Since I was a little girl, cooking has been my therapy (therapy has also been my therapy, but that's a whole other story). I was a sensitive, moody, and probably clinically depressed kid. I was smart and creative, but I had a hard time fitting in. When I was eight, my mother bought me an antique set of pots and pans to play with. I begged to use them for real cooking, so she gave me her copy of Mollie Katzen's The Enchanted Broccoli Forest and let me try my hand at some simple dishes.
In the kitchen, with my little mixing bowls, frying pan, and kid-size chef's knife, I learned to dice, chop, bake, and sauté. I learned to trust my instincts with flavor combinations, putting my own stamp on recipes. I learned that if I could taste, I could cook — it was just a matter of learning a few simple techniques and being a little bit brave. The world was hard and scary, but the kitchen was a place where I could always be myself and where my hard work was rewarded with something delicious.
Growing up and moving out on my own made some things easier (I made cool, like-minded friends and finally got those boobs I had been wishing for), but it also made some things a lot harder. My twenties were full of adventure and self-exploration, but they were also loaded with self-doubt and worry: Was I smart enough? Pretty enough? Strong enough? Would I ever be?
When we fail to meet the impossible (and often contradictory) standards set for us by magazines, TV shows, movies, and insane Instagram filters, it's easy to feel like a complete and utter failure, even if your conscious brain knows that's not the case. But as I learned as a little girl, choosing to cook for myself is, in my experience, an excellent way to improve your mood when things go south. This is because cooking is about loving yourself exactly as you are: whether your apartment is spotless, your credit-card bill is paid in full, and your professional and personal lives are exactly where you want them to be — or not.
And the process of making a meal from scratch — slicing vegetables, sautéing garlic, turning a few simple ingredients into more than the sum of their parts — can help you feel in control of your world, especially when the actual world feels so out of control. My friend Miranda and I wrote Hot Mess Kitchen to make you laugh and inspire you in the kitchen but also to share our favorite way of re-grounding ourselves when things get crazy: getting into the kitchen. We hope these recipes can take you there, because even the hottest of messes deserve a nice meal.
— Gabi Moskowitz
Basically Carbless (Not That We Care) Cauliflower-Crust Pizza
We're sure you've seen cauliflower-crust-pizza recipes, and maybe you've even tried one or two yourself, but we have to be honest: you haven't had one as good as this. And the best part is that it's really not that hard. There are a few little techniques required (like using a light hand with the delicate crust), but they're easy to do and so worth it (don't forget the parchment paper — trust us). Oh, and if you don't have a food processor to make the cauliflower rice, feel free to use bagged riced cauliflower instead (Trader Joe's and Whole Foods both sell good fresh and frozen versions).
You can literally top this cauli pizza with anything you're into (pepperoni, thinly sliced vegetables, caramelized onions, and crumbled veggie sausage are a few ideas). That said, when I'm feeling sad, anxious, or overwhelmed, I find that there are few things more comforting than a classic cheese pizza — cauliflower crust or otherwise.
1⁄2 large cauliflower, cut into florets
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1⁄2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for topping the pizza
Pinch of salt
1⁄4 cup sauce of your choice (tomato, pesto, romesco, etc.)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1 to 2 toppings of your choice (we love sliced bell pepper, pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and caramelized onions)
Fresh herbs (we like sliced basil and chopped parsley), optional
Red chili flakes, optional
- Preheat the oven to 400°F.
- Place the cauliflower florets in a food processor and purée until the mixture resembles ricotta cheese and each grain is about the size of a piece of couscous. TIP: If you can't seem to get the right consistency, or if a few whole florets remain after puréeing, try adding enough water to cover (usually about 2 cups), and purée as if you were making soup. When all the cauliflower has been completely processed, strain it in a fine-mesh strainer.
- Scrape the cauliflower into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave it on high for 5 minutes.
- Carefully scrape the microwaved cauliflower purée onto a clean dish towel.
- Very carefully (using a second towel if necessary to protect your hands) squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Get it as dry as you can.
- In a mixing bowl, combine the cauliflower, the eggs, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the Parmesan, and the salt. Mix together to make a thick batter.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Scrape the batter into the center of the parchment. Gather the batter into a ball shape.
- Wet your hands and carefully pat the batter into a circle, making it as thin as possible.
- Drizzle the cauliflower circle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, and use your hand or a pastry brush to spread it all over the circle.
- Bake for 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned and a little crisp.
- Remove the crust from the oven, but leave the oven on.
- Place a piece of parchment paper over the top of the cooked crust.
- Carefully flip the whole thing so the bottom is facing up.
- Remove the top layer of parchment (what was previously the bottom layer).
- Top your pizza with sauce, cheese, and anything else you like. (I encourage you to go light on the toppings — the crust is sturdy but not as sturdy as a conventional pizza crust.)
- Bake for 20 to 22 minutes more, until the cheese is browned and bubbly.
- Slice and serve, topping with fresh herbs and red chili flakes if desired.
I'm a Fraud French Toast
Earlier this year, I was promoted to staff writer at the TV show I work for. I had handed in a script to my boss and asked for what I wanted. This was a VERY new thing for me (I had spent five years as an assistant, not feeling good enough), so when I got the job, I still didn't feel like I deserved it: It was luck. It could not have been me or my talent. I was not a comedy writer. I was just a fraud, lying at cocktail parties about what I wanted to do with my life.
My first day of work arrived, and I was excited but also panicked and petrified. I would not be able to do it. I would prove all my naysayers right. (Life lesson: Everyone is always thinking about YOU and your tiny issues. They are definitely not just consumed with their own problems.) So I decided to wake up early and cook myself a proper breakfast to get my mind off things.
I chose French toast because it had been my favorite morning meal as a child. It was what I ate in elementary school, before I stopped eating carbs or believing in myself entirely. That first morning of work, I cracked the eggs, poured the milk, et voilà. Eeet was done! The action of cooking helped me to forget my immediate fears, but, more important, the taste of the delicious French toast reminded of who I had been when I ate it years ago: I was someone who raised her hand way too much in class, spoke out of turn constantly, and truly thought she was very funny. (Because at least her dad laughed at all her hilarious jokes.) I tried to hold on to that confident version of myself for the rest of the day. I told myself I could be funny, or at least get a word in in a writers room. Deep down, it was the thing I had always wanted, and in some ways, hopefully, was meant to do.
Now whenever I feel like fraud, I eat this French toast and feel a little bit better. (Also, guys, eat carbs. Carbs are great. I'm fully on the carb train these days.)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 pint milk (any fat percentage will work, as will nondairy milk)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
12 (1⁄2-inch) slices from a baguette, or 6 slices sourdough bread
2 to 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, for frying
1⁄4 cup lemon curd or lemon marmalade
Powdered sugar, for serving, optional
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, granulated sugar, and lemon zest.
- Dip each slice of bread into the egg-milk mixture, soaking both sides completely. Let soak for at least 2 minutes.
- Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
- Cook the soaked bread slices, working in batches if necessary, until golden brown with lightly crisp edges (about 1 minute per side).
- Serve warm, topped with the lemon curd or marmalade and powdered sugar, if desired.
Serves 2 to 3.
My Ex Is Engaged Enchiladas
This recipe is an ode to the underappreciated green chili enchilada, but also to that magical moment that happens after a breakup when your tears have finally begun to slow and your anger, though palpable, is not driving your every waking moment and you finally get a little reprieve from feeling shitty all the time. For me, this came in the form of a steaming plate of enchiladas at a roadside diner somewhere in Nevada City. I took a bite, closed my eyes, and savored the deliciousness. It was the perfect mix of seasoned potatoes, green chili sauce, and just enough cheese that finally took my mind off my broken heart.
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium russet potato, scrubbed and diced
1 large or 2 medium sweet potatoes, scrubbed and diced
1 large bunch kale or Swiss chard, destemmed and thinly sliced
Salt and pepper 12 corn tortillas 2 (16-ounce) cans green enchilada sauce 2 cups shredded jack or Cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375°F.
- Grease a 9-by-13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
- Place the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and kale or chard in a large pot with 3 cups of water over high heat. Cover with a fitted lid and bring to a boil.
- Once the water boils, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until both kinds of potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Remove from heat, drain, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside.
- Microwave the tortillas for 30 seconds or so to soften them.
- Pour the enchilada sauce into a mixing bowl or baking dish.
- Dip a tortilla into the sauce and pull it out, shaking off excess sauce.
- Lay the tortilla on a flat surface. Place 2 to3 tablespoons of potato-kale filling and a generous sprinkle of cheese in the center of the tortilla and roll it up.
- Place the rolled-up tortilla seam-side down in the prepared pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, sauce, filling, and cheese. Reserve about 1⁄2 cup cheese for the top.
- Pour the remaining salsa over all the rolled tortillas in the pan.
- Top with the reserved cheese.
- Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and browned.
- Serve hot.
Serves 4 to 6.
Gabi Moskowitz is the author of four books and the co-producer of Young & Hungry on Freeform.
Miranda Berman is a television writer in Los Angeles. She also hosts a popular podcast called High School With Miranda Berman.