The year was 2013. Hanukkah was upon us and people everywhere were losing their minds over the fact that the Festival of Lights would coincide with Thanksgiving for the first time since the 1800s. They called it Thanksgivukkah, and the Internet was abuzz with dishes that incorporated scrumptious traditions from both holidays: challah bread stuffing, cranberry applesauce, Manischewitz-brined turkey.
Cut to me peeling and grating five pounds of sweet potatoes and three sweet onions by hand until 4 a.m., squeezing out their excess water with cheese cloth, and forming them into what would turn out to be perfectly shaped yet tragically over-salted sweet potato latkes.
I had never used cheese cloth before (where was the cheese?). I had also never even made regular potato latkes myself. In the end what I learned, aside from the fact that you shouldn't always trust a recipe's salt measurements, was that a food processor needed to be first on my Hanukkah wish list for the following year.
But this trip down memory lane isn't about the first (and only) time I attempted to make sweet potato latkes. This is about the first (and only) time I'd ever used my most coveted kitchen possession — a red, heart-shaped covered casserole dish by Le Creuset.
Buy: Le Creuset 2-Quart Cerise Red Heart Casserole, $200 at Crate and Barrel
It had been given to me for my birthday by dear friends years prior under a pact that we would only give each other house-related gifts. I was so proud to own a piece of cookware by the iconic brand, and through the years I have loved that heart unconditionally and with rigor.
Only, here's the thing: I hadn't actually used it before Thanksgivukkah, or since, because I never quite knew what to use it for. I mean, sure, I guess it can be used in the exact same way that any casserole dish could be used (for a soup, stew, or casserole). But the very thing I love most about it — its sinuous, sentimental contours — also confuses me the most.
How would I stir the ingredients without being able to create an even, consistent circular motion? The curves at the top of the heart can be navigated pretty smoothly I suppose, but what happens when you get to that meeting point at the bottom? There is nowhere for the spoon to go in a graceful way. It's madness, I tell you!
So alas, it's followed me to three different apartments and has sat empty on top of my stove as decoration, hidden behind cabinetry, and even once served as a catch-all for keys and other miscellaneous items you might toss down in the kitchen when you get home.
Anyway, here I was in 2013, figuratively pouring my heart into making Hanukkah history and finally giving my Le Creuset some love, and I still wasn't even really using the dish the way it was intended. I was now using the heart as a prep bowl to catch all of those grated sweet potatoes and then taking them out handful by handful to form the latkes on baking sheets.
I feel like a sham. How disappointed my friends would be if they knew the truth. Do they ever think about all of the delicious meals I surely must bake in the Dutch oven? Do they ever wonder, I wonder, if I'm still delighting in their lovely gift after all these years?
With all of this in mind, I've made a decision. In the spirit of belated New Year's resolutions and the romance of Valentine's Day, I deem 2018 the year that I explore all the ways I can use my fancy red heart-shaped Le Creuset covered casserole dish and legitimize my years-long love affair with the cookware. It will be my own personal Julia & Julia journey.
I don't think I'll be as ambitious as trying out 524 casserole recipes in 365 days, but I'd be happy with a good old-fashioned green bean or tuna casserole.
Do you have a heart-shaped (or any of the other fun shapes) Le Creuset? If so, how do you use it? Or do you relate with me?