Friday, January 22, 2010

I Can't Name Names, But I Can Cook. Oh My.

Snarky Son wants to change his name.

More precisely, he no longer wants to be “Snarky.”

When I first started blogging, I deliberately chose not to use the kids' names in Feminine Wiles.  I can’t put my finger on the risk, but it seemed dicey.  And it didn’t seem fair to the kids – particularly considering that their dirty laundry is one of my favorite topics.  (I’m thinking now of when I was declared Worst.  Mom.  Ever.  WME.) 

Plus, I promised my “ex” I wouldn’t name names.  And while we didn’t exactly put it in the custody agreement, he is exactly a lawyer.  Know what I’m saying?  Exactly. 

Voilà the inception of “Darling Daughter” and “Snarky Son.”

But Son doesn’t want to be “Snarky.”  Alliteration-lover that I am, I’ve offered several alternatives, “Super Son.” “Sweet Son.” “Studly Son.”  (OK.  That last was a joke.  Exactly.)  Turns out, it’s not the adjective that SS finds irksome.  He just wants to go by his name.  He’s nearly 15 and doesn’t want to be regarded as cute or sly or clever.  SS just wants to be – himself. 

He's really growing up.  I can see that.  I respect that.  I admire that.  Tough noogies.  I can’t name names.  Not yet.

This protective mama bear isn’t quite ready to release her taller-and-quicker-than-me cub out into the real world.  ‘Cause there’s more than bears out there, you know.  There’s lions.  And tigers.  And Cougars.  Oh my.

Dangers abound.  Here’s another one:  The National Safety Council reported this week that 28% of car crashes can be attributed to drivers using their cell phones (calling or texting).  Twenty-eight percent.  Twenty-eight percent!

The kids and I have become experts at identifying texting drivers.  The conversation in our car usually goes something like this:  “No.  They can’t be drunk.  It’s 7:30 in the morning.  I bet they think they’re driving perfectly fine.  Isn’t that against the law?  Yep.  But there’s no policeman here right now.  Let’s just drop back and let them go on …”

This, just weeks before SS is eligible to earn his driver’s permit.  To use the word that springs to mind, I am a “wreck.”

Lions and tigers and texting drivers.  Oh my. 

Letting go is hard.  But cooking?  That’s easy.  That, I can do.  I can’t come up with an acceptable nickname for SS.  I can't ward off stupid, texting drivers.  I can’t even fend off potential Cougars.  (However, Cougars beware: I work out. I've got a lot of fight in me.)

What I can do is keep the lines of communication open.  I can keep looking for those “teachable” moments.  (“See the light from a cell phone lighting up that driver’s face?  Does he really think we don’t know he’s texting?)"  I can cook.  And maybe I can come up with an acceptable alternative to “Snarky Son.”  Ideas?

Tzatziki (Cucumber Yogurt) Sauce
I’m one of those people who always orders “extra” tzatziki, and occasionally, buys it at the store to eat it with a spoon.  It’s ”dee-lish” (as DD would say) on Lamb and Spinach Meatballs, or even on toasted pita, but it’s best if you make it yourself. Note that this recipe must be begun two hours in advance.

16 oz. plain Greek yogurt, strained
½ English cucumber, peeled, grated or chopped fine, all moisture pressed out
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 clove garlic, minced fine
½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
2 teaspoons fresh dill, minced
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Strain yogurt by spooning into a coffee filter set in a mesh strainer set over a bowl.  Allow two hours for extra liquid to drain out.  Discard extra liquid.  (I know it's a pain, but it makes your tzatziki nice and creamy instead of thin and runny.)  Stir together remaining ingredients in a medium bowl.  Chill and serve.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Three Words Every Mom Cringes To Hear.

Much as I love Snarky Son and Darling Daughter, a sizable part of me dreads their return from school each day -- because I know they’ll bring with them those Three Little Words.  Those Three Little Words that every mom 'round the world cringes to hear.  What's.  For.  Dinner.

Heaven help me.

The kids know my feelings about The Question, but they can’t keep it to themselves any more than they can chew Doritos with their mouths closed.  Or Frosted Flakes.  Or sadly, even Bubble Yum Watermelon Wave chewing gum.  For the love of Wrigley's.  It's not "smacking" gum.  It's "chewing" gum.  Keep your lips together.  I sometimes wonder whether the problem is the result of an anatomical defect.  Um.  Where was I?

(As an aside, DD just now looked over my shoulder, read the first paragraph, and asked, “What’s for dinner?”  Scout’s honor.)

Earlier this week, DD poked her head into the kitchen to pose The Question.  For once, I was thrilled.  I was all but wagging my tail.  “Doesn’t it smell great?” I gushed.  “It’s that Boeuf Bourgignon you said you wanted to try.  From that movie, Julie and Julia.  Remember?   I blogged about you wanting to try it?  Remember?”

To which, DD distractedly replied, “Oh.”  

Voilà the second reason I disdain The Question.  I hate having to “justify” what’s for dinner.  When I was married, I could get away with saying, ‘Well, your Dad likes it, so we’re having it.”  Or, “Look, I can’t always cook for kids.  You’re going to have to learn to eat like an adult.”

Post-divorce, though, I’m outnumbered.  Kids, two.  Adults, one.

Look.  I don’t mind cooking the beloved Sausage Pasta with Broccoli a couple of times a month.  Indeed, I’m flattered that SS and DD are such fans.  Ditto Tuna & Noodles.  And Pot Roast.  But sometimes, I feel hemmed in by the tastes of people who are shorter than me.  Or, at least, who were shorter than me.  Like yesterday.

You don’t like squash?  Well, OK.  Lots of times, I don’t either. Not too crazy about braised cabbage, limas or cheeses ending in “-reuse” or “-bert” or sometimes even “cheese”?   I can work around that.  You don’t like gravies, syrups, dips, sauces, salad dressings or toppings of any sort?  Say what?  Get me the phone.  Surely there was some sort of mix-up at the hospital.

Today is one of those days.  But instead of accommodating, I’m rebelling.  I made meatballs, which, for reasons surpassing understanding, are never well-received Chez Wiles.  Oh.  Did I mention they were lamb meatballs?  With spinach?  And gracious plenty garlic?  Mmm-hmm.  I didn't mention it to the kids, either.

DD was first to ask, “What are those?”

Herbed Meatballs” I blithely responded, fingers crossed behind my back.

SS then demanded, “You’re not putting them in some kind of tomato sauce, are you?”

“Um.  No.”

“Well good.  Let’s eat.”

And they did.  Go figure.  Kids, two.  Adult, won.  

(They didn’t touch the tzatziki sauce I made for dipping the meatballs, though.  I’m just saying …)

Lamb and Spinach Meatballs
Recipe makes nearly 2 dozen 1 1/2” meatballs. Particularly good served with grilled pita bread and tzatziki sauce.

1 clove garlic, minced fine
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2-3 teaspoons fresh mint, chopped
2-3 teaspoons fresh oregano, chopped
1 lb. ground lamb
1/2 package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, moisture squeezed out
1 egg
1/3 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used panko)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
fresh ground pepper

On cutting board, use large knife to “cut” salt into garlic until nearly pasty.  “Cut in” mint and oregano until well combined.  Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, use your hands to combine lamb, spinach and egg.  When mixture is consistent, mix in breadcrumbs with your hands.  Sprinkle meat mixture with cumin and reserved garlic mixture.  Use hands to combine well.  On a small saucer, “cook” about a teaspoon of the meat mixture in the microwave for 30 seconds.  Taste, and adjust seasoning accordingly.

Preheat oven to 375.  Spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray.  Use hands to lightly shape meatballs – approximately 1 ½” – and place on baking sheet.  Bake at 375 for about 10 minutes.  Serve hot with tzatziki sauce and pita bread.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Organized For A Cause, And As Always, Cooking.

My calendar is color-coded.  Snarky Son’s activities in green.  Darling Daughter’s in purple.  Mine in blue.  OK.  That’s not all.  Birthdays are pink.  Family stuff, orange.  And school stuff?  Blue (the school color).

C’mon.  How does this not make sense?

My spices are alphabetized. Don't judge me.  I bet lots of people do it.  They’re just afraid to come out of the spice cabinet and own up.   Pity, that.  United, we could convert cooks countrywide, allowing everyone that supreme satisfaction of locating your Turkish bay leaves and Greek oregano in 8 seconds.  Flat.

With my passion for order, you can imagine what “allowance day” is like Chez Wiles.  Suffice to say, SS and DD have always divvied up their monthly payola so that some goes toward short-term spending, some for long-term savings and some for charity.

SS and DD have wildly different spending and saving habits.  SS is a get-rid-of-it-before-it-sears-my-flesh spender -- he's a reliable stimulator of the U.S. economy.  DD is a rainy-day-but-that’s-not-rain-that’s-just-drizzle saver -- stashing cash in drawers, purses, wallets and jewelry boxes, anticipating the inevitable monsoon.  (Even then, though, I’m not sure how much of the loot would be unleashed.)

None of this is to say, however, that every single shopping excursion with the kids doesn’t involve the following dialogue:  Kid, “Will you buy this for me?”  Me, “Nope.  You have your own money.”  Kid, astonished, “What?”  Me, “If you want that psychedelic-peace-symbol-t-shirt/Superman-candle/pocket-Buddha so much, buy it yourself.”  Kid, “Are you serious?  I'm not buying that!”

Last week, though, with only the barest understanding of the dire post-earthquake situation in Haiti, the kids didn’t hesitate before digging into their charity stash.  DD, ever the planner, contributed a double-digit percentage of her coffers, but held the remainder in reserve.  Should another crisis arrive, she'll be prepared to help there, too.  I love that kid.

SS, on the other hand, opened his charity jar and said, “Take it.  All of it.”  After I added my contribution to the pile, we logged onto the Red Cross website, satisfied we’d made a good decision and relieved to feel as if we were doing something – anything – to help.

Two days later, though, SS’s favorite band, Blink-182 announced its own fundraising effort, selling Haiti T-shirts, with all proceeds going to the American Red Cross.

Naturally, SS asked if I’d buy one.  Naturally, I reminded him he has his own money.  He then quickly asked if he could resort to his “charity” cash.  And just as quickly, he remembered those coffers had been drained.

“I guess, then, that I’ll just buy it myself,” he said.  “It’s another way to help, right?”

I love that kid.

I also love the short ribs that we had this weekend.  Super tender.  Super flavorful.  And at $4.99 a pound (even at the fancy butcher), super affordable.

And in case you don’t print out the recipe, but want it later, it’s also super easy to find.  You know me.  It’s already categorized and filed.  You'll find it under “Main Dish Recipes” to the right!

Braised Beef Short Ribs with Whole Grain Mustard
Serves six -- or four with yummy leftovers
5 lbs. beef short ribs
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 rib celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic
2 cups dry red wine (I used an affordable Cabernet Sauvignon)
1 can beef broth
3 tablespoons whole grain mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
very generous grinding of pepper

In a large, heavy duty lidded pan (a Dutch oven or roaster is ideal), heat oil over medium high heat until hot and rippling.  Working in batches, brown ribs on all sides.  (This can take a while.  Be patient, and get a nice deep brown.)  Remove ribs from pan, and stir in onions.  Saute until translucent, then add carrot, celery and garlic.  Saute until lightly browned.  Stir in wine, beef broth, mustard, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Return short ribs to pan, put in oven (lidded) to bake at 300.  Check occasionally (if only to briefly lift the lid and let the aroma fill your kitchen).  After three hours, check with a fork.  Beef should be very tender and nearly falling off the bone.  If not, return to the oven for another 30 minutes or so.  When ribs are done, remove from oven and allow to rest 15 minutes (or up to 45 minutes) before serving over hot cooked egg noodles.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Sweetest Surprise -- And All A 12-Year-Old Needs To Know. (Frosted Cinnamon Biscuits)

Last week, The Today Show aired a segment about the things every woman should know how to do (drawn from the new book, How to Sew A Button:  And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew.)

In addition to “sew a button,” the must-know’s included roast a chicken, hang a picture, throw a yard sale, and build a fire.  (It’s not just me, right?  A yard sale? Really?)  Nevertheless, at age 47, I’m sufficiently old that it never occurred to me to “test” myself.

Instead, my always-on-mothering mind instantly darted to Darling Daughter (DD).  How would she measure up?  Or, to be frank, as the most-likely-teacher of her success-in-life-requirements, how would I measure up?  (Easy to see why I’ve never subscribed to Cosmo.  Every monthly quiz delivered by Mike The Mailman would prompt an appointment with my neighborhood psychiatric professional.)

OK.  DD’s only 12, so I’ll keep my expectations to a simmer.  I’m not worried about her roasting a chicken.  True, she is skeeved out at the very idea of touching meat – much less chilly, raw, jiggly, pink meat, but she’s 12, OK?  I’m not worried.  Knowing how much she enjoys roast chicken (particularly Beer Butt Chicken), I’m willing to bet DD overcomes these issues as an adult.

DD should also, according to "those in the know," be able to hang a picture, compost, and build a fire.  Ideal training, I suppose, for her future.  Provided her future involves a career as a perfectionistic, environmentally-minded arsonist.

So.  “Tie a tie?”  Ummm, OK.  Particularly helpful, I suppose, if she ever has a son, and if her spouse (presumably, the keeper of that tie-tying knowledge) works long hours, but she's the one who’s got to deliver the kid to a coat-and-tie event.  (Been there, done that.  Times 10 other boys whose moms couldn’t tie a tie.)

So what’s left?  “Mix a perfect martini?”  Maybe.  But as her mother’s daughter, DD’s expertise is more likely to lie with sangria.  But I digress.  My real advice to her (when she’s of age, of course), would be to understand that when her date says he wants a bourbon and ginger, he is not sending a double-top-secret code for more sangria.  Even if her sangria is the very one that The Episcopal Church is considering serving at Communion.  He wants bourbon and ginger.  So relent and make the best bourbon and ginger ever.  Crushed ice.  Decent bourbon.  In a hefty, cut-crystal highball (not double-old-fashioned) glass.  With your own signature touch.  A slice of candied ginger comes to mind.

Despite these occasional worries and fret-sessions, I love being DD’s mom.  Still, I’ve recently been longing for and reminiscing about the days when she was wee bit of a girl.  When I could tote her on my hip and snug her into my bed.  When the backseat of my minivan was crunchy and paved with Goldfish and Cheerios. When DD so plainly and plaintively needed me.

But wouldn’t you know it?  Just as I was in the midst of thinking that DD had outgrown me -- just when I was fretting about silly stuff like composting and sewing on buttons (which really, I do need to teach her), DD's started showing up in my bedroom in the early morning.  Weekend, school day.  Whatever.  With her sleep-crusted eyes, somehow always-fabulous-looking hair, and her hip Winnie-The-Pooh pajamas, she wanders into my room and stretches across the foot of my bed just a few minutes before I’d have headed into her room to wake her up.

What a sweet surprise.  What a wonderful way to wake up.  What a tremendous reminder of my fortune at being her mom.

Just as sweet – one recent morning, after snuggling on the bed with me and Lionel (the 12-pound man of the house), DD suggested that there might be a way to improve on my basic Buttermilk Biscuits.

She was right.  These rich, untraditional buttermilk biscuits were a hit -- and have been added to our own list of “things every woman should know.”

Frosted Cinnamon Biscuits
Makes 12-15 biscuits.

2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the board
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons shortening (chilled, cut in small slices)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (chilled, cut in small slices)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup heavy cream
½ cup cinnamon chips

½ cup confectioner’s sugar
1-2 tablespoons heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 400.  In a large mixing bowl, whisk together dry ingredients for biscuits.  Using a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in shortening and butter until mixture is crumbly and mealy.  Quickly stir in cream, buttermilk and cinnamon chips.  Do not overmix.  Dough should be soft and sticky.  Scrape dough onto well-floured board or counter.  It will not (and should not) be as elastic or dry as bread dough.  Using floured hands, gently pat out dough, folding it over itself several times (patting, not kneading).  Pat dough to ¾ inch thickness.  Dipping biscuit cutter in flour, cut out biscuits, placing on ungreased cookie sheet.  Repeat with remaining dough scraps.  Bake until very lightly golden – about 10 minutes.

While baking, mix together frosting ingredients, beginning with only 1 tablespoon of cream, and adding more as necessary to achieve a spreadable consistency.  Spread over biscuits while still warm and serve.  No butter needed!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cold and Fat Is No Way To Go Through Life. (Anyone Else Remember "Animal House"?)

OK.  What’s wrong here?  I’m wearing jeans.  Ski socks.  Wool-lined boots.  (Really cute ones – black with tassels!)  A turtleneck and a hooded fleece jacket.  I’m zipped in and hooded up.

Yet, I’m popsiclesque.  In my own house.

Clearly, Charlotte – like most of the country – is in the midst of a prolonged cold snap.  Or more accurately, given these temperatures, a cold shatter.  Nevertheless, I’m indoors, and while the thermostat Chez Wiles isn’t exactly set at “balmy,” it is holding steady at 68.

Still, Snarky Son and Darling Daughter actually set off for school this morning dressed less warmly than I am right now.  (And no, SS wasn’t, as threatened, wearing his cheetah Snuggie.  Is it possible a teenager would say such things only to see how a parent would react?)

I’ve always been cold-natured.  And I could write the book, the employee manual, the very Gideon’s Bible on layering.  Just ask anyone who saw me in the ladies' room at last Sunday’s Panthers-Saints game. Or, more accurately, anyone who had to cross her legs, jiggle her heels, tap her toes, bite her lip, and clinch the very most inner part of her being, waiting for me to peel back all that fabric in my stall.  And continue to wait, while I took twice as long to reconstruct the elaborate textile structure I’d devised to help stave off the cold, including HandWarmers, BFF to many a woman of a certain age.  (I've actually slept with a Handwarmer under my pillow before.  Toasty.)

The “layering” premise isn't perfect, however.  I don't have scientific evidence, exactly, but consider this:  If layering really worked, then the 10-pounds I mortared on this holiday season would seal in some of my body heat, wouldn’t it?  Wouldn't I be warmer?  Fat chance.  And I say that without irony.  Fat.

Sadly, now that I’m a woman of a certain age, that's one layer that isn’t peeling off in a ladies’ room – much less anytime in the next few weeks.  As one dear friend put it, “Remember college?  After a big tailgating weekend, you’d put on five pounds.  So Monday, you'd skip dinner and that's all it took -- you were right back in your skinny jeans."

Those.  Were.  The days, my friend.  They ended.

Now that I'm in my 40s, skipping dinner is just a way to avoid acid reflux.  I need a more thoughtful, and perhaps, more nutrition-based approach to weight-loss.  And if possible, one that will also help defrost my fingers and toes (because I will not, I repeat, will NOT, raise the thermostat when I’m the only one here at home.  At least not while I’m still abiding to the holy trinity of New Year’s Resolutions -- losing weight, getting fit and cutting costs!)

I’m not in college.  I can’t lose 10 pounds overnight, but this vegetarian Black-Eyed Pea Soup has to be a good start.  Low in fat, but high in flavor, this soup is made with my other new BFF – Ro-Tel tomatoes and chiles.  Which, coincidentally, also helps warm me up.

Don’t you love it when a recipe comes together?

Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Soup
If you want to add some type of meat, something as simple as crumbled bacon or sausage would be good here.  Or, you could add a slice of ham hock while cooking the peas.  Also, note that the consistency of this zesty soup will change considerably if you refrigerate it overnight – becoming more stew-like.  I eat it both ways and can't say which I prefer!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
12-15 baby carrots, sliced
1 rib celery, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

1 quart vegetable stock, divided
1 10-ounce carton fresh black-eyed peas
½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 10-ounce can Ro-Tel tomatoes with green chiles
¼ teaspoon Liquid Smoke (optional)
½ cup raw rice

sour cream for garnish (optional)

In a very large lidded skillet or soup kettle, sauté onion in olive oil over medium-heat until translucent, stir in carrots and celery and continuing sautéing until edges of vegetables begin to brown.  Stir in garlic, and sauté another couple of minutes, until garlic is very fragrant.

Pour in 3 cups of vegetable stock, increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.  Dump in black-eyed peas and salt and reduce heat to low.  Simmer, lidded, until peas are very nearly done.  Everyone says this should take fewer than 30 minutes, but it never has for me.  More like an hour.

When peas are nearly done (not crunchy or starchy, but slightly firm to the bite), stir in tomatoes, Liquid Smoke (if using), and rice.  Replace lid and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is done – about 20 minutes.

Check for seasoning.  If you like your soup more brothy, stir in remaining cup of vegetable stock.  Heat through and serve.  Top with a spoonful of sour cream, if desired.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

My Own Annual Performance Review: The Feminine Wiles Top Five Recipes

OK.  I’m not in school, so I don’t have a report card to look forward to next week.  (Not that I’m certain, however, that everyone Chez Wiles receiving a report card next week is actually looking forward to it.)

And as a stay-at-home-mom, I don’t have a manager to give me an annual performance review.  (Am I the only person who actually looked forward to those meetings?)

And let’s face it, loving and thoughtful as they may be, Snarky Son (SS) and Darling Daughter (DD) aren’t going to leap out of bed tomorrow morning and exclaim, “Wow!  You did all that laundry while we were sleeping?”

Pity.  Because I bask in positive feedback like a teenaged girl in the 70s basked in baby oil at Folly Beach.  (Oh wait.  I was that girl.)

Although I never planned it, that positive feedback is one reason Feminine Wiles, which I’ve now been writing for nearly a year, has been so gratifying.  I’m downright dazzled by the number of folks who tell me they’ve read my posts or tried my recipes.  And I’ve been somewhat surprised at which recipes have been most popular.  Take a look at this Top Five list for 2009:
  1. Shrimp and Grits.  I’m crazy about this recipe myself, because it can be made ahead.  In fact, it looks like I liked it so well that I used it in two different blog posts.  My bad.
  2. Killer Blue Cheese Dip.  I actually ate this recipe at several holiday parties this year.  And I’m not sure that other people don’t make it better than me!
  3. Waffle of Insane Greatness.  I’m not sure whether it was the name that drew people’s attention, but truly – the name is not an overstatement.
  4. Red Sangria.  Granted, while the kids were at camp this summer, I managed to post not one, not two, but three different recipes.  Plus, I somehow manage to reference sangria in about every third post.  Couldn’t skew the results, could it?
  5. Bacon Bloody Marys.  I got more than double the usual number of clicks when I ran this post, including hits from readers in Israel, Singapore, Romania, and Anchorage, Alaska.  I suspect, though, that this is partially because I managed to use the words, “Spiderman,” “’bacon,” “underwear” and “Bloody Marys” all in the same headline.  From what I hear, though, folks who tried it were pleasantly surprised.
So what does this tell us?  Other than, that for reasons surpassing understanding, forty percent of the Top Five list are alcoholic beverages?

Beats me.  But here at the start of a new year, I’m astounded and gratified by the response to Feminine Wiles.  I’d originally thought it would be read by a few family members and friends.  And only the ones who took pity on me, at that.  I had no idea how lucky I was.

So thank you.  What better way to start 2010.


PS – Well, heck yeah, there’s a new recipe after all that yacking!  The kids and I had a great pork roast this week.  I usually grill pork roasts (to keep from having to wash a roasting pan), but with this wicked cold weather, it would be days before the roast was done.  This version was great – and as the kids know, the pork fried rice later this week will be even better!

Garlic and Rosemary Crusted Pork Loin Rib Roast

One 3 ½ or 4 lb. pork rib roast
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary, minced
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup chicken broth (or water)

Preheat oven to 400.  On cutting board, use large knife to cut together garlic, rosemary,½ teaspoon of salt, and pepper.  Continue to mince together until paste-like.  In a small bowl, combine garlic-rosemary paste and olive oil.  Rub mixture over roast, and place, fat-side up in a large roasting pan (no need for a rack).  Sprinkle with remaining 1 teaspoon of salt and roast for 30 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350.  Pour wine and chicken broth (or water, if using) in bottom of roasting pan, and roast until internal thermometer registers 155 degrees (approximately one hour).  When done, remove from oven and allow to rest 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving -- maybe with Simply Sublime Potatoes Au Gratin?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Another New Year. Another New Year's Resolution. Bring On The Potatoes Au Gratin.

Yes.  I have a calendar.  An up-to-date one, at that.  But like so many stay-at-home-moms, my “New Year’ didn’t begin until today – the day the kids returned to school.  And holy educational system, Batman – this was one rocky day.  Cranky, tired, disorganized and unfocused.  And I’m guessing the kids’ day wasn’t much better.

I’m sheerly overwhelmed by the “things to be done” – the undecorating, the clutter-clearing, the return-to-schedule.  Not to mention, of course, the “New Year’s Resolutions.”  (Seriously, am I the only one who imagines that bellowed in a deep, echoing, theatrical voice?)

According to (whose slogan, “Government Made Easy” makes them a wee bit suspect), the most popular New Year’s resolutions are:

Lose weight
Manage debt
Save money
Get a better job
Get fit
Get a better education
Drink less alcohol

Hmm.  Plainly, I don’t need to draft my own list, because that one is pretty much on target.  Check, check, check, check, check, check and -- sigh --  check (except for sangria, natch).

Post-holiday time is already rife with “things to do.”  Do we really need to add to that list just because yet another 12-month period has begun?

Besides, in some ways, I began my own “new” year several months back when I became divorced.  I’ve got plenty on my plate – plenty that no one would ever want to see itemized.  Like, “call school to explain change in marital status.”  Or, “find reasonable health insurance as unemployed homemaker.”  Or how about, “learn to recognize when you’re being hit on.  And not."

Honest.  It’s harder than you'd think.

Nevertheless, I do have my own list of “good intentions” for 2010, and perversely, most of them coincide with the items listed on  Turns out, I’m just another common citizen.

But given the rocky start to my own New Year, I’m going to ease in.  I did go to the Y today (check, “get fit”) and I did not drink sangria tonight (check, “drink less alcohol”), and I even considered spending the next month as a vegetarian.

The following recipe, however, probably won’t help me accomplish that top goal, “lose weight.”  But holy potato, Batman, it is so very good and easy – and makes for a much easier return home from that first day back to school.

Simply Sublime (and Sublimely Simple) Potatoes Au Gratin
It's hard to believe that something so decadent is so simple to make.  You can dress these up, I suppose, using fresh thyme or minced garlic or half gruyere and half parmigiano-reggiano.  A little zip of cayenne wouldn't be out of place either, but basically, all you need is butter, potatoes, cheese and cream.  Yum.

2 tablespoons butter
3 medium sized baking potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup (about ¼ lb.) gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup cream
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
½ teaspoon ground thyme

Preheat oven to 350.  Use 1 tablespoon butter to grease bottom of medium sized baking dish.  Place one layer of potatoes (not overlapping) on bottom of dish.  Top with 1/3 cup cheese.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, thyme (and, if you’re feeling fancy, 1 minced clove garlic).  Repeat layering (except for thyme and garlic) two more times.  Pour cream over all, and bake for 1 hour, until browned and bubbling.  Remove from oven and let rest 15-20 minutes before serving.  Eat extravagantly.  No need for meat.