There are over 900 recipes in this site’s archives, [which is completely nuts, but also conveniently gives me an answer to the ever-present “what do you do all day?” question besides my usual, “mess around on Instagram?”] and while I’m overwhelmingly quite fond of all of them, there are ones that nag at me not necessarily because they don’t work but because they’re not, in hindsight, the “best in category” I once found them to be. Among these are the chicken pot pies I made from Ina Garten’s beloved recipe six years ago, and somewhere, my friend Ang is gasping because these are, to date, her favorite thing I’ve ever made for dinner. But I always thought they could have been better for several persnickety reasons.
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.
I don’t mean to shock you, I mean, I do hope you’re sitting down for this, but it turns out that when I asked my husband to choose between a caramelized cabbage dish, mushroom tacos, or a beef stew whose ante had been upped with butter, bacon, Dijon, cognac and a splash of red wine as his ideal homemade Valentine’s meal, he chose the beef stew. I could hardly believe it either. I mean, between my delivered flowers, his cufflinks and the kid’s heart-shaped candies, I might have to mix things up next year just to rage against predictability.
Every year around this time — well into the winter season, but long after we found it charmingly brisk, as it is when you do googly-eyed things like ice skating around a sparkling tree at the holidays — we get some sort of brittle cold snap in the weather that catches me by surprise. Even though we live in New York, a place where a cold snap or two a January is as predictable as being hosed by some unspeakably awful puddle of street juice slush by a car spinning through an intersection; even though I’ve lived in this exact climate for every one of my thirty-I-don’t-want-to-talk-about-it years; and even though I have the audacity to look forward to winter every sticky concrete-steaming summer, when I walk outside on that first 20-degree day and the wind gusts into my face and renders it hard to exhale, the very first thing I do is audibly holler in rage and disbelief, “WHAT THE WHAT?” I am nothing — as we joke when my sweet little son tries to clomp down the hallway in his dad’s massive boots and immediately falls on his tush — if not Harvard Material.
High on the list of dishes I’d like to be able to make without a second thought, a special trip to a special store and that I hope to still be cooking when we spend our days in his-and-hers creaking rocking chairs, lamenting that Jacob never calls us anymore, is a hearty white bean stew.