I’ll be back with a new post soon, as we’re getting ready to take on our second round of 12 Months | 12 Dishes, but I wanted to drop in briefly to wish you all a Happy 2013, and share this photo of our New Year’s Day brunch, which the folks at Flickr have so kindly featured in Explore! Not a bad way to kick things off, eh?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
A few days ago, Mike asked if I would make a batch of granola. I did, and decided to try adding an egg white for extra clumpiness, a trick I had seen mentioned in a few different places recently.
That meant, of course, that we had an extra yolk around. And you know I couldn’t let that go to waste.
We’ve gotten a couple of bags of local AP flour from Cayuga Pure Organics in the months that we’ve been back in New York, and I adore how it performs in fresh pasta dough. These Knoll Crest Farm eggs are pretty great, too.
I had also gotten a great deal on some locally-raised ground Angus beef, so I pulled together a rich, slow-cooked meat sauce to go with our pasta, and while the sauce bubbled away and my granola cooled, I whipped up a few other things for our little guy to eat during the week.
A tray of little sweet potato wedges, just slicked with olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt, went into the oven to roast along with a batch of Judy Rodgers’ Roasted Applesauce.
I make this stuff just about every week – it is the easiest and best applesauce ever, and we all love it. This time I used some heirloom Baldwin apples we picked up at the farmers market earlier in the day.
I also cooked up a pot of Broccoli Cooked Forever, minus the hot peppers, as a side to our baked pasta and to have around for Julian this week – it’s one of his favorites (though very un-photogenic).
I was craving a baked pasta, so I decided to do something a little different, canneloni-inspired, if you will. I cut my fresh pasta sheets into square sections, and blanched them as I do for lasagna. Once shocked and patted dry, I added a swipe of seasoned ricotta to each, rolled them into cigars, and set them on a bed of my sauce, with more sauce spooned over the tops. I baked them for half an hour or so, covered, then removed their tinfoil cap, grated on some cheese, and put them back in the oven to get bubbly.
Julian got a pint-sized portion of his own, and a chance to work on his fork skills.
He’s a natural, don’t you think?
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).
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.
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.
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.
There might even be some baking.
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.
Let the games begin.
It’s wild to think we’ve been back in New York for four months now. It was four months ago today, actually, that I returned to work at my old law firm, walking the same familiar corridors, gazing out at the same familiar view of the city stretched out for miles and miles from my perch on the 52nd floor.
I will never grow tired of that view.
I’m working with many of the same folks I worked with years ago, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt a catch in my throat at hearing the words “welcome home” from co-workers here and in our other offices.
It really has felt like a homecoming, a return to a place that, in many ways, I feel I never should have left.
We had our reasons for leaving New York. We needed a break. We thought we were moving toward something… a home, stability, a safe and quiet place to set down roots and build a life. And it wasn’t all bad – our time in Rhode Island gave us Julian, and I wouldn’t trade him for anything in the whole entire world.
But there were big things, ugly things that happened while we were there, things that still cause a great deal of pain. The wounds have healed, mostly, but we still bear their scars.
There are times I wish we could get those four and a half years back.
When I left Detroit and my first husband in 2001, I swore to myself that no matter what happened in life, I would live with no regrets. “Everything happens for a reason,” as my beloved and very wise Grandma always says. I would learn from my inevitable mistakes; even the bad stuff holds a lesson. And yet…
Reentry has been hard. Much harder than I expected it would be. And while I am still absolutely certain that moving back to New York was the right decision for me, for Mike, for Julian, I’ve been struggling with what to do now that we’re here. What is this next phase of our life going to look like? How do we make this new life, this second act into everything we want it to be?
We landed in a neighborhood we knew next to nothing about, coming in, and which we have fallen in love with quickly and hard. We’re slowly establishing routines, gradually getting to know our neighbors and other parents and kids in the area, exploring the markets and greenmarkets and restaurants and bars in our new nabe, venturing out to revisit our old favorites and old friends when we can.
We’re shopping and eating our way around our new neighborhood and our new-old city, and we’re cooking our way through the rough spots, because that’s how we make connections, that’s how we persevere. It’s just what we do.
We’re settling in, hopefully for the long haul.
But I still feel like something isn’t quite right yet, and I can’t put my finger on it.
Maybe this is like seeing your high school sweetheart for the first time after being away at college… you’re still the same person you were before, and you still recognize the things you loved about him or her back then, but you also know that you’ve changed, and you are acutely aware of what’s new and different about yourself and that person you shared so much with.
Maybe it just takes time to figure out what your relationship is going to be like as a couple of adults, with four years of heartbreak and healing and loss and recovery and growing up under your belts. Being together is comfortable and blessedly familiar. It’s safe. But is it right? Is it meant to be, built to stand the test of time? I know who I am, now, but who are we together?
How do we move forward, and get back to that sweet space where we once were, where we fit together so easily and well?
Time will tell, I suppose. And in the meantime, we’ll be shopping and eating our way around our new neighborhood and our new-old city, and cooking our way through the rough spots, because that’s how we make connections, that’s how we persevere.
It’s just what we do.