We all need this taste of childhood joy about now

Funnel cake with Lucky Charms magical marshmallows recipe by Genevieve Ko.
(Genevieve Ko/Los Angeles Times)

It’s hard to know what to cook now. The world is actually burning around us even though this weekend feels much cooler than the last. It’s technically still summer, but pumpkin spice lattes are everywhere. COVID-19 numbers are down, yet life is nowhere near normal.

So the goal remains joy in the kitchen. You can have fun preparing late-summer produce, grilling ribs or throwing together totally-unnecessary-absolutely-necessary sweets. And, of course, you can (should?) fix yourself a drink. Cheers!

Rainbow Funnel Cake

Time30 minutes
YieldsMakes 4 cakes

The L.A. County Fair is on hold this year, but you can still get a taste of carnival food with this easy funnel cake.


Chilled Cucumbers with Chile Crisp Breadcrumbs

Time25 minutes
YieldsServes 6 to 8 as a side dish.

Markets and gardens are bursting with cucumbers, which get a spicy kick with this crunchy topping. I like to make a double batch to sprinkle over, well, everything.

Grilled L.A. Kalbi

Time30 minutes
YieldsServes 6 to 8

If you didn’t grill these for Labor Day, you’ll want to try them now. You can pick up the ribs from any Korean market or ask a butcher to slice short ribs across the bone flanken-style.

Fig and prosciutto flatbread

Time1 hour 45 minutes
YieldsServes 8 to 12

If you’re craving pizza all the time like I am, you’ll enjoy making your own using ripe figs and grapes.

Spiked Pumpkin Spice Coffee

Time5 minutes
YieldsMakes 1 cocktail

For PSL lovers, we’ve got an iced cocktail version that may be just what you need.

Ask the cooks

Why do some recipes call for unsalted butter and then instruct you to add salt? Seems contradictory.

— Anonymous

The reader who asked didn’t want to be named, worrying that this is a “dumb question.” It definitely is not. Most professional bakers, myself included, who call for both unsalted butter and salt in a recipe do so because they want to control the flavor of the baked goods. Salted butter, while often delicious, ranges in its saltiness. So a stick of salted butter in cake batter could yield a perfect cake or one that borders on salty. In most cases, you aren’t meant to taste the salt in desserts. The salt usually amplifies the other ingredients, often enhancing the sweetness of a treat.

Sometimes I’ll use salted butter when I want the dessert to actually taste a touch salty and I’m calling for a small amount, as in these peanut butter cookies. And “salted” desserts have been popular in recent years. Some sweets, like Ben’s caramel-chocolate tart, even call for a final sprinkle of salt on top.

Bakers tend to be precise in their formulas, which is why they prefer to start with unsalted butter and then add salt, so note that different kinds of salt range in saltiness and be sure to use the exact type called for in a recipe.

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A different kind of Food Bowl

The Los Angeles Times Food Bowl will celebrate 2020 Restaurant of the Year award winner Orsa & Winston and its chef, Josef Centeno, with a special virtual dining experience at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26. The ticket price, $175 per person, includes a three-course meal prepared by the restaurant — which can be picked up the day of the event. In addition, participants can tune in to a conversation with Centeno and L.A. Times food writer Jenn Harris. Tickets can be purchased at eventbrite.