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appetite

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So somehow in the middle of my recent spate of 50-hour work weeks, I managed to get pregnant again. No burying the lede this time, I’m just putting it right out here, and letting you all know that baby number two is set to join us in October, a month after Julian’s second birthday. We’re thrilled of course, though my tiredness has reached a whole new level, and my appetite, to my chagrin, is all but gone these days.

I had no such trouble eating throughout my first pregnancy. My first trimester nausea was just mildly bothersome, and I had no real morning sickness to speak of. I ate well and often: lots of fruit and fish, big salads and eggs and nuts by the handful. Indian food, Mexican food, any kind of spicy food – bring it on. Just about everything tasted great, and physically, I felt better than I had in years.

But things are different this time around – not drastically so, just enough to throw me for a loop. I feel a little bit queasier, a little more fatigued than I remember being last time, and I just don’t have much of an appetite. For anything. Frustrating for many, but downright maddening for a typically food-fixated sort like myself.

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It doesn’t help that I feel guilty about not eating. I’m building a baby, after all.

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I’m in a lull between trials right now, and my schedule has cleared up a bit. Mike has taken on the lion’s share of dinner prep in recent weeks, between my work commitments and lack of interest in eating, but I was eager to get back in the kitchen over the weekend, even though I had no clue what to make for us. Inspiration came, as it often does these days, via Pinterest, and a beautiful panade from Emily of Five and Spice. Since I’ve been able to reliably keep down bread and cheese, and we had a fresh batch of rich chicken stock in the fridge, it seemed like a good bet.

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So I headed into the kitchen yesterday afternoon while Julian napped and Mike took care of some things around the apartment, and I sliced onions and trimmed chard, grated cheese and massaged stale bread. I sauteed the greens and alliums in batches, built some layers and moistened them with stock, then I set my covered pan in a low oven to bake for a good long while.

And then I put my feet up.

The three of us sat down to eat together as the sun set, something I have missed more than anything else over the last few months, and as I watched the boys tucking into their respective portions, I was happy that at least they were enjoying their meal. I still wasn’t sure if I would. But I took a spoonful from my own bowl, satiny greens and wobbly bread, the aroma of stock and cheese and onions set aloft on a pocket of steam, and I closed my eyes as I took it into my mouth. I took another bite, and another, and another, and soon, my belly was as full as my heart felt.

braised escarole white beans olives

bouncing back

toasts

We are finally… finally beginning to emerge from nearly two weeks of fierce battle against The Crud. Despite our best efforts at staying healthy, trying to strengthen our immunity by frequent hand-washing, liberal doses of homemade chicken stock, and, for two of the three of us anyway, getting flu shots, we were stricken, and hit hard. I suspect our recent trip to DC had something to do with it – it seems whenever we’ve traveled anywhere in the winter months, we always come down with something afterward.

cousins at play

As sick as we’ve been since, that trip was so worth it. We got to spend some long-overdue time with my parents, as well as my brother, his lovely wife, and their two adorable little ones. This was the first time Julian got to meet his cousins, and they got along famously.

escarole, wilted

On our first night in town, the entire clan ate dinner at a little Italian restaurant near our hotel, a mostly unremarkable place with checkered vinyl tablecloths and an encyclopedic menu. But one dish we ordered stood out in my memory – a side of white beans and escarole which we actually ordered for Julian, but which we adults ended up polishing off.

Dinner: January 23, 2013

White beans and escarole is a pretty classic combination, probably most familiar served in soup form, but this take was different: the escarole was braised with a bit of tomato, and the whole thing was studded with plump little black olives. They were an unexpected addition, and we loved how their brininess mellowed in the cooking, rendering them lush and fruity, a wonderful complement to the bitter greens and creamy beans.

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As soon as my appetite started coming back post-Crud, I began to crave this dish, and last night, I tried my hand at recreating it at home. With some toasted, crusty bread and a hearty red wine, this was a simple but satisfying meal I suspect we’ll come back to again and again.

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Braised Escarole with White Beans and Olives

one large head of escarole
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for serving
Kosher or sea salt
one cup basic tomato sauce
two large cloves garlic
1.5 cups of cooked white beans
1/2 cup pitted black olives
a pinch of red pepper flakes (optional)

Trim the escarole, removing the stem end and any wilted outer leaves. Rinse it well and set aside. Add a glug of olive oil to a wide, shallow pan, and warm it over medium heat. Add the escarole and a big pinch of salt (it’s fine if a bit of water is still clinging to its leaves), and turn to coat with the oil. Cover the pan and let cook over medium heat until the escarole is mostly wilted and a bit browned in spots, about 15 minutes. Add the tomato and garlic, stir through, lower the heat, and continue cooking partially covered for another 10-15 minutes, until the liquid in the pan has reduced and thickened and the escarole is very soft. Stir in the beans and olives, add the red pepper flakes if using, and cook an additional 10 minutes or so, until everything is warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon into shallow bowls, with a generous drizzle of olive oil on top, and toasted bread alongside.

12 Months | 12 Dishes: Chicken and Dumplings

chicken and buttermilk-herb dumplings

Remember back in October when we decided to take on a little cooking project? Well, a lot has happened since then, but we’re back on track now, and well on our way to coming up with a great version of chicken and dumplings.

We’ve tried three different versions so far, each of which had things we loved and things we found lacking. Mike kicked off the cooking with Elise’s version from Simply Recipes. We thought the stew had great flavor, but the dumplings were a little denser than we wanted (possibly because we didn’t have cake flour on hand, so we used AP flour instead).

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Next we tried Martha’s version, which had lighter dumplings, but a less-flavorful stew. We thought maybe we’d just take Elise’s stew and Martha’s dumplings for a third version, but after looking at a few more recipes, I decided to go in a different direction, putting together my own version of the dish.

I used six bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 2.5 lbs. worth), salting them well and browning the skins in butter before putting them in the oven to finish cooking through. I then took a couple of leeks, a few peeled carrots, and a couple of celery stalks, chopped them small, and softened them in the rendered fat, then sprinkled a bit of Wondra on them and stirred it through to coat the vegetables. I let that cook for a few minutes, then added about 6 cups of our rich homemade chicken stock and several sprigs of fresh thyme.

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For the dumplings, I took a page from this recipe, which originally comes from America’s Test Kitchen. I loved the idea of buttermilk in the dumplings, but without an immediate use for a yolk, didn’t want to sacrifice an egg to the cause. I also liked the idea of adding a bit of Dijon mustard to the dumplings, a la Thomas Keller. So I ended up combining two cups of AP flour with a teaspoon of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda in one bowl, and a tablespoon of Dijon, 4 tablespoons of melted butter, and 3/4 cups of buttermilk in another bowl. When I combined the wet and dry ingredients, I found the mixture to be a bit too dry, so I added another 1/4 cup of buttermilk. Finally, since I had a huge pile of herbs for the stew in front of me, I figured I’d add some to the dumpling dough as well – about a third of a cup or so of chopped fresh parsley and chives.

Dinner: December 5, 2012

When the chicken was cooked through, I shredded the meat off the bones (we snacked on the crispy skin) and added it to the stew. I plopped in some frozen peas, adjusted the seasoning, then brought the heat up and began dropping spoonfuls of the dumpling mixture in. I popped the lid back on the pot to let the dumplings cook through, then served our chicken and dumplings with the rest of my chopped fresh herbs on top.

We would have liked the stew to be a bit thicker and creamier, but the flavor was great, and these dumplings were the best yet, light and fluffy and delicately tangy from the buttermilk and mustard. While we’ve got a few more chicken and dumpling recipes we want to try during the remainder of the month, I think we’re very close to finding our winner.

12 Months | 12 Dishes

let the games begin

A few months ago, our friend Emily Dietsch (who is actually no relation to Mike, though we wish she was) came up with a rather brilliant project for herself. She called it 12 months, 12 dishes, and she described it as such:

Over the next year, I’ll utilize a list of ‘essential’ dishes and work through one per month, trying out a few recipes or even the same one until I get something just right. By ‘essential’, I mean dishes that qualify as one or a few of the following: classics that have been around forever (and deserve that status); comprised of core techniques that I can use in other dishes; crowd-pleasers (i.e., things to whip up offhand for friends or partners); and me-pleasers (i.e., things I want to eat again and again).

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She’s compiled a wonderful list of dishes she wants to take on: seafood stews, vegetable gratins, curries or tagines, roast chicken, bistro-style steak… a nice mix of classics from various cultures. It has been so much fun to follow her progress as she cooks her way through them.

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In fact, I found the whole project so inspiring that I asked her if Mike and I might borrow her idea, put our own spin on it, and post about it here.

To my delight, she agreed.

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I feel like we’ve gotten into a bit of a cooking rut. While we’ve developed a solid little rotation of favorite dishes over the years – pantry pastas and mac & cheese, stews and braises, roast chicken, meatballs, and pizzas, thick and thin – I think we’re both getting a little bored with the same old, same old. We also feel that there are some gaps in our repertoire, that there are recipes and techniques we’d love to master to help beef up our kitchen skills, and dishes we’d love for Julian to grow up with.

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There might even be some baking.

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So this is our challenge – 12 Months | 12 Dishes. Mike and I are still finalizing our list of the 12 dishes we’ll cook through over the coming year, but we’ve decided to start with a comfort food classic: chicken and dumplings. If you have a favorite version, we’d love to hear about it.

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Let the games begin.