I am delighted to be featured in the first installment of The Sabzi Questionnaire! Check it out – and thanks, Sara!
The last few weeks have been… something. We’ve got the excitement of Julian’s entry into preschool, plus the countdown to the arrival of our newest “baby”, but also the stress of health concerns and a really difficult sleep regression. There’s a lot on our plates right now, and we are trying to manage it all by creating new schedules and building even more structure into our daily routines. I’ve always been a list-maker and meal planner, but now that I’m packing lunches for Julian, Mike, and myself as well as coming up with our weekly dinners, it’s critical.
Despite the heat, I find that I’ve been turning more and more to comfort food, to old, reliable dishes that I know I can get together with a minimum of fuss or mess, in a short amount of time on work/school nights. One-pot/one-pan meals are also key, and that’s where this savory bread pudding comes in. While there were multiple steps in the assembly (cooking the sausage, sauteing the chard), I cooked everything in the same iron skillet, which simplified cleanup. Here’s what I did:
I took about a pound of sweet Italian sausage out of its casing, and browned the crumbled sausage in the iron skillet with a pinch of red chile flakes. While that cooked, I mixed up a custard of half a dozen eggs, a cup each of whole milk and buttermilk, salt, pepper, and a pinch of Colman’s mustard powder. I added about 4 cups of cubed semolina bread to the custard and let it sit. When my sausage was done, I removed it with a slotted spoon and added it to the bowl with the soaking bread. My stemmed and torn chard leaves went into the iron skillet with a pinch of salt, and I cooked them in the rendered sausage fat until soft and wilted. While they cooked, I grated cheese – about a cup each of cheddar and a random hunk of an Alpine-style wheel that had been lurking in the cheese drawer. When the chard was ready, I squeezed out as much of the liquid as possible before transferring the leaves to the bread/sausage/custard bowl. I discarded the liquid left in the pan. I mixed the grated cheeses into the bread mixture, then tipped everything back into the iron skillet, grating a little extra cheese on top. It baked in a 400 degree oven for about 30-40 minutes. And it was so good.
The life of a drinks writer often requires tasting your way through a lot of bottles. And sometimes, there are more bottles than the writer and his wife can taste through on their own. So we invited some friends over yesterday for an early-afternoon tasting, and while Julian entertained their twins and Mira (mostly) napped, we grown-ups sipped and sampled and shared our observations with Mike on a range of tequilas for an upcoming Serious Eats piece.
Though more booze was dumped than swallowed, I made sure we had plenty of food to fortify us. I laid out chips and my usual homemade salsa and guacamole, as well as David Tanis’ Crudités à la Mexicaine to start, then followed up with heartier fare.
Next came a platter of sweet and smoky chicken wings (and tenders for the kids), which I marinated overnight in buttermilk and spices and a pinch of turbinado sugar, then roasted and tossed with a little melted butter and scallions.
Finally, my riff on this winning Flank Steak sandwich recipe from food52: I seared chili-marinated hanger steak and sliced it thin, serving it on bite-sized slabs of Texas Toast with a smear of cilantro mayo and a pile of pickled red onions on top.
We wound down around 3, as the kiddos were clearly getting tired after their big day of play. We got Julian and Mira down for their afternoon naps after sending our friends on their way with hugs and thanks and promises to get together again soon. It’s been a long time since we entertained at home, and I’ve missed it. I wasn’t sure we could pull it off with two little ones at home, but yesterday’s gathering went so well, I’m eager to try again, soon.
A little rice left over from a previous night’s dinner, black beans spiked with cumin and Mexican oregano, a shower of sharp cheddar, a mix of peppers – sweet and hot – roasted on the weekend and packed in olive oil to deploy during the week, crisp lime-pickled radishes and red onion, some creamy avocado, a fresh chunky salsa, and a dollop of pureed chipotle in adobo made for a warming, hearty lunch to fortify us on a chilly day.
I’m really going to miss these Thursdays at home.
Things have been even quieter than usual around here, and with good reason. One month ago, we welcomed our beautiful daughter, Mirabelle Marlow Dietsch, into the world. Mira weighed in at 7 lbs. 5 oz. and was 19.5 inches long, and we’ve been slowly adjusting to life as a family of four.
Warm thanks to all of you who heard the news elsewhere and passed along your good wishes – they are so appreciated.
I’ve always been pretty proud of my ability to think on my feet. It’s a skill that has served me well at my day job, but it has proven to be invaluable since I became a mom. You just never know what the day will bring.
We’ve been lucky – Julian has been extremely healthy and robust, but yesterday he just wasn’t feeling like himself. He had had some immunizations at his 15-month checkup late last month, and his doctor warned us he might show some delayed symptoms about a week after; right on schedule, he was cranky and fussy and spiked his very first fever Sunday morning. We tried time and again to put him down for a nap in his crib, but he wasn’t having it, so I nestled him close to me in the big bed, and read while he drifted off, staying with him for nearly three hours.
He slept deeply and well, his fever broke, and he woke with a smile on his face, but I had to shelve my original plan for dinner. Something brothy and comforting seemed like just what we all needed, so I put a small pot of beans on the stove and got to chopping while Mike took over tending to our boy.
I was inspired by a beautiful pot of minestrone I saw on Pinterest, so I cobbled together my own version, rich with alliums and fennel, carrots and parsnips, cabbage and kale, good canned tomatoes, fresh rosemary, thyme, and bay. I added a dash of Worcestershire for savoriness and a splash of Sherry vinegar for brightness, the cooked beans and their broth for heft, and a parmesan rind for the wonderful richness it imparts. I didn’t have any soup pasta around, but I did have a bag of par-cooked whole wheat spirals in the freezer left over from a previous meal, so I thawed them and stirred them gently into the soup until they were just warmed through.
I also had a bunch of leafy celery in the crisper, so I pulled off a big handful of the leaves to make a quick gremolata of sorts, chopping them fine and combining them with garlic and lemon zest and coarse pink salt, plus a little bit of olive oil to make a chunky paste, which I swirled on top of our soup bowls.
We settled in at the table, passing a tray of cheese-dusted, garlicky toasts for dunking, and even Julian ate with gusto. I guess a good pot of soup really is the cure for what’s ailing you.
Mike posted the following on Facebook the other day:
“2012: two surgeries for baby and a huge move for all of us. Plus first words, first steps, first foods. I mean, really, what a year.”
And that really sums it up.
The three of us have enjoyed a pretty low-key Christmas holiday, filled with plenty of good food, and more importantly, lots of togetherness. A little calm is so welcome after the year we’ve had.
I have no idea what 2013 will bring, but I’m so glad to be ringing it in right back where we belong. I’m looking forward to settling in, to a year of growth rather than big change. We’ll see what fate has in store for us this go-round.
And to all of you, we wish health, peace, and happiness in the coming year. Our heartfelt thanks for sharing this wild ride with us.
Our apartment juts up against a part of Brooklyn that’s often referred to as “Little Pakistan.” There’s a nearby stretch of Coney Island Avenue that’s dotted with Halal butchers and take-out joints, fruit markets and ethnic grocers. The aroma of grilled meats and spice as I walk home from the subway each night is intoxicating.
I’ve only recently begun to scope these markets out in earnest, as I strategize how best to spend every cent of our weekly food budget. At one market, you can get a 10-pound bag of onions for $2.89, a fact I file away for the next time I need to know how to feed us on next to nothing. I think of soups and tarts, and that panade I made recently that was a massive pain in the ass to assemble, but seriously delicious, all worth it in the end. Stale bread and a pile of onions cooked down until tender, with greens and a little good cheese and a lot of rich broth, truly greater than the sum of its parts. I hoard the bones from every chicken we cook at home, stash them in the freezer to turn them into gold, bolstered with a package or two of cheap feet and neck bones. We’ll always have good stock around.
Just months ago I spent $8 on a dozen eggs from some handsome young farmers at Union Square, laid by pampered, pastured chickens. A lot of people would be scandalized at that price tag, but I have grown to appreciate really great eggs in recent years, and they’re still a cheap source of protein at nearly a buck apiece. These had taut, perky whites and saffron yolks, and they were worth every penny, but our reality doesn’t allow for such frivolity right now. I’ll still pay $4 or $5 for our eggs at the farmers’ market, though, for as long as our budget will allow. A really great egg is a treasure, a small luxury I’m not yet willing to deny us.
I’ve learned over the last few years how to carve a 49 cent head of cabbage into fluffy ribbons, and cook them down into silky submission. I toss them with long strands of pasta, a mountain of finely grated, sharp-salty cheese, and plenty of black pepper, a recreation of a long-ago restaurant meal shared with a visiting friend the first time we lived in New York. If we have bacon around, I’ll add that, too, crisp little batons studding the tangles of cabbage and spaghetti. A little goes a long way.
I am especially grateful, these days, for those little fruit markets and ethnic grocers along that stretch of Coney Island Avenue near our apartment, with their cheap sacks of onions and aromatic rice, their 4-pound bags of dried beans and legumes, their dense cabbages and bright bundles of hearty greens just waiting to be turned into a simple, but delicious meal. So long as we have our beans and greens, our broth and bread and a dozen great eggs, we have plenty, and we will eat well.
Back in April, I received an email about the JC100, the online celebration of Julia Child’s life and work on what would have been her 100th birthday. Like most of what lands in my blog-related inbox (especially since our little guy arrived), that email was read and left unanswered, forgotten until yesterday, when I started seeing remembrances posted nearly everywhere.
Julia’s show was the first cooking show I remember watching, and though it would be many years before I ever cracked open a copy of Mastering the Art, I feel that she was a big influence on me as a home cook. She was large and loud and kind of endearingly dorky – all of which I could relate to quite well – but she had this incredible self-confidence, and in watching her cook, I felt that I, too, could take even the humblest of ingredients and turn them into something both delicious and elegant. She did what she did with love, she seemed to get such true joy from feeding herself, her family and her friends, and she never seemed to let a little kitchen mishap get her down.
Mike has almost certainly cooked more recipes straight from those iconic books than I have; I’ve never had the patience for classic French technique. But every time I step into the kitchen, set a cutting board in front of me and pull my knife down from the wall, I can’t help but feel that Julia’s spirit and influence is guiding my way.
Happy birthday, Julia, and thank you.