October ended and suddenly, it felt fully like fall was over. No more leaving the house without a scarf, or getting out of bed without slippers. I’ve lived at this latitude and in this climate for almost my entire life, and yet every winter it seems I’m surprised anew at how much it sucks. On the rare days it doesn’t rain, the sun barely crests the horizon, blinding me on my commute because it’s always lower in the sky than my windshield visor can go. But mostly it’s rain. Relentless, icy rain. Nick Cave weather. Tom Waits weather. Portishead weather. And I get up in the morning on workdays, sit at my desk drinking coffee while doing the crossword, looking out the window into the black of night at 7:30am. But don’t worry! This weekend we get to switch the clocks back, so it won’t be so dark in the morning… it’ll be dark at 4:30pm instead.
Anyway, I’ve been spending much of my time knitting under a blanket, cooking things that give me an excuse to turn on the oven, and eating potato products. But I did purchase my first persimmon of the season, so it can’t be all bad. It’s soup swap this Sunday, and it’ll feel nice to cook something for other people, and receive in exchange a week of lunches thanks to the care of my friends. November is a tough month to get through, and the comforting foods of fall and winter are one of the easiest ways I find to steal back a bit of happiness.
We enjoyed some long-awaited sunshine over the weekend, and Jeff and I took the opportunity to get some outdoor chores done. Sweeping up after the windstorm, hooking up a floodlight so we don’t trip coming down the stairs from the driveway in the dark, pulling up dead tomato and squash vines, and covering the garden plot with leaves and cedar needles to help with erosion over the winter. A nice cat named Toby hung out with us for a bit while we worked— I do miss having cats in the house, but it makes receiving a visit from a neighbourhood cat feel that much more special. And since pumpkin beers all expire on November 1st (sorry, I don’t make the rules), I drank one from Île Sauvage while making us fancy nachos for dinner as a reward for all our hard work.
Nachos are something you don’t really need a recipe to make, but when Priya Krishna’s Indian-ish version showed up on the NYT Cooking home page and I almost started salivating reading the ingredients list, I was powerless to resist. This uses the regular nacho toppings of beans and onion and tomato and cheese, but in place of salsa, the nachos are instead drizzled with tamarind sauce and a jalapeño-cilantro chutney with lime. You can buy tamarind sauce pre-made, but I just made a quick one using tamarind paste, hot water, sambal, garlic, and a bit of chaat masala and sugar. I didn’t have enough cilantro to make the chutney as written, so I used half mint leaves, which turned out to be delicious. I also found the low volume of ingredients (I was making a half batch) didn’t want to blend in the mini food processor, so I ground it up in the mortar & pestle like a traditional pesto. It worked like a charm!
The finishing touch is the chhonk, a seasoned ghee or oil often stirred into curries before serving. Here, it’s made with hot chili powder and what feels like an outrageous amount of cumin seeds that is actually the perfect amount, and then drizzled over the nachos along with the two sauces. The piquant chutney and the sweet-and-sour tamarind sauce paired with the rich, crunchy chhonk was absolutely perfect. We completely devoured the pan with a little bit of sour cream for dipping, all the while exclaiming that they were the most amazing nachos ever. And I can’t believe I never thought of lightly mashing the beans to help stop them from falling off the chips before now… so maybe you do need a nacho recipe sometimes after all.
After skipping making a cake in September due to still feeling vengeful over my disintegrated August cake, I got back in the saddle for October and made this vegan carrot ginger cake. Alicia’s recipe is for paid subscribers, but I also referenced this Minimalist Baker recipe because I didn’t have the full amount of carrots required in the first one. I ended up using a little applesauce, as well as some coconut shreds and raisins (apologies to the raisin haters, but also, you’re wrong). The cake features lots of shredded carrot with spicy ginger against a backdrop of coconut milk and cinnamon, with a royal icing made with aquafaba — the leftover liquid from cooking chickpeas —and flavoured with lemon zest. I’m always saving a jar of aquafaba when I make chickpeas, and only seldom using it before I have to throw it out.
My baking time was about 40 minutes despite making a slightly smaller cake, presumably due to the extra moisture from the applesauce. But it still came out of the oven with a fine crumb and was perfectly soft and spiced. I loved the texture contrast of the coconut, and the flavour complexity with the ginger and the lemon glaze was excellent— this is one to try if you like the idea of carrot cake but find the cream cheese icing it’s usually paired with to be too much. I also love cream cheese icing, but the aquafaba royal icing is a quick and thrifty alternative that makes the cake feel appropriate for a snack as well as just dessert.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this hoisin-braised squash since I saw it on Erin Alderson’s cookcasual instagram. This is notable because I am not a huge fan of most squash texture, usually, but I love hoisin sauce and I’ve had a delicata squash languishing in my dining room (along with some other seasonal gourds), so this week I got around to trying to recreate it. I’d never braised squash before, but for something like this, it’s preferable to roasting in order to keep the moisture in and help the glaze reduce and stick to the squash. (Erin also has a quick video about braising in case you’re unfamiliar with this technique.)
For my glaze, I used equal amounts of hoisin, honey, and vegetable broth, with smaller spoonfuls of gochujang, black vinegar, and soy sauce, plus a few dashes of 5-spice. Hoisin is pretty high in salt already, so if you try this definitely taste the glaze before adding to your pan— soy sauces vary greatly from brand to brand so you can always add a bit more vinegar or broth if it’s too salty or sweet, or a bit of miso if it needs more umami. I like black vinegar for its intense fermented flavour, but regular rice vinegar or even just cooking wine will also add some depth and acidity.
I did an over-easy fried egg with crispy edges in the cast iron to make this into a bowl, but a soft-boiled egg would be nice too, and so would puffed or smoked tofu. On top I just used toasted sesame seeds and chili flakes, but if you’ve got furikake this would be a great place to use it and call it fusion. This was super good: tender squash in sweet-salty sauce that had caramelized in places, soft jasmine rice to balance, and the richness of the egg yolk mixing with it all. Best of all, it only took about twenty minutes from start to finish, including cooking the rice in the instant pot (let’s not talk about washing the dishes). Next time I’ll be sure to include something green and crunchy, as well.
Also this week, a pot of borscht, a much-maligned soup that is really very tasty and nourishing if you make it right— the dominant flavour in mine is actually the tomato, with the beets and cabbage there for texture and an earthy background. Dill and sour cream on top and a nice slice of buttery sourdough on the side add enough substance to make this a balanced and filling dinner. Some spicy, cheesy baked black beans with toast on a night Jeff was stuck at work and I was home alone watching Locke & Key (these were an early pandemic staple for me). And a beautiful pesto potato pizza with prosciutto leftover from the brussels sprout gratin of last week.
I don’t have TikTok, but even I’ve seen videos from Nick Cho, “Your Korean Dad”, and I found this brief Bon Appetit profile of him by Bettina Makalintal as caring and lovely as you might expect. A coffee roaster by trade, he began his account as a way of sharing coffee recipes, but has moved from simple instructional videos to something that includes and personifies the viewer, which many find to be emotional and comforting. In particular, those who have deceased parents or fraught relationships with their parents have expressed to Cho how his videos, which can be as mundane as a trip to Walgreen’s or the Costco food court, have created something that helps ease that sense of loss as he offers — often through food — the parental affection and care they either miss or never really had. As Cho himself says:
“Though capitalism and commerce has commodified the gesture, giving someone something to eat or drink really is an act of love at the core.”
Thanks for reading— if you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with someone new! I like providing this to you for free, but it does still involve time and effort, so donations I can use towards cookbooks or future treats are much appreciated. Anyway, here is a big first week of November mood. And one more (but significantly more cursed).