Monday, January 5, 2009

day by day, by day, by day...

The title of this post is a tribute to my sister, who recently managed to turn a dedication in a second-hand book into a "Meet the Parents" reference. If that's not talent, I don't know what is.

The book in question (a Christmas present from her to me) is a copy of The Kitchen Diaries, by Nigel Slater, and it's fantastic. It's full of simple, wholesome, seasonal recipes, of course, beautifully described and lushly photographed--everything you'd expect from contemporary food writing. But what I really appreciate about the book is its honesty. Slater intersperses his original recipes with occasional descriptions of takeout dinners, an ode to the joys of frozen fish sticks, and a confession that some days he just can't be arsed (his word, of course) to cook.

Here, for example, is his entry from March 3:
In my smug haze of good housekeeping from yesterday's baking session, not to mention my arch disdain for factory-produced foods, I fail to notice there is bugger all to eat in the house. At seven thirty I dash to the corner shop, returning with a can of baked beans, a bag of frozen fries and some beers.
That sounds familiar.

The book got me thinking about food blogs--diaries of another sort--and how heavily curated they often are. Nobody talks about the night they just gave up and ordered pizza, or the bunches of Swiss chard that they intended to make into something Alice Waters-worthy but kept putting off until the greens went slimy in the back of the crisper drawer.

By "they," of course, I mean "me." So I thought it would be an interesting experiment to catalog our dinners for the month of January. I won't post every day (obv.!) but I will confess what we ate--what we actually ate, not what I intended to cook, and would have if I were a better person--each day. Hopefully this will shame me into (1) cooking; (2) blogging.

I suppose I could write about Monkey's dinners, as well, but truth be told I don't think it would be very interesting. At 17 months she eats little other than boxed macaroni and cheese (to my deep chagrin) and yogurt with lingonberry jam (to my everlasting delight), when she eats anything much at all. I doubt my blogging would shame her into expanding her repetoire--though I suppose it might help inspire me to make more of an effort with her food.

January 1: Dinner at the home of Monkey's aunt, uncle, and cousin. My sister-in-law, who supposedly does not cook, made pumpkin risotto and a kale and beet salad, with pumpkin pie for dessert. Monkey loved the risotto, and this, combined with the fact that we managed to get through the evening without her investigating the fire in the fireplace OR pulling the glass-ornament-bedecked Christmas tree down on top of her, made me wonder if she might be turning just a teeny bit civilized.

January 2: Mushroom and barley pie with mushroom gravy, leftover from our belated Christmas celebration (we were sick on the 25th, not to mention snowed in)a few days ago .

January 3: Fresh corn cakes for me, barbecued field roast sandwich for the Mr., and fries filched from Daddy's plate for Monkey--we stopped at the Elysian Brewpub after a visit to the Frye Art Museum. Occasionally we like to pretend to be hip urban parents, but we can only keep up the charade for a couple of hours at a time.

January 4: The year's first cooking. Red lentil and sweet potato soup, a variation on the first recipe in The Kitchen Diaries (I notice that Nigel managed to hit his stride right on the 1st while I didn't manage to cook anything until three days later--well, he is a professional after all).

We ate the soup with what seems like the year's umpteenth baking--a loaf of no-knead bread with 3/4 teaspoon of smoked paprika and some olives leftover from our New Year's Eve nibbles chopped up and stirred into the dough. Yes, I'm the last person in the world to jump on the no-knead bread bandwagon, but now I've officially jumped. It's fantastic stuff (I use the speedy version of the recipe--the original version is a giant pain in the ass, for bread that is not much superior), but good grief, I can't keep up. It feels like I am baking bread every day! There are worse things I suppose.

Monkey, who went to bed before the soup was ready, was offered macaroni and cheese and some sauteed mushrooms, but preferred to dine on air and a piece or two of carpet lint instead.

Red Lentil and Sweet Potato Soup
Adapted from Nigel Slater. The original version of the recipe called for pumpkin, but sweet potatoes were what I had on hand. I also simplified the technique a little bit.

For the soup:
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
Fresh ginger (Slater specifies "a walnut-sized knob." I don't know what that means. My soup ended up pretty ginger-y.)
1 C plus 2 T split red lentils
1 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1 1/4 tsp chili powder
2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped

For the onion topping:
2 medium onions
2 T olive oil
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced

Put the onion and garlic in a medium saucepan. Peel the ginger, cut it into thin shreds, and add it to the pan. Add the lentils and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to a simmer. Add the turmeric, chili powder, and sweet potatoes, along with some salt. Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes or until everything is very tender.

While the soup is cooking, make the onion topping. Peel the onions and cut into thin rings. Cook them in oil in a skillet until they begin to color. Add the cayenne and garlic, and continue to cook until the onions are deeply caramelized.

Remove the lid from the soup and cook it down a bit (you can do this, per Slater's instructions by "turn[ing] up the heat, boiling hard for five minutes," or you can do it more lackadaisically, like I did). Remove from the heat and puree in small batches in a blender, pouring the pureed soup into a bowl. Check for seasoning, and serve with a spoonful of the onions on top.

1 comment:

FR Connection said...

This is great, how insightful and seriously true! Thanks for keeping it to speak :)