meat or faux-meat (I used to use turkey but am a convert to Impossible Savory Sausage*) with a glug of white wine and, when the onions are translucent and the kitchen smells fantastic, dump the meat into the skillet. Cook the meat, mixing it so it breaks up, adding generous sprinkles of salt and black pepper. Instead of regular broccoli, I prefer using baby broccoli or broccoli rabe, but either way it gets chopped into bite-sized pieces and dumped on top of the meat/onion mixture. You can add water or broth at this point, but I usually add more white wine and put a lid on the skillet to let the broccoli steam (this also helps keep the meat moist). I also like to drop a pad of butter in the middle of the pan, plus a bunch more salt and pepper, before the lid goes on. Stir occasionally.

At some earlier point, you’ll have put a pot of water on the stove to boil. When it’s boiling, add a handful of salt (the Italians say it should taste like the sea) and then add your pasta. The orecchiette is lovely, but any smallish pasta shape will do. Before you drain the pasta, keep some of the pasta water in reserve in case you need to add more liquid to the sauce.

When the broccoli is tender and it and the sausage taste good, combine the sauce with the pasta. The final step is to stir in a possibly obscene amount of grated parm. I never measure this part. (And I almost always wish I had added more.) If it’s seeming a little dry at this point, the pasta water comes in very handy.

* Using faux meat (or any lean meat with less fat) means that adding fat is extremely helpful; I just up the butter quotient, because butter.

Perfect Roast Chicken

This one came from my mother, whose notes I also follow. We routinely use dried thyme when we don’t have fresh. I’ve never used fennel. My favorite veggie combo that goes under the chicken is onions, carrots, potatoes (sweet and yellow), and brussels sprouts. (And I know I over-fill the roasting pan, but I don’t care. Everything comes out tasting delicious anyway.) I’ve never bothered tying the legs together, either. Hashtag lazy.

Wedding Polenta

This was served at a dear friend’s wedding, and my mother liked it so much she convinced the caterers to share the recipe. It’s a baked polenta pie of sorts, with layers of creamy, cheesy polenta topped with roast veggies and tomato sauce. It’s a little bit addictive, in the best possible way.

White Bean Shakshuka

I love the addition of the white beans to this dish. It becomes much more of a hearty main dinner course for me. One thing, though, don’t believe what the recipe says about how to cook the eggs. In my experience, cooking over low heat for the 5-7 minutes indicated leaves my eggs basically still raw. YMMV, obviously, but that’s one part of this (otherwise delightful) recipe that gets some serious side-eye from me.

Plum-Rosemary Buttermilk Cake

This is a recipe mash-up my friend Emily gave me, and it’s a favorite around here. She uses the cake recipe from this Raspberry Buttermilk Cake and the topping from this Plum Rosemary Upside-Down Cake. I’ve also made it with pears and rosemary, and also a version with fresh grated ginger in the batter and pears as the fruit by themselves. It was heavenly. Bonus? The cakes freeze beautifully.

Matzoh Ball Soup Waffles

My friend Pam invented these, and they deserve far more notoriety than they’ve gotten.