“Cooking doesn’t have to be a long and complicated process,” writes Dana Velden in her new book, Finding Yourself in the Kitchen: Kitchen Meditations and Inspired Recipes from a Mindful Cook. In fact, sometimes cooking is more like gathering and assembling, a quick and spontaneous pairing of two, maybe three, ingredients. This approach works for any meal, but it’s especially well suited for when you want a dessert for one, something that’s indulgent yet unfussy. Velden’s ideas, which she shares here, are a reminder of how practicing restraint can create a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts deliciousness. Her first suggestion: Pear with ricotta. Just cut the fruit (the riper, the better) in half, scoop out the seeds, stuff the little hollow with creamy, sweet ricotta cheese and eat with a spoon, scooping up bites of both pear and cheese.
One more thing: Topping it with a sprinkling of thinly sliced basil or finely chopped thyme will add a burst of color and a citrusy note.
A Spanish Pantry Classic
Here’s a treat that will make you want to be a kid again — or, more accurately, a kid in Spain, since this is a traditional snack for children in Catalonia and beyond. All you need is a thick slice of good bread, whether rich and refined challah or a yeasty, rustic loaf, and a bar of chocolate (Velden recommends dark chocolate, or a not-too-sweet dark-milk chocolate). Grate or chop the bar, pile it onto the bread and toast until the chocolate softens but doesn’t melt completely. Use a knife to spread the chocolate evenly over the bread, cut in half and enjoy.
One more thing: If you’ve got some crunchy, flaky sea salt in the cupboard, this is the perfect time to use it.
A Less Obvious Way to Eat the Fruit You’ve Probably Got in Your Fridge
New Englanders plunk a wedge of cheddar cheese on top of a slice of apple pie, but if you aren’t up for that whole rolling-out-crust thing, just munching on a few slices of apple together with a sharp cheese is still wonderfully satisfying. Go with cheddar if you’ve got a sweeter apple, such as a Gala or a Fuji; for tart varieties, such as a Granny Smith or a Jonagold, try Gouda or another mild cheese.
One more thing: A drop or two of honey, or even maple syrup will enhance this treat’s sweetness and give it a little depth, too.
A Surprisingly Interesting Twist on a Middle Eastern Staple
We love dates for their long shelf life (they’ll last in the pantry up to a year, sealed in an airtight container), and their ability to add creaminess (but not so many calories) to everything from smoothies to brownies. Yet here’s another attribute worth admiring: the cavity left behind by the pit is perfect for stuffing. Slide an almond (any kind, from raw to salted to roasted) into the oval-shaped hole and enjoy the interplay of creamy and crunchy, sweet and savory.
One more thing: The tiniest pinch of cayenne or ancho chili powder takes these into brand new territory.
A Reason to Keep Some Persimmons Around
Squat, tomato-like fuyu persimmons are sweet and mild, a bit like apricots. Let them ripen until they’re just a little bit soft when you squeeze them, then thinly slice (discard the leafy stem), dust with cinnamon and warm in the toaster oven for a few minutes for a sugary, lightly spiced dessert.
One more thing: A bit of crunch is nice here; try putting chopped hazelnuts, or pine nuts, over the persimmons right before eating.