Someone’s in the Kitchen with Donna

by Jennifer Iannolo

The test kitchen is buzzing with frenzied activity: counters are covered with vegetables, apron strings are flying everywhere, and there’s barely room to move.

It must be that air.

If you can feel it in your part of the world, you know what I’m talking about: that crisp smell of Autumn’s arrival that is a call to fire up the oven and restock the pantry, because it is time to explore spices, hearty Autumn vegetables, soups, and of course, the all-important cookie.

This month we are delving into all of these with gusto, and it seems everyone has something to say: Kelly is whipping up variations of rustic vegetables, Chef Mark is fervently experimenting with turnip and apple combinations, and Chef Donna is directing flow like a maestro. I’m just trying to stay out of the way, and Alder is hiding in the cellar. I may join him down there for a while — it’s safer.

Now it’s time to make room for an additional bevy of cooks. Over the next few months, we will feature recipes from some of our restaurant friends and other chefs in the trenches.  With the entertaining season in full swing, and the holidays on the horizon, we decided it would be fun to see what’s happening in other kitchens around the world.  So from the Hudson Valley to South Africa, and from Canada to France, we will bring you a table full of options for your cold-weather festivities.

Of course, this current exclusion from the kitchen has me a bit stressed. Alas, yonder crew does not understand my compulsion: Something about the brisk fall air triggers a switch in me — I become a cookie-crafting maniac. I am compelled, after a brief outing in the cold wind, to come into the kitchen and turn on the oven; I must bake.  The popovers from last month were a good start, but they were such a tease — the process is over so quickly, and does not allow me enough time to become one with the oven. So I waited until everyone cleared out last night, and snuck in to make a midnight batch of oatmeal raisin cookies.

I have developed this recipe over the years, and it has become very special to me. There is something magical about these cookies, because they can’t be savored fresh out of the oven like most ordinary varieties; they have to sit for a day, so the dough can meld with the sultry spices and acquire an almost ethereal flavor, resplendent with cinnamon, nutmeg, and raisins. Their misshapen forms scream “homemade,” because no machine can make them look this ugly — or beautiful.

After much hand-wringing, I have decided to publish my cookie recipe later this month. (Oh, do control yourself. I only have small windows in which to sneak into the kitchen.) They are simply too yummy to keep to myself any longer, and if you revel in spicy goodness the way I do, you are likely to fall in love with them, too.

The great thing about treasured recipes and signature dishes is the room for tweaks and personalization; each batch is a little bit different, and crafted with a unique style of love. Of course, if you take any of our flavor combinations to a new level in your own kitchen, I hope you will share your results in our forum, which we see as an interactive way for all of us to achieve the ultimate taste possibilities. I can always sneak you into the kitchen after hours if you need room to experiment — just don’t tell Chef Donna.

In the meantime, I’ll be hiding out with Alder, because he’s crafted a step-by-step guide to wine self-education, and there’s no better time than now to find an activity far away from knives and whisks.

Photo: Kelly Cline

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