Monday, October 20, 2014

FOR ONCE

you are not crying from anger or giving the fuck up. You are not crying from drinking too much red wine. You are not crying from wanting a different child, a different life, a different husband.

You are watching your son race back and forth in the detergent aisle, his sweaty cheeks getting pinker with each sprint, his intensity scaring customers away from their Tide and Bleach Pens, his grace taking your breath away. He rushes up and slams his head into your belly. He doesn't notice your tears.


Dash. What was your one job?


To find the figs.


Right. 


I forgot! Don't worry, mom! I will find them.


He makes it ten steps before crashing to the ground. Up he pops, waving, smiling, yelling out, I'm okay, mom. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay.


For once you are not crying because the car is making a funny noise. You are not crying because you forgot the school meeting. You are not crying because you need more sex.


It is 5pm. You are hungry. You are spacey. You are mumbling your way through the market, looking for recipe inspiration, half-planning a week of meals, trying to steer yourself back to the practical: to the sandwich bread, the apples, the broccoli, the dental floss. But what you really want to do is get lost in the condiment aisle.


Across the football field of produce, your son is nowhere to be found. You flip flop from the oh he's fine mom to the oh my god he has been kidnapped mom. And just when you are about to franticly yell out his name, you find him seated in the toiletry aisle, staring up at the baby products.


Dude. The figs.


Wait. Mom. Look. Here are some baby wipes.


Baby wipes will never ever be a part of my life again.


You never know, mom.


Yes I do.


Your tone is too serious. You don't even know how to begin explaining how hard it was.


You are not crying for the woman who stands on the sidewalk in her bathrobe, glaring up at the sky as if she has lost her way or her family or her mind, swaying in a wind of her own sadness and sobs.You are not crying for the homeless man who power walks through Berkeley all day every day until his shoes are worn down and his feet are bloody.


Mom, you could find another baby inside of you.


Like a sock. Or your car keys.


Unlikely.


Is it a choice?


Yes. It is. 


So, you could choose to have a baby and go to to bed and then wake up with one. Right, mom? Is that how it works?


All of aisle 10 awaits your answer. The teenager looking at the essential oils. The young couple with the baby. The pregnant mama. Their ears wide open. Their breathing on hold.


You pick him up and cradle his 50-plus pounds in your arms.  The screaming bloody blob of a thing that slid out of you seven years ago can now read in French and English, navigate an Xbox, peel a clove of garlic, weigh in on the pros and cons of soda tax.


Today you are crying for what is right. For what works. For this moment. For this boy who took so many years to conceive. For all those miscarriages. For loving him more than you thought possible. For deciding he would be your last one.


You tuck him into the shopping cart, surrounded by chicken, wine, anchovies, pomegranates, grapes, baguette, goat cheese.


You go off to find some figs. Together.

WE DID FIND SOME FIGS. HERE'S WHAT WE DID WITH THEM:
Every Monday in October, I've made chicken with figs and grapes. This makes me sound way more organized than I actually am. But this particular dish has been revelatory for me because, up until a month ago, I had managed to overcook chicken breasts for most of my adult life.

If you're game, here's my new trick: cook it at a very high temperature. Open the oven at minute 15 for a quick little baste. Take it out at minute 25. That's it. No fussing necessary. 


Flavor-wise, this dish is sort of the 
anchovyfied lazy younger sister of Chicken Marbella. (Remember? Silver Palate! 1980s! Right. Some of you weren't born yet.) Many of the same ingredients are included (brown sugar, vinegar, wine, fruit), but it's not nearly as acidic or herbaceous. It's way easier because you don't marinate it overnight. The final dish doesn't produce much sauce but that's because my goal with this recipe is to let chicken be the perfectly cooked star: moist and tender, not dry and bland. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. 

Be warned, some of you might find this chicken undercooked. I take it to about 160°F. I don't want you to do something that makes you nervous. If you feel more comfortable bringing the internal temperature of the chicken up to 165°F or 170°F or even 180°F, I totally get it. Do it! I've just been stepping away from the thermometer (full disclosure: it's broken) and trying to cook in a more intuitive way. I'm also a big fan of cooking something that can extend into many meals without tasting like overcooked leftovers.


Think of this dish as a template of comfort.A pan of possibilities.

See recipe below for lots of meal ideas.


CHICKEN WITH FIGS AND GRAPES 
printable recipe

There's quite a trend in large chicken breasts these days. The breasts I used were about 10-12 ounces each. As long as they're not pumped full of hormones or antibiotics, I'm down with the size. So ask around. Try to get organic and free-range chicken. And if at all possible, avoid the pre-packaged pieces. Ideally, have them butchered right before your eyes. If the breasts are smaller than 9 ounces, you should check them for doneness after about 20 minutes instead of 25.


The fruit shrivels up a bit from the high heat and absorbs the chicken fat and sweet balsamic garlic anchovy marinade. As my friend Margi says: you can't go wrong when you mix carnage and fruit. If the fruit isn't as soft and jammy as you like, scoop it into a separate dish, paint it with a bit of goop from the bottom of the pan, and throw it back in the very hot oven for a few minutes while the chicken rests.


If you can't find figs, just use red seedless grapes. Or dried fruit like figs or apricots. Even prunes would be delicious (à la Chicken Marbella). If you use dried fruit, soak it first for an hour or so in warm orange juice, wine, or chicken stock. 


ingredients:
4 large chicken breasts, skin on/bone in
1 heaping teaspoon kosher salt
a few turns of black pepper 
4 garlic cloves, peeled
4 anchovy fillets, packed in oil
1 tablespoon balsamic reduction*
2 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon light or dark brown sugar
3 cups figs and/or red seedless grapes (or prunes, apricots, peaches, dried figs or apricots)
a few sprigs fresh thyme
1/3-1/2 cups chicken stock

directions:
Preheat oven to 450°F.

Place chicken in a baking dish or cast iron pan (use a pan if you plan to make a sauce). Generously season both sides with salt and pepper. Set aside.


With a mortar and pestle, bash the garlic and anchovies until you have a smooth paste (this takes a few minutes, so be patient). Whisk  in balsamic, red wine, olive oil, brown sugar. Pour 3/4 of the marinade over the chicken. Use your hands or a pastry brush to coat every bit of the chicken. Turn skin up in the dish or pan.


If you're using figs, stem and halve them. Pick through your grapes. If you're using apricots or prunes, make sure they're pitted. Place whatever fruit you're using in a bowl. Toss the fruit with the remaining 1/3 of the marinade. Tuck the fruit in, around, and under the chicken. Crush the thyme sprigs in your hands and tuck them in as well. Place chicken into the preheated oven. After about 15 minutes, baste the chicken with a few splashes of chicken stock. If the pan is dry or the drippings are burning, use a bit more stock to loosen things up. I find that after about 22 minutes, the juices start to flow out of the chicken and the fruit. And by minute 25 the skin is a deep dark caramel color. At this point, remove the dish or pan from the oven. You have many options. You can set it on the counter and move on with your day. You can take the internal temperature and make sure it has reached a number you're comfortable with (at least 160°F for me). You can cut into the deepest part of the largest breast and take a peek. If it's still a bit raw, then throw it back in the oven. If it's just the tiniest bit pink and the juice are running clear, you're golden. 


If your oven doesn't deliver the beautiful color, don't fret. Just place is under the broiler until desired door is reached.


You can eat this right out of the pan as is. Or save it to expand into a bunch of future meals. Here are some ideas:


1. SORT OF A FANCY DINNERChicken With Mashed Potatoes. While the chicken is cooking, make some mashed potatoes. Scoop out the cooked chicken and fruit and place on a warm serving plate (leaving any juices behind). Cover with tin foil. Crank the heat under the chicken pan, add a finely diced shallot, and use a spatula to scrape up the goodies. Add 1/2 cup white wine or chicken stock. Bring to the boil. Reduce by half. Turn off the heat and taste. Adjust seasoning. Pour sauce over the warm chicken and fruit.  Serve immediately with the mashed potatoes and a garnish of chopped parsley.


2. WHEN YOU HAVE 30 UNINTERRUPTED MINUTES TO SPARE (HA!) AT THE STOVE: Lemon Risotto with Chicken and Herbs. Take out two of the breasts and carefully cut the meat off the bone and then into cubes (the skin can be a bit invasive in a delicate risotto, so you might want to give it to the dog or your son or throw it right in your mouth). Make a classic risotto recipe. When you're adding your cheese at the end, stir in 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, one more splash of warm chicken stock, and the cubed chicken. Cover for five minutes. Uncover and stir. Serve with additional parmesan.

3. SIMPLE DINNER: Rice and Chicken Bowl: Toss cubed chicken (with the skin on this time) and cooked fruit into a pot of cooked brown or white rice. Garnish with chopped scallions.

4. EASIEST DINNER EVERCheese Pizza with Chicken and Figs. Add cubed chicken (no skin) and cooked figs (don't use the grapes for this one) to a frozen cheese pizza. Follow baking instructions. Drizzle with balsamic reduction* and olive oil before serving.

5. SOLO LUNCHRoasted Fruit and Goat Cheese Tartines. Scoop out the fruit (eat the chicken another time), top it with crumbled goat cheese and a drizzle of olive oil, broil until hot and nicely browned, press down onto grilled bread rubbed with garlic.

6. QUICK HEALTHFUL PASTA: Pasta with Chicken, Sage, and Peas. Brown some butter, toss in a few leaves of chopped sage, turn off heat, and stir in cubed chicken (no skin, no fruit) and frozen peas (or massaged kale). Toss with cooked pasta and a splash of pasta water. Serve with olive oil and parmesan cheese.

7. SANDWICH:  Chicken Breast, Bacon, Arugula, Avocado, and Garlic Confit Sandwich. Cook a few slices bacon to desired crispiness. Grill two slices of gooey sourdough bread. Spread one slice with mayonnaise and the other with garlic confit. Toss a handful of arugula with anchovy garlic vinaigrette. Layer the sandwich with sliced chicken breast (skin on this time), bacon, avocado slices, and dressed arugula. I highly advise eating this with sea salt and vinegar potato potato chips. For extra crunch and excitement, you might even want to tuck a few potato chips into the sandwich.

*I make balsamic reduction by boiling down inexpensive balsamic vinegar (usually, a 17-ounce bottle yields about 3/4 cup. Just store as you would any vinegar).

Monday, September 29, 2014

HOW

when you cross the street, even when you're alone, you reach back to take a child's hand.

How when you slam on the brakes, your right arm flies up to protect a little front seat passenger. Even when he's sitting in the back. Even when he's not in the car.

How before you pour boiling water through the coffee filter, you look over your shoulder to make sure all creatures are at least six feet back.

How every homeless person is someone's lost child.

How through the mundane movements of every meal, every load of laundry, every trip to the market, a piece of you is drifting back to their births and forward to their deaths.

How parenting feels like a fucking crap shoot.

How you practice looking into each other's eyes, interlacing fingers, squeezing hands together like they're superglued.

How you remind him that he can control his body. He can listen. He can sit still. He can even change.

You can't learn to fly, mom.

How your breath deepens.

You can't learn to vomit every second of every day.

How you start to laugh.

How you will never ever tell him how much you love him because it would feel like too much of a burden.

How, instead, you start yammering about how you left tomatoes to slow-cook in the oven all day.

How he rolls his eyes with indifference.

How his face lights up when he sees them after school, neon and glistening on the sheet pan.

How he tells you you're the best cook in the world.

How you take this with a grain of salt.

How you ask him to repeat it. Again. And again. And again.
I know it's the tail end of the season, but I've asked around and I hear that there are a few tomatoes left out there in the world. Here is something to do with those stragglers.

There is something very gratifying about throwing food into the oven in the morning and retrieving it at the end of the day. But I would be lying if I told you I had a recipe for these slow-cooked tomatoes.

Just do this: Preheat your oven to a very low temperature. Maybe 200°F. Unless your sheet pan is pristine and perfect and nonstick, line it with a Silpat or parchment paper. Halve some cherry tomatoes and place them on the sheet pan. It's okay if they're from the back of your fridge and all sad and smushed. Stem and thickly slice some whole tomatoes (at least 1/2 inch thick or they will melt away). Add to the sheet pan. Pour about a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil into a bowl. With a pastry brush, paint the tomatoes with a light slick of oil. Take a pinch of kosher salt and sprinkle it over the tomatoes, evenly coating, moving your fingers the whole time until the salt is dispersed. Repeat with more salt until all tomatoes have been lightly touched. Do the same with granulated sugar. Flip the tomatoes over. Repeat steps  Slide sheet pan into the oven. Check after 2 hours. If you're leaving the house, turn the oven off and leave the tomatoes to coast until the evening. If you're sticking around, check them every 30 minutes or so. I find that they are best when shriveled up but not dry. Keep tasting. You will know when they are right.

Where to put these goodies: Store in a jar as is. Or, tuck thinly sliced garlic in amongst the tomatoes and drown everything in olive oil. Throughout the week, pull out tomatoes for sandwiches, pastas, and omelets. Bella eats them on her mac and cheese. I eat them in arugula salad with avocado. Throw them in everything. Or freeze in a jar until deep December when you're desperate for some summer brightness.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

LET'S START WITH DESSERT

I've been saving my stories for the book that I'm writing. Most of them, at least. A few have slipped their way over to Food52 (see above).  I've posted one of my early summer favorites below.

Once my manuscript is turned in, I'll be back here with lots to say. Just keep chanting you can do it, you can do it, Phyllis, you can fucking do it.

Thanks. It helps. A lot.

xoxo
P.S. You can find me posting excessively over on Instagram. And sometimes I have a few things to rant about on Twitter or Facebook.

------------------------------------
After a weekend away and some heavy-duty denial about the fact that it’s officially June, I wake up early Monday morning to find the rest of my life sitting on my chest. This unfamiliar weight scares me. 
I make my coffee, paw around in the freezer, pray that there is something I can MacGyver into two school lunches. Frozen peas land on my jet-lagged son's head. Lamb bones fall onto my bare toes. And before I can stop it, an avalanche of unlabeled freeze-burned Ziplocked scraps slides down to the floor.  
I shove it all back into the freezer, heave my body weight against the door, and lock the chaos back in. 
And things don’t improve. 
It is the kind of morning where my son cries because his daddy will miss his Ninjago-themed sleepover birthday party. It is the kind of morning where I drop my husband off at the airport, lean in for a long deep kiss, and say goodbye for the entire summer. My heart aches so much that it is hard to turn my head over my shoulder to change lanes. I find myself driving down the freeway singing along and sobbing away to John Cougar Mellencamp. 
It’s only 11 AM. 
Bird by bird. 
I open the freezer. I face my future. 
Ten years ago, if you were scrounging around in my freezer for a stick of butter, you would have run into a placenta, a dozen bags of breast milk, some very stale pot, and lots of New York Super Fudge Chunk. Period. 
Now you’ll find enough tortillas to open a Mexican restaurant, fancy-ass square ice cubes (small, medium, large), lardo, bacon, bacon, bacon, two uncooked short ribs from this year’s Super Bowl party, fresh horseradish, a smorgasbord of pastries, pesto, egg whites, my neighbor’s homemade lemon curd, mini pissaladièresbrown butter cupcake brownieschocolate chip cookies, pulled pork, garlic confit, slow-cooked tomatoes, soup, pizza, pizza, pizza. And that, my friends, is just the beginning.  
Starting with the short ribs, I begin cooking the next six meals that will go into my kids’ bellies. I sear off the frozen meat in bacon fat, toss in some onions, garlic, and anchovies. I deglaze with wine while the meat is still in the pan. I break all of the rules. And then I add some gooey balsamic and a large frozen block of diced tomatoes. 
I throw the mess into the oven and forget about it until the smell brings me back.
I lift the lid. I shred the meat. I pick out the fatty bits. My heart rate slows down.

Friday, May 23, 2014

FROM MY COLUMN AT FOOD52

A letter to my daughter. And some recipe ideas for the long weekend. I highly recommend pouring crème fraîche all over your pasta. And butterscotch sauce all over your caramel ice cream.

…………..

Dear Bella,  
This morning, you rolled over and yelled out, I want a grilled cheese with pesto in my lunch. And then you added, please. And then you said, but only if that's okay, mom, if not, just make me whatever is easiest. That's when I felt my heart grow too damn big for my chest. It pushed up and made a little lump in my throat. It made the back of my neck tingle.
And that's when I thought, hot damn. That baby girl of mine is going to be okay. I just need to keep letting go.
You probably don't remember, but I spent the first six months of your life holding your teeny screaming body to my chest. While bouncing vigorously on a massive blue exercise ball. Because you thought this world sucked. And you wanted back into my womb. The first time I could put you down without hearing a colicky wail, I sobbed with relief and accomplishment. As if, yes, I have arrived. I am done. I did my work.
But then I had to be brave enough to walk around the corner to make myself a cup of coffee and believe that you would still be alive when I came back.
Then I learned to let go of your hand. Your baby words. Your need to always be by my side. 
More and more, lately, I've been jumping ahead to the day that you move out of our house. I have so much more to teach you. How are we going to fit it all in?
So I've decided to start writing things down. Here's my first lesson. And surprise surprise, it involves the kitchen. Start here, and many other things will fall into place:
1. Freeze little bits of everything. Bacon. Tart dough. Half a cookie. Nuts. Coffee. A chunk of parmesan. Pesto. Tomato sauce. Baguette scraps. That way you can throw a dinner together in the middle of the night. You never know. 
2. Make your own crème fraîche. Once a week. It will brighten up everything. Your windowsill. Your chocolate cake. Your pancakes. Your pasta.
3. Put lemon zest in everything.
4. Learn to make empty-out-the-fridge pesto. Kale and almonds and manchego. Or arugula and walnuts and goat cheese. Almost any combination works. It is cost effective. It is versatile.
And someday, in your own kitchen, you will find yourself eating pasta with broccolini pesto, crème fraîche, and lemon zest. For breakfast. Like I did this morning. But until then, I will rouse you out of bed, help you search for matching socks, wipe the Nutella off your chin, and tuck your hair behind your ears. Until you slip slip slip out of my fingers into someone else's arms.
Love,
Mama
https://food52.com/blog/10236-pasta-with-broccolini-pesto-and-creme-fraiche
https://food52.com/blog/10327-romaine-and-avocado-salad-with-anchovy-garlic-vinaigrette
CITRUS SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE-STUFFED DATES
https://food52.com/blog/10050-citrus-salad-with-goat-cheese-stuffed-dates
https://food52.com/blog/9863-romaine-salad-with-bacon-5-minute-eggs-and-pesto-dressing
https://food52.com/blog/10136-butterscotch-sauce
https://food52.com/blog/10432-caramel-ice-cream

Thursday, April 3, 2014

BEDTIME STORIES

Monday
Dash, what did you do today at school?

Chased girls.

Which ones?

Ella. And Chloe. Oh my god they have a lot of girls protecting them.

What do you do when you catch one?

That doesn't happen much.

But if you do?

We throw them in the dungeon. But they always escape. They put their heads down and bust out like bulls.

Strong girls. I like that.

I slowly back out of his room.

Mom. Stay. I need you.

Good night, beautiful.

You suck, mom. I always ask you to stay and you never do.

Tuesday
How did it go today with the girl chasing?

Sadly, mom, we didn't get any.

Girls are hard to catch. 

He grabs me by the shoulders.

Mom. Stay. I need you.

I slip out of his arms like I'm removing armor.

Wednesday
Dash. I've been thinking. If you want to catch them, you've got to be smarter.

You mean like steal their detailed dungeon maps?

Smarter than that.

Like what?

Maybe offer them some dessert.

Interesting idea, mom.

He rolls away and faces the wall. I can feel his brain churning.

Thursday
Thanks so much for giving me two Rice Krispie treats in my lunch.

You're so welcome. I thought they would make you smile.

And guess what? Chloe saw them and freaked out because she wanted one so bad. She was all blooblablooblablooblablaaaaaaaaaaa. Shaking her arms. Like a monster. I was super scared. So I gave her half a Rice Krispie treat.

Friday
Chase any girls today?

No, we're done with that.

Why?

I don't know. Maybe we should just ignore girls for a little while. I don't understand them.

Well, I'm a girl. Don't ignore me. 

You're not a girl. You're a woman. And you're old.

Saturday
Mom, will you please google something for me? Type in what's the difference between boys and girls?

Dashi, I know the answer to that. Girls have vaginas. Boys have penises.

I heard something else. I heard that girls have more taste buds.

Well, that explains a lot of things.

Like what? Mom. What does it explain? Google it.

Scoot over. I'm lying down.

Awesome!

You want to hear what daddy cooked for me on the night we met?

Yes!

It was the middle of the night. It was snowing...
BROWN BUTTER RICE CRISPY TREATS WITH BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE
printable recipe
Adapted from the classic recipe for Kellogg's Rice Krispie Treats. Use really dark and bitter chocolate to balance out the sweetness of the marshmallows.
serve 2-8

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound bag of trashy marshmallows (don't waste the fancy organic kind on this recipe)
6 cups Rice Krispies (I use Kellogg's)
1/3 teaspoon kosher salt
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate

With butter or nonstick baking spray, grease  a baking dish (about 8"x10"). Lightly grease a piece of parchment that's about the size of your hand. Set both aside.

In a medium-sized pot, melt the butter over medium heat. It will take a few minutes to brown. But stick around. It will sizzle for a bit. Once a wonderful nutty smell hits your nostrils, watch carefully. The foaming and sizzling will slow down and brown bits will drop to the bottom of the pan. At this point, turn the heat down to low. Add the marshmallows. Stir until they're all melted. Turn off heat and stir in Rice Krispies and salt.

Quickly pour mixture into the greased baking dish. Move fast. With the piece of greased parchment, press it down until firmly until it's flat and even. Allow it to cool for about 15 minutes. Loosen by working your way around with a spatula. Slowly pry the firmed up block out of the dish. Be patient. This can take a few minutes. If it falls apart, you can always press it back together. Place on a cutting board.

 In a double boiler or over low heat, melt the chocolate. Drizzle melted chocolate all over the firmed up Rice Krispie mixture. Place in the fridge to set up for about 20 minutes. Cut into squares. Eat.

Store squares at room temperature for a day or two. Or freeze for a few months. But believe me, they taste best right away. Slightly warm. Fresh. With a bit of extra chocolate.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

CATCHING UP

This post will be old news for those of you who follow me on  Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. So if you think of it, please check back next week for some newness involving Dash, chasing girls, and caramel apples.

But for those of you who aren't following me on social media and maybe thought I had fallen off a cliff, I've been busy with the following:

Working on my book (due in six months). 

Killing rats (I take no prisoners). 

Trying to drink fewer martinis (no comment).

Tending to sick kids (but not too sick to be dragged out of bed and enlisted as photographers).
photo credit: Isabel Ross (my daughter)

Making Baked Alaskas (Dash + blow torch = all kinds of excitement).

Celebrating 25 years with my husband (yes, we met when I was a child of 19).

Cleaning out my closet (exciting finds: a 10-year-old bong made from a Miracle Whip jar and a pair of over-the-knee UGG clog boots). 

Shaving my legs (once, on February 3rd). 

Talking Dutch Baby Pancakes on Yahoo Food.

Doing an interview with Saveur Magazine in which I ramble on about the birth of my blog, how I develop a post, and what I've learned over these past four years of blogging. Here's the pinch-me-is-this-for-real intro: With a deeply personal emphasis, and style ranging from confessional to light and jocular, Phyllis Grant's blog Dash and Bella is a prolific and poetic log of daily life that focuses on food and cooking... (continue reading on Saveur)

And I've been writing every few weeks for Food52. I'm loving working with my editor, Kenzi Wilbur. Nice to get out of my crazy head. Very freeing to have someone guide me. Here are the last five pieces from my "Cooking What I Want" column. There is a link to each story if you want to continue reading or check out a recipe. 

POMEGRANATE-ROASTED CARROTS
In a fit of hunger, I have never opened the fridge and exclaimed, “Damn, I need to eat some carrots. NOW.” 
To be honest, carrots in both their raw and cooked iterations have always made me feel depressed...(continue reading)
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Year round, my freezer is a treasure trove of sweet treats. Often, when friends come over, they walk right past me, head into the kitchen, and start foraging around until ahhhh yes they find what they’re looking for: chocolate chip cookies. They take a huge bite and sigh out a thing or two from this list:
They’re intoxicating.
Can I live at your house? In your freezer? With those cookies?
They’re perfect.
They need ice cream.
They’re so you.
They make me happy.
OMFG.
They are the reason I come over to your house.
I’ll trade you some for a bottle of gin.
Can I have another?
(continue reading)
HAZELNUT BRITTLE WITH CHOCOLATE
I’ve always baked during my daughter’s birthday week. Obsessively. Epically. You name it, I’ve whipped it up. Vanilla bean cupcakes covered in marzipan bumble bees. Three-tiered pink princess cakes peppered with Playmobile figures. Crushed candy cane fillings. Ganache waterfalls. Towers of donuts. Her yearly birthday dessert vision appeared weeks ahead of time via a sit-down meeting and an intricate drawing. I welcomed the challenge. The more advanced the pastry adventure, the less time I had to trip out on the passing of time and the fact that this phenomenal girl was going to be heading out of the house before we knew it. But this year was different...(continue reading)

MINI PISSALADIÈRES
Peel and thinly slice an onion. Throw it in a heavy-bottomed pot. Add a knob of butter, a generous splash of olive oil, and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir until the onion softens a bit over medium heat. Don’t listen to that voice telling you you shouldn’t caramelize one onion because if you’re doing one you might as well do eight. Drop in a sprig of thyme, cover. Feel extravagant. Turn the heat down as low as it will go.
Water your plants. Scrub some paint off of the kitchen wall that you’ve been staring at since your son was three years old. Sort the socks. Start re-reading the Molly Bloom chapter from “Ulysses.” Smell something sweet and beautiful. Remember the onion. Run for the onion...(continue reading)
BROWN BUTTER CUPCAKE BROWNIES
Friday morning. I stare at twelve duck legs, two frozen lamb shanks, and twenty sausages. I don’t quite believe it, but by Sunday night, in order to celebrate multiple family birthdays, this pile of meat will morph into an enormous pot of French stew. I open my recipe journal from this time last year to find notes on how to make a cassoulet. It was so delicious that I want to replicate every last detail. I search and search. I finally concede that I didn’t write anything down. I burst into tears. I’m on my own.
Saturday morning. The beans are simmering with salt pork. The duck legs are smothered in salt and garlic and bay leaves. The lamb is seared off. I am making shit up as I go along, but I am optimistic. While bashing garlic, anchovy, and tomato paste into a purée, I start thinking about the post-cassoulet dessert. It must be chocolate. It must be elegant...(continue reading)

Monday, December 23, 2013

SOMETIME IN DECEMBER

Back out of the driveway. In the rear-view mirror, spy your son eating frozen cinnamon bread, cookie-monster style. Listen to your daughter practicing the intro to "The Raven." Smile big as you drive off because, miracle of fucking Christmas miracles, you are going to be on time for school.

MOM!!!!

What, Dash?

I'm not buckled.

Slam on the brakes.

Okay. I'm buckled now. But, mom?

What?

I forgot my lunch. And my sweatshirt. And my fencing mask. I'm sorry.

Back up, double park, and race up the stairs like a madwoman. Find all of the critical items. Race back down the stairs like a madwoman. Re-enter the vehicle.

Mom?

Yes, Bella?

Please turn on the holiday music.

Crank Lite FM's all-Christmas-music-all-the-time station.

Groove.

Feel something involuntary and preachy bubbling up. Let go into a holiday-themed platitudinous rant about the importance of process and empathy and how anything worth doing takes time and effort and patience and how we need to be content with what we have and how very lucky we are to have food on our table and presents under the tree and heat and Wi-Fi and gin and chocolate chip cookies and parkour classes and a Democrat in the White House and—

Mom, did that guy really just sing that his mama kissed Santa Claus?

It's possible. I wasn't listening. 

What are you going to do today, mom?

I'm NOT going to kiss Santa. 

Good. He's kind of old anyway.

He's not my type.

Right. Daddy's your type! 

Swerve the car into the school's carpool drop-off line.

Dashi. Bella. Can I tell you something funny?

Yes!

I'm wearing my nightgown underneath my parka.

Silence.

Mom, that is not funny at all.

Bella, no one can tell.

Listen to your son laugh so hard you worry he might hurt himself.

Mom?

Yes, Bella?

Please open the doors. We're going to be late.

Wish they would stay with you forever in this warm car bubble.

I love you guys. Have a beautiful day. 

Mom?

Yes, Dash?

You have a beautiful day too. Making stew. Or whatever you do.

Press the unlock button and set them free.

Watch them fade into the colorful lunchbox crowd. Your daughter all perfectly tweened out in skinny jeans and side pony tail and lip gloss. Your son, trailing and flailing behind, all 6-year-old Pig-Pen scrappy with his sweatpants covered in dog hair, cowlicky hair sticking out all over, parka dragging along the ground.

Lean back in your seat and feel your morning adrenaline flatline.

Say your daily mantra. Just start with the bed. Just start with the bed. Just start with the bed. Just start with the bed. Just start with the bed.

Drive home. Enter the house. Make the bed.

Cook stew in your nightgown.

(for margi young: keep breathing.)
(for chris eigeman: hey look, it's not dessert!)

Nightgown Stew Ramblings

Old news: Beef + wine + hours of slow cooking = sweet meaty goodness.

New news: Some beauty happens when you halve carrots, coat them with salt and pomegranate molasses, place them on top of wine-drenched stew meat, and leave them to simmer away all day in the oven. When you open the pot many hours later, you will found the carrots resting just where you left them, still intact, their sweetness exponentially increased. Carefully remove the carrots and heat them up in a separate pan before serving. 

The stew can be served over couscous, polenta, pasta, or brown rice. And, for things to be exciting, you must have toppings on the table, My favorites are crème fraiche or yogurt, toasted pine nuts, pomegranate arils, chopped parsley, herbaceous olive oil, and coarse salt.

You can make this several days ahead of time. You can freeze it. You can expand the leftovers with cooked potatoes, turnips, and more canned tomatoes. You can even make this exact same recipe with lamb shoulder (just add some aromatics like cinnamon and paprika when you're cooking the garlic/anchovy paste). 


BEEF STEW WITH  POMEGRANATE-ROASTED CARROTS
printable recipe
serve 6-8

ingredients:
6 cloves garlic
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 tablespoon tomato paste
vegetable oil for searing off meat
4 pounds  beef stew meat, cut into approximately 2" x 2" cubes (I use chuck)
kosher salt and pepper for seasoning the meat
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
10 shallots, peeled and quartered lengthwise*
1 28-ounce can peeled whole tomatoes
2-3 cups red wine (use something big and yummy but not special)
2-3 cups beef stock
15 large carrots
2 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
optional toppings:
herbaceous olive oil
coarse salt
pomegranate arils
crème fraîche or yogurt
chopped parsley
toasted pine nuts

directions:
Preheat oven to 275°F.

With a mortar and pestle, make a paste out of the garlic, anchovy, and tomato paste. Set aside.

Generously season the meat with salt and pepper. You need to sear it off in batches because the pieces will steam if crammed together. Place large ovenproof pot on high heat. Add a splash of oil to the hot pan. When the oil is glistening and hot, carefully place a third of the meat into the pan. No need to fiddle with the pieces. Just let them do their thing. Once they're seared to a nice dark brown, flip them. They don't have to be seared all over. Just make sure at least half of each piece has some color. Reserve on a plate. Continue with the remaining two batches.

Turn off the heat under the pot and let it cool for a few minutes. You want the goodies that are left behind in the pan, but your vinegar will burn if you add it too soon.

While the pot is cooling, peel your carrots. If you like, you can leave a bit of stem on each top. Halve the carrots lengthwise.

Turn the pot to medium heat. Add the balsamic vinegar. Add the shallots. Brown the shallots for a few minute on each side. Make sure to coat them well with the vinegar and the remainders from the seared meat. Add your garlic/anchovy/tomato paste mixture and stir one minute. Add back all of the seared meat and juices. Add the tomatoes. Cover the meat with a combination of red wine and beef stock.

Bring to the boil. Stir.

On a plate, toss carrots halves with pomegranate molasses and salt. Scatter the carrots gently across the top of the uncooked stew. Cover with a lid. Place in the oven for many hours. Don't stir or the carrots will fall apart. Just leave it all alone. It's done when the meat is stringy and falls apart easily. This takes anywhere from 3 to 5 hours.

When the stew is done,  carefully remove carrots with a large spatula and place them in a separate pan to keep warm. Stir stew. Taste. Adjust. I often need to add salt and some kind of acid (lemon or sherry wine vinegar). Keep tasting. Keep adjusting. If it's not as thick as you'd like, reduce it down on medium heat, stirring often so it doesn't burn.

Serve over polenta, couscous, brown rice, or pasta. Top each serving with a few cooked carrots. Sprinkle with chopped parsley. Or go crazy like I do and add pomegranate arils, crème fraîche, toasted pine nuts, olive oil, and coarse salt.

Freezes beautifully though the carrots might fall apart a bit. No big deal.

*Shallots peel really easily if you pop them in boiling water for 15 seconds and then shock them in cold water.