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After a day of thinking, screaming tantrums and time-outs, or even just doing laundry (I HATE LAUNDRY), nothing feels better than mincing, chopping and sauteing.
There’s a rhythm to cooking. One of my favorite rituals is to smash, peel and dissect a clove of garlic. The pungent smell, even the way the flecks stick to my chef’s knife blade. I don’t even mind when I catch a telltale whiff from my fingers later as I am shoving my glasses back onto my nose.
I love separating chopped vegetables into pretty little mismatched bowls. I’m making order out of something. No matter how messy everything else in my life is, I have control of this space.
But I think the most satisfying part might be the end, when I’ve been stirring and searing, mashing and whisking for hours, and somehow, magically, it all ends up on a plate together.
And it makes me, and usually Ed, happy.
This weekend, it was the ultimate comfort food — chicken cacciatore served with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and a salad with prosciutto, pine nuts, Parmesan and a zippy vinaigrette.
It was just what the doctor ordered.
Though I didn’t take a picture (I’d make a horrible food blogger), here’s the recipe.
Chicken Cacciatore, adapted from Bon Appetit
- 1 1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped (scant 4 cups)
- 1 pound crimini (baby bella) mushrooms
- 1 very large red onion, thinly sliced (about 3 cups)
- 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 4 1/2- to 4 3/4-pound chicken, cut into 8 pieces, excess fat trimmed
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
- 1 cup low-salt chicken broth
- 1/3 cup thinly sliced basil, divided
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine plum tomatoes, mushrooms, and onion in large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil and vinegar; toss to blend. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread vegetable mixture in single layer on large rimmed baking sheet. Roast until onion slices are golden brown and all vegetables are tender, stirring frequently, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.
Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper, and 1 tablespoon rosemary. Heat remaining 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large deep ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add chicken and sauté until golden brown, about 6 minutes per side. Transfer chicken to bowl. Add garlic to pan, saute 30 seconds. Add wine to skillet and boil until wine is reduced by half, scraping up browned bits, about 1 minute. Stir in canned tomatoes with juice, then broth and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer 10 minutes to blend flavors. Return chicken to sauce in skillet. Place skillet in oven and roast uncovered until chicken is cooked through and juices run clear when pierced with knife, about 25 minutes. Remove skillet from oven. Stir in roasted vegetables, remaining 1/2 tablespoon rosemary, half of basil, and half of capers. Simmer over medium heat until vegetables are heated through. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve over mashed potatoes, and for God’s sake roast some garlic and throw it in them. And use half and half or whole milk and real butter — not skim milk or any of that chicken broth stuff. Blech. This is comfort food after all.
Salad is delicious, but optional.
First and foremost, let me apologize to the vegetarians. This is a good reason to be one. (Though the big food poisoning scares recently have all been from veggies …)
It’s finally summer in this frosty wasteland, so it was time for a barbecue! Saturday being the solstice and all, it seemed like a perfect time to celebrate the fact that I can walk outside without socks or a parka.
Also, because of this post over at Smitten Kitchen, I was dying to try my hand at some baby back ribs.
So on Friday, I went to Home Depot and got myself a rib rack and picked up a few things I needed to make a killer rub and some baked beans. The grocery store had nice-looking baby backs. The kids were whining and begging and throwing tantrums. I pondered for a minute just grabbing four racks and being done.
But. But there’s a butcher on the end of my block. I felt like I always take the easy way out — and my experience in Ireland taught me that butchers have merit. Everyone goes to the butcher for their meat there.
So I schlepped the kids out of the car yet another time and waited for the meat man to go get four intact racks from the back.
They were vacuum-packed, but they looked fine to me.
As he showed them to me, Myles’ face lost its color. “Mom?”
“What kind of ribs are those?”
“Oh.” Relief washed over him. “I thought they were people ribs.”
I guess maybe I should have considered that foreshadowing.
On the way home from work on Friday, I hummed along with the radio, looking forward to rubbing those racks to get them nice and tender for our cookout. At home, I mixed up my rub — anchored by a smoky spanish paprika — and asked Ed to cut open the packages and rinse the meat.
I was just about to pour the first cupful of spices onto them when the smell hit me. At first, it was a little rotten-eggy. I made an emergency late-night call to consult Lynn. She assured me that though a little gassy smell is sometimes normal, stinky meat is either about to turn bad or already has. As we chatted, the smell got more pungent. I started lighting candles and spraying air freshener. Ed noticed that the use or freeze-by date on the package was two days ago. GROSS.
By the time we fled outside to get some air, my house smelled like STRAIGHT CORPSE. Dead, decaying meat. We wrapped them up and put them in the fridge. (I wasn’t about to throw $60 into the garbage.)
Saturday morning, I took the slabs of stink to the butcher, who assured me that he often sells meat that is 10 DAYS PAST THAT DATE. Dude, what is the date FOR? So much for the local butcher.
Anyway, I went back to the supermarket and got new ribs. I rubbed them down and smoked them for three hours.
I, however, was too traumatized to really enjoy them. Fortunately, though I told all my guests the story, they didn’t feel the same way. Judging from this plate of bones, they were a hit.
And here’s an irresistible shot of summer (we couln’t pry that bone out of his hand for anything):
Wake up late, say, 9 a.m.
Arrange bedhead into more acceptable form of chaos.
Toss on a t-shirt and short pants and hop in the car.
Get some cash — we always spend it all, so not too much.
Haul out the wagon and wander toward the smell of fresh plants and eggs cooking.
Meander toward the bagel stand and order up an egg and cheese on garlic and a steaming hot coffee. (The kids get warm chocolate chip cookies and the best lemonade in the universe.)
Sit. Eat. Drink. Watch pale feet in sandals scurry past. Notice, as usual, that everyone is smiling.
Grab some plants, some rhubarb, some asparagus, some herbs. Catch a few notes of banjo that are floating through the perfect 68-degree air.
Go home, hoping the farmers’ market high lasts all day.
It feels like spring. Time to fire up the grill!
I’m set to whip up some chile-rubbed pork, smothered with tomatillo salsa, grilled sweet potatoes, and a little jicama-arugula salad to brighten things up.
I have to make the salsa first. And the first step is to roast the dried chiles. I’m cooking with Rick Bayless, and I’ve made the recipe before. He recommmends one of two kinds, and I’ve always used the guajillo because I know its rich flavor well. But today I decide to step out of my comfort zone and pick up some arbols. They’re small, and yeah, I know that means hot, but Rick knows what he’s doing, right?
So I seed and stem the chiles (even a few less than he recommends) and toss them in a hot pan with a little oil. Almost instantly, my throat begins to burn. I think, hmmm, these are hot! They start to scorch almost immediately, so I take them off the heat and put them on a plate to cool. By this time, my eyes are watering. My nose is running. Oh, yeah, and I’m coughing uncontrollably. I seriously can’t stop. Every breath I take feels like it’s loaded with little daggers that are slashing the inside of my throat.
So I go outside, where, thankfully, the rest of the family is, to get some air.
Here’s where things get worse. I can’t fathom throwing the chiles out, and besides, I’m out of guajillos. So how bad can it be? I like hot. The house will clear out. I head back in to roast the tomatillos. The house is hazy. I open some windows. My throat still burns. I’m coughing, but getting used to it. Then Myles and his friend come in to play. They’re sitting in the living room, coughing like TB victims. I swear, if I had not pointed out the air was poisoned, they would still be sitting there pushing buttons on the video game controllers, wheezing and hacking. Reluctantly, they leave.
It’s about time for Simon to be getting ready for bed, so Ed brings him in. They both bark like seals for a few minutes then go upstairs to get Simon’s pajamas on. The tomatillos are finished roasting, so I follow them up. Somehow, the toxic haze has slithered up the stairs. It’s just as bad as the kitchen. Simon is playing with Ed, then collapses into a fit of coughing and gagging. Then the gagging turns into — vomit. Three slices of pizza and some barely-chewed popcorn have been regurgitated onto the carpet. The stain is still there.
Because I can’t give up, I whip the chiles together with the rest of the ingredients, and guess what? The salsa is so hot it’s inedible. I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it, but whatever it is will wait until tomorrow. Tonight, it’s take-out.
Before I had kids, and even while I was pregnant, I had ideas. Fuzzy, warm notions about how I would feed my family.
I love to cook. It’s as simple as that, right?
Life, especially my life, gets in the way.
I don’t want to whine anymore about how I work nights and how hard it is to go without sleep and basically be a single parent during the week and blah blah blah. Those things are all true, but it’s starting to bore even me to complain.
So I’m going to dream. Dream about the day I can make a meal, no matter how quickly, for my family. Where we can sit down together more than once a week and eat something I’ve prepared. I can think of no better way to show my love for people than to serve them a steaming plate of something delicious. And my poor kids hardly ever get that. It’s definitely not what I had in mind when I thought of what my family would be like.
I suppose I could do what my mother is always suggesting, and make dinner for them during the day. But what fun is that? Honestly, half the fun of cooking is watching people eat the result. Partaking with them. Besides that, I barely have time to throw in a load of laundry or make a sandwich.
Someday, and hopefully someday soon, I am going to broaden their picky little palates. They’ll eat seafood. They’ll eat curry. They’ll eat roasted chicken.
And I’m sure at first they’re going to hate me for it. Enjoy your PB&J’s while you can, kids! Roast root vegetables will be filling your plate before you know it.
1. Days of Our Lives. It all started when I lived with the sorority-types on campus. They’d schedule their classes around it. Me, I tried to keep mine in the afternoons because I thought it was best to rise when breakfast was no longer required. (Saved calories!) So there I’d be, eating my grilled-cheese sandwich, stuck in front of the rabbit-eared, 19-inch tube, watching Diedre Hall and Drake Hogestyn duke it out in a contest for worst acting. Soon, I was the first one to turn on the TV, eagerly awaiting Sami and Lucas’ shenanigans and Stefano’s bad accent. It was bad television at its best, and I was hooked.
2. McDonald’s french fries. Crispy, greasy, better slathered with ketchup. Not apologizing.
3. Googling Britney. Oh, go ahead, judge me. But really it’s fascinating watching a train wreck in progress. And a trailer trash wreck at that. Whee!
4. Idol. Paula’s incoherent rants. Simon’s chest hair. Counting how many times they say “bad karaoke” in a show. Oh, Idol, how you make the cold winter nights worth living.
5. Peering at the neighbors. They have a blanket covering their basement window, but it hangs down about 5 inches. I often stand in the shadows of my dark dining room watching them pace, argue, and obsessively rearrange trinkets I can’t quite make out. Part of it is because I think they’re up to something, but the other part is purely voyeristic. I have actually used Myles’ spy kit to try and make out what the papers on their table say. Damn spy kit. What do I expect for $20?
I totally stole this from Dooce, but it’s so great I couldn’t resist.
Just after noon on New Year’s Day, Ed looked at me from the edge of the bed he’d been perched on for the past 15 minutes, staring into the void, and said, “I can’t go out there. It’s just too bright.”
About nine hours previously, we had stumbled out of a white limousine filled with people who were probably more drunk than we were. Which is saying something.
I later heard the trip from my parents’ house in the middle of nowhere to Sheboygan, which usually takes about 25 minutes, took longer than an hour because of barf stops.
You’d think none of us could get that drunk, what with the five courses of fabulous food we had devoured. But 8 bottles of kick-ass pinot noir later, there we were. As snockered as a gang of 21-year-olds on someone’s birthday.
I think there was a shot of tequila in there somewhere, and I remember toasting with champagne, too.
Shockingly, I can remember what I ate. It was delicious, and I’m publicly thanking Lynny for all her hard work. She gave us all the gift of a fabulous and memorable (um, what we can remember of it) New Year’s Eve.
What I chose from the five course menu (there were a few other options for each course):
Apple, manchengo, almond salad (I think I licked this plate)
Crab ravioli (I had to protect this dish from grubby paws who ordered the also kick-ass tortellini)
Surf and turf (crispy shrimpies! delicious meat!)
Panna cotta with grapefruit honey sauce (light and creamy, but I was too full to finish it)
This might just be a recurring item. I realize most of these are about shopping or food. But what am I without cooking, eating and SHOES!?! Um, and wine …
1. This one stolen from the Top Chef contestants — douse all Asian food with Sriracha. (And French Fries, and eggs, and carrot sticks, and really, almost anything.) It makes even the most cardboard-like frozen meal delectable.
2. If you need shoes and are too busy to frequent your favorite shoe store, (which happens to be across the metro, which is not really that far unless you have three kids and a full-time job and work a shift opposite your husband), shop at Zappos. They ship FREE! overnight, have shoes in most sizes (good for those of us who are well-endowed, foot-wise), and will ship you the next size up or down before you even return the ones that don’t fit. All for FREE! Did I mention FREE? That, and their selection is unbelievable. (Unless you want a certain pair of Fluevogs that they don’t happen to carry. Then you’ll have to wait three weeks to have them shipped from Boston.)
3. If you have kids, throw anything and everything on their highchair tray as early as they can chew it. It took me until number three to catch on to this one. The other two are far too picky for having a mother who cooks everything from paella to pad thai. Maybe their bad habits will eventually rub off on him, but so far, he’ll eat anything you throw at him. Even spicy food. Has since he was about 7 months old.
4. Winos, take note: winestillsoldout.com. Sign up for their e-mail alerts, because every once in a while, they have something called Cheapskate Wednesday, during which they sell a different wine every half-hour, and if you buy four or more, shipping is free. The only caveat is you must sign for the deliveries due to underage drinking laws. It just so happens they are having one this week! So if you have the foresight to read this blog every day, you can click the link and get yerself some cheap hooch.
5. Do not whine to your manager at work about your schedule or your co-workers. Unless it’s something he or she really needs to fix. Someone who gets on your nerves does not belong in this category. The fact that you work odd hours does not fit into this category. Trust me. Your boss does not want to hear it, and it will get you nowhere. I try not to talk about work on this blog, but I can offer you this tip. Please take it. Your boss thanks me. And your career does, too.
Ed: Against my better judgment, I ate the rest of the cauliflower soup*.
Ed: Oh my GOD. I almost crapped myself. It’s not just gas, it’s DECEPTIVE gas. It’s don’t-let-it-get-away-from-you gas.
* If you care to inflict scary gas on your loved ones, the soup was awesome. You can get the recipe here.