Despite trying to provide ample evidence here, nobody believes me when I say that I get no special pleasure out of weeknight cooking — and guys, it’s like my chosen career, which doesn’t bode well for those of us who are no place near a kitchen all day. In an ideal world it would be relaxing, a way to unwind as we talked about our days while snapping ends off asparagus and rinsing rice before we cooked it. We’d make food that surprised and delighted us, food that exceeded our humble weeknight expectations every time and righted all of the day’s wrongs. And then the dishes would magically wash themselves. In reality, weeknight cooking is usually about practicality; hurried and hastily chopped, and all too often with a 4.5 year-old having a hangry meltdown at my feet because he didn’t want baked potatoes with broccoli for dinner, he wanted spaghetti and meatballs. Please send in the violins.
April, 2014 Archive
I have the most boring thing, ever, to tell you today (and clearly it’s not “how to write an enticing lede”): I tried not to eat bread for a couple months. Wait, come back! Let me explain. I don’t mean ever. I am not anti-carb or anti-dessert, nor is Wheat Belly our new idea of a good bedtime story; I am ever your gluten-full host. I remain certain that freshly-baked, crackly-crusted artisanal bread is one of the greatest things in the world; to turn it down a moderate serving of it when you’re able to enjoy it (chemically and all that) is a sacrilege. But that’s not really what most of our bread looks like, does it? Most often, bread is merely bookends on a sandwich, with the goal of making filling portable. Or, it’s toasted so that it can sop up butter, jam or a runny yolk, or crouton-ed to make a salad feel bulkier. It’s all too infrequently in and of itself noteworthy. These latter categories of bread were what I suspected I wouldn’t miss if when I challenged myself to skip them. That is, at least two meals a day: an ascetic, I am not.
My brunch arsenal, the dishes I’ve made enough times that they no longer cause any furrowed brows — a core entertaining principle here at House Smitten Kitchen (sigil: cast-iron skillet) — is as follows: bacon (always roasted in the oven, I mean, unless you were hoping to mist yourself with eau de pork belly*); some sort of fruit salad (either mixed berries and vanilla bean-scented yogurt or mixed citrus segments, sometimes with mint and feta); buttermilk biscuits; a pitcher of Bloody Marys, a bottle of champagne and a couple carafes of freshly-squeezed grapefruit or orange juice, blood orange whenever available; something sweet (our current favorite) and eggs. As I dictated years ago, everything that can be made in advance should be, thus pancakes, individually fried slices of French toast, omelets and even eggs baked in ramekins, adorable as they may be, are verboten. I’ve been there, I’ve done that, and it’s always the worst.
2014 has been mostly about the chocolate thus far, which is the kind of thing that happens when you outsource what-to-cook-next decisions to my husband and his Mini-Me. We bounced from Chocolate Hazelnut Linzer Hearts to Chocolate Peanut Butter Cheesecake before landing on a Double Chocolate Banana Bread which, even a month later leads to the weekly “accidental” purchase of way more bananas that we’d ever eat, so we “have” to make more, no violins necessary. Thus, it would be easy to blame the boys in my family for what I did to an innocent coconut macaroon — that is, saddling it with not one but two types of chocolate, until it was intensely fudgy and brownie-like with an almost gooey center, seriously why aren’t you baking these yet? — but guys, this was all me.
Deep in the Julia Child archives, past the boeuf bouguignon, onion soup, jiggling aspics and the patently untrue yarn about the chicken that fell from the counter, mid-trussing, and was dusted off and put back into use with a remark about “nobody’s in the kitchen but you,” there are recipes so low in butter and bacon that they hardly fit the stereotype of French food as gluttony, as are thus rarely mentioned. A good lot of them are in From Julia Child’s Kitchen; published in 1975, it contained recipes and kitchen wisdom that came from episodes of her PBS show. Gentler to novices than her Mastering the Art of French Cooking classics, the recipes were probably more familiar to American audiences, things like leek and potato soup, sauteed chicken breasts with tarragon and tomatoes, and, here, a riff on deviled eggs that I am making my mission to rescue from obscurity.
In my fantasy recipe-writing league, I’d cover everything, a million questions you hadn’t even thought to ask yet. Every recipe would work on a stove, slowly braised in the oven, on a grill, in a slow-cooker, a pressure-cooker, on a train, in a car, or in a tree. You could make the vegetarian carnivorous, the carnivorous paleo, the gluten-full gluten-free, the sour cream could always be swapped yogurt which could always be swapped with buttermilk, or milk and lemon, or soy milk and vinegar. We’d find a way to put kale in everything. You could use flat-leaf parsley instead of cilantro (because cilantro is the devil’s herb, naturally) or none of the above, because green flecks = grounds for dinnertime dismissal. We’d make food that your picky spouse, your pasta-eating kid, and your pesky fad-dieting house guests would applaud at every meal, and all of those promises made by food writers greater than myself in tomes more epic than this blog of food bringing people together for the happiest part of everyone’s day would be made good on at last.