I made a cake the other day and it was terrible. There may have been tears. I’d allocated half a pound of precious butter and 3 eggs to this unmitigated disaster all in the name of not wasting the buttermilk.
For the last several years, as a recipe developer, it was not unusual for an experimental dish—or dinner—to go awry. It might be so disappointing we would opt for cereal instead.
But what I once shrugged off as a learning experience or misstep is no longer palatable as I cope with egg and flour shortages and infrequent grocery shopping.
My kitchen brain, once free-wheeling and experimental in the Times Before The Virus, is now the provisioner, an eagle eye trained on the pantry.
Day after day, to sidestep possible failures, I am relying on dishes I’ve made for decades. The next time the baking urge hit, I fulfilled the hankering with my grandmother’s coffee cake, the one I learned to make when I was 12. There was my tried-and-true slab pie made with frozen fruit and shared with neighbors by placing foil-wrapped packets on their porches. It’s the new form of ding-dong ditch.
Using what’s on hand is important, but so is variety—for both the cook and the diner. I keep a running list of ideas for dinner, selecting one each morning after checking supplies and defrosting what’s necessary. This new regimen has called for flexibility, when there are no Brussels sprouts, I substitute that sprout’s botanical relative, cabbage. If the peas are gone, do chopped frozen green beans work? Yes, they do.
I’ve instituted a global flavor rotation in weekly menu planning, looking to dishes inspired by foods from France, Italy, China, Israel and India as well as beloved recipes from the American South and my New England mother’s roots. And I’m looking back at recipes I developed years ago and wondering why I abandoned them.
I had all but forgotten these Inside-Out Samosas, and now I can’t stop making them. They can be a main dish, a side dish, a brunch dish with an egg on top. It’s all the flavor of a samosa without the dough to roll out and shape.
I like to make them with gold potatoes for their creamy texture, but any potato will do. (Purple potatoes are a little weird.) Even leftover mashed potatoes stand in. The coriander and cumin seeds, butter crisped, add textural crunch, but if neither is in the pantry, use half as much of the ground version. Use frozen mixed vegetables or mix up your own frozen vegetables. Or opt for fresh vegetables chopped into pieces about the size of a pea. I recommend you par-cook fresh vegetables to ensure they are tender in the brief time the pancake takes to brown.
I use an ice cream scoop to portion the cakes and slightly damp hands to pat the mixture into flat disks. Dredge in flour (or panko bread crumbs) and then shallow fry for a crisped exterior and a creamy, spiced interior. If you make them the size of silver dollar pancakes, they will be especially crispy.
I struggle to get the hot crisp cakes to the table—so many are snatched right from the rack where, after cooking, I place them on paper towels. But try to wait because here’s a chance to open that chutney you’ve been hoarding since visiting the international grocer.
Spicy chutney makes these cakes sing. If there’s lime or mango pickle in your cupboard, that belongs on the plate, too. If there are cucumber and yogurt lurking in the refrigerator, make raita. That’s what I did when I paired these cakes with Chickpea Tikka Masala. It felt like a feast.
Stay well, friends.