Dinner Plans #45

A little taste of Paris (Starn!)


In the words of Girl in Red, we’re running low on serotonin. Between Delta and the Summer + Sunday Scaries it seems as though everyone is feeling a little…. blah. Today we’re sharing a few recipes that are the food equivalent of SSRIs, plus some bites that have brought a smile to our faces in the past few weeks. But perhaps most exciting is the extra special guest we’ve got on Dinner Plans duty. Paris Starn, a self-proclaimed obsessive, competitive, hyper-critical chef and baker, simply decided to become *the best* at making food when quarantine began and has hardly left the kitchen since. She cooks just about all of her meals now, and the ones she deems absolutely perfect can be found as recipes on her new website. You can always find her testing and tweaking things like creamy hummus, marinated chunks of cheese, and silky aioli on Instagram, and today in Sifted, where she’s sharing her methods for all three things. To say it’s made our week is an understatement, and we hope it makes yours too ❤️



  1. Hummus: Every time I make hummus I get a lot of questions, so, here goes a long rant. For smooth hummus, rid the canned chickpeas from your pantry. When you make beans, say for a cassoulet or a white bean stew or a pasta e fagioli, you probably go for the nice dried heirloom beans over canned, right? They taste better and their texture is smoother, and the same applies for hummus. Using dried chickpeas is more time consuming, so I make it in large batches and freeze what I don’t eat. The leftovers won’t be as good as fresh but certainly still better than hummus from canned chickpeas. I generally make a double batch of the Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi recipe as a base and then include a few key aspects from this Zahav one. Follow the first, but when you soak the chickpeas overnight, add in 1 teaspoon of baking soda per cup of dried beans — I have found that this helps get the skins off of the chickpeas with less effort. I also cook the chickpeas until they’re fully breaking apart, as directed in the Zahav recipe. Finally, when blending, start with less tahini, closer to the amount in the Zahav recipe. I do this because in the States we don’t have light roast tahini readily available, and you can always add more but you can’t take away.

  1. Marinated Cheese: In opposition to hummus, I’m pretty sure I haven’t received a single question about marinated cheese. But I should have! More people need to make this. Marinating in just about all cases turns good food into better food, and in the case of feta or goat cheese, transforms ‘that cheese is good’ into ‘I can’t stop eating this, please take it away from me.’ And, if you serve it to guests, I promise every single one will ask you how you made it. Luckily, it’s really simple but just requires some forethought. Serious Eats has a pretty tried and true method, but there are a few changes I generally make. 1. Don’t do this on just goat cheese, please also do it with feta — equally as good, if not even more transformative. 2. Although the spices and herbs in the linked recipe make a great blend, customize your spice-herb-citrus-allium blend to match the mood. Think about the flavor of your crackers or bread you’re serving the cheese with and what spices and herbs are being used in the rest of the meal. 3. Start by throwing all your dried spices into a very hot pan for about 30 seconds, then turn off the heat and pour in your olive oil. Add your herbs and garlic to the warm oil, let the oil cool and then pour the whole thing over your cheese. This helps activate all the flavors in your additives, meaning they will infuse the cheese with a greater variety of notes and flavors. 

  1. Aioli/Mayonnaise: If you were horrified by this heading and think mayo is the most disgusting food on the planet, I ask, ‘Have you ever had homemade mayo?’ If the answer is no, try making it — it takes less than five minutes, and you can make it with an electric mixer, immersion blender, electric spice grinder, food processor, etc. Just search how to make mayo with the device you have, and then follow the ingredient notes below. If the answer is ‘Yes I have, and I still hated it’ then I implore you to try again using the steps below.

  • Olive oil. Use at least 50% olive oil, it really makes a difference, I would never waste the fancy stuff on this, just the EVOO I normally cook with. I pinky promise it adds so much flavor. For the other oil, I use grapeseed, but any neutral tasting oil will work.

  • Speaking of flavor, make sure you add in at least 1 garlic clove, some dijon mustard, lemon juice and maybe some vinegar. I usually add champagne vinegar, but use what you like. AND super important — do not forget your salt

  • Texture. The more oil you add, the more gelatinous your mayo will get. When the mayo becomes soft and smooth to the point where it wouldn’t spread on a plate and just holds some soft peaks, give it a try. If you want to add more oil to make it firmer, be my guest, but I implore you to try it at this stage. I generally add about 1½ - 1¾ cups of oil per every two yolks (which is a little less than standard).

  • Water. So I don’t really know the science behind this, but for each egg yolk, I add in a ~teaspoon of warm water at the beginning. The small amount of water provides some extra padding for forming the emulsion, meaning it is less likely to break… I think. Even if I’m wrong on the science, I know from trial and error that it helps.


  1. Creamy-Center Cornbread (and Corn Mochi Cake): I don’t love the term comfort food; I prefer depression food. All food brings me comfort, but the kinds of things I crave when the mood is iffy at best are a distinct type of food. It’s slightly rich, not too sweet, not too salty (if I eat one leaning too far one way, then I immediately crave the other extreme), and reminiscent of childhood but seasoned to my adult palate. Cornbread is my old standby depression food; a corner piece from the closest Whole Foods hot bar, though bone dry, would suffice. A box of Jiffy, zhuzhed with melted butter and some kind of dairy, preferably buttermilk or sour cream, will also make do in a pinch. But when I make it from scratch, I do it right. Minnie Utsey’s recipe is my go-to, and if I’m feeling extra blue, I’ll take a tip I learned while working on a Food Network show and swirl ~half cup of heavy cream into the center of the raw batter. It creates the pudding-like moistness of corn pudding in parts but retains all the crunchy cornmeal-crust of my favorite cornbreads. In the depths of this particular spell of Summer Blues, my cornbread craving has taken the form of Sohla’s Corn Mochi Cake, a chewy, cheesy cake with which I will be christening my new (TBC) apartment oven.

    A post shared by @e_zar
  2. Reddit Chocolate Cake: Without sounding too much like a HomeGoods pillow, sometimes you just need chocolate. ✨✌️🌈 A balanced diet is a piece of chocolate cake in each hand 💞✌️✨ We shared some near-perfect chocolate cake recipes back in the winter with our Guide to Birthday Cake, but since its publication have discovered a recipe that rivals the best of them. Nana’s Devil’s Food Cake, like the previously-discussed Whipping Cream Cake, came to us via Reddit’s exceptional Old_Recipes forum. The lack of equipment and fussy instructions is greatly appreciated, but shocking when you consider how fluffy and intensely flavored the layers on this cake consistently are. It’s pretty straightforward, though I always add a big pinch of salt and sub up to half of the cup of oil with grassy olive oil for depth.

  1. Crème Brûlée: To probably no one’s surprise, there’s nothing that boosts my mood the way an episode of Barefoot Contessa from 2003 does. In one of my favorites, a young Ina Garten whisks scalded cream and a few yolks into a sweet, eggy custard. She spikes that mixture with Grand Marnier before letting it cook slowly in a water bath, leaving her with a rich and velvety base to sprinkle with granulated sugar and torch into a crème brûlée. Sure, the episode pushed me to finally buy my own kitchen torch and gifted me the recipe for what is easily the best C.B. I’ve ever tasted, but the clip’s cracking, whisking, boiling and broiling sounds are the true highlight, significantly more soothing than a typical “relaxing rain sounds” video.


  • Gab: After hearing “Sorry, we’re out of Buncha Crunch” from concession stand employees at three different movie theaters on two different coasts, I decided that there must be a Buncha Crunch shortage sweeping the nation. I screamed about it to my sister, ranted to my boyfriend, and asked my sweet dog Sadie where she thought all of the Buncha Crunch went and when she thought I’d be able to tilt that little blue box of crispy chocolate clusters directly into my mouth again. It seems though, that while I was crying and complaining, the once Buncha Crunch-less Regal Cinema at Essex Crossing restocked their inventory, and are once again selling $9 boxes of the stuff. I guess my unfounded theory was completely incorrect, and thank god/Nestle for that, because I never want to live without those crunchy bunches ever again (so much so that I’m heavily considering purchasing this.)

  • Court: At this point, my friends and I have carefully crafted the Absolute Perfect New York Beach Day. The APNYBD is an art; a delicate balance of activity with rest, water and sand, hydration and SPF. We’ve determined it is as follows: 1. Say you’ll take the 10:30am ferry from Wall Street. Get there late, but perfectly positioned for the 11am ferry. 2. Ride the ferry to Far Rockaway, peeking at Lady Lib along the way, then walk ~30 minutes along the boardwalk to 86th Street. Park your stuff on the beach and immediately run into the water, then dry off in the sun. Realize it’s past 2pm and you’ve put only a large Dunkin Donuts iced coffee and/or yellow Gatorade in your body. Run to Rippers and absolutely destroy a burger and/or hot dog, plus what will be your best bite of the week: perfectly-seasoned fries, dipped in a homemade (read: mixed on a napkin) special sauce a.k.a. ketchup-mayo-mix. Wash the whole thing down with an icy drink like Ripper’s pleasantly-fruity-yet-surprisingly-lethal “Beach Juice”. Walk the 30 min walk back up to 116th to digest, then return to the sand and take the hardest nap of your entire life, waking up just in time to catch the ‘Sunset Ride’ ferry. Bonus points if you can use the (very real) Mister Softee app to flag down a truck for a choc-van swirl with rainbow sprinkles for the long ride home.

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