3/22/15

Video: Skillet Chicken Pot Pie


And if you like what you see here, head on over to Netflix and start watching Foyle's War! Just kidding. I mean, you should definitely check out Foyle's War. But it isn't a cooking show. It's a detective show set in England during WWII. Just about every episode ends with a murderer confessing to exactly how and why he or she committed murder. (Matt says it's just like Murder She Wrote.) Point being, it's fantastic! You're welcome! (This post has been sponsored by Foyle's War?)

Skillet Chicken Pot Pie slightly adapted from Food and Wine
serves 6

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, separated
1 onion, finely chopped
1/2 pound shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced
3 carrots, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
2 tablespoons white wine
2 cups whole milk
3 cups shredded chicken (from a rotisserie chicken)
1/2 cup frozen baby peas
Eight 1-inch-thick slices of bakery white country bread (about 1 pound), crusts removed

Preheat the oven to 425°. In a large ovenproof nonstick skillet, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion, mushrooms and carrots and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over high heat, stirring once, until the vegetables are just softened, about 1 minute. Uncover and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour and paprika and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the stock and wine and cook, stirring, until blended. Add the milk and bring to a gentle boil. Stir in the chicken and peas and season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat.

Arrange the bread over the chicken mixture, trimming it to fit snugly in a single layer. Brush the bread with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the bread is golden. Serve right away.
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3/17/15

Dark, Fudgy Muscovado Brownies

Soooo, while I continue to plan/navigate/avoid the next phase of my life, I’ve been doing a bit of baking.

Therefore, I was really happy to be sent a copy of Real Sweet by Shauna Sever a couple of weeks ago. (Shauna recently happened upon one of our videos. I think it was the "Use a Spoon!" one? Point being, she liked what she saw and offered up a copy of her book. Thank you, Shauna!) 48 hours after opening it, which is basically record timing in this post-Teddy era, I was making these brownies.
I really loved having a pan of them on our kitchen countertop for three days. They were the perfect mix of chocolate and sweet, which for me equates to very chocolatey and not that sweet. I’d cut myself a little rectangular piece in the late afternoon and then another one after dinner. 

Matt didn’t love this routine. After work, he’d lift the foil from the pan with an outraged, “C’mon, dude!” as if he’d had an exact mental image of the way the brownies looked before he left for work in the morning. But I'm pretty certain that each night, his after-dinner mega-portion trumped the sum of my two modest portions. (Modest brownie portion = kidding myself?)

Either way, hang in there, Matt! I’m definitely going to be making these again.

Completely unrelated: I was one of the few people who wasn't crazy about Tiny Beautiful Things, but I'm totally into the Dear Sugar podcast, particularly episodes 2 and 5. Anyone want to talk about it with me?
Dark, Fudgy Muscovado Brownies slightly adapted from Real Sweet

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (60 to 70% cacao), chopped
3 tablespoons unsweetened natural cocoa powder
3/4 cup firmly packed dark muscovado sugar
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup whole wheat flour, spooned and leveled (The recipe called for whole wheat pastry flour, but regular whole wheat worked fine for me!)

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F. Line an 8x8-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper, leaving a few inches of overhang on two sides. Lightly grease the pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.

In a large heatproof bowl, melt the butter and chocolate together in the microwave with 60-second bursts of high power, stirring well after each interval until smooth. Whisk in the cocoa powder. Whisk in the sugar, honey, vanilla extract, and salt until well blended (a few small lumps of sugar may remain--that's just the rough charm of dark muscovado!). Whisk in the eggs one at a time. Switch from a whisk to a spatula and add the flour, stirring gently just until no traces of flour remain. Set the batter aside to rest for 10 minutes. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. 

Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, with a smudge of chocolate at the end, and the brownie slab has just begun to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack. Refrigerate for up to five days. (Or leave them on your countertop like I did for three?)
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3/10/15

Death, Parenthood, and My Mom’s Shiny Rolex

NOTE: If you're a regular reader, you might find the below essay a bit of an anachronism. And you wouldn't be mistaken. It was one of two pieces I wrote when Teddy was about five or six months old and tried to place in the (now-defunct?) "Lives" column of the New York Times magazine, leading up to my book's publication date. Ultimately, the editors passed, and I wasn't sure if I was going to post it here. But, if I really am going to be walking around wearing my mom's old Rolex, I feel a minor explanation is in order. For those of you more interested in food, I made some insane brownies and will post them next week. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy...
In the weeks after our dad’s sudden death from a heart attack at 65, my brother Bill and I spoke often. Occasionally, we even allowed ourselves to consider whether Dad had left anything behind for us, his first pair of kids, despite the almost certain fact that he would have willed everything to our estranged stepmother and the two children they had together.

Undoubtedly, Dad would have left his assets to them, though perhaps he’d set aside his chess set, or a family photo album, or his first wedding band for one of us? But as months passed and no letter from an attorney arrived at at either of our doorsteps, we reluctantly accepted that he was dead and that was that. No souvenirs from the gift shop.

Truthfully, in the weeks after his death, I was distracted. Of course I thought of him and grieved his loss, but I was in the ninth month of my first pregnancy. In fact, six weeks to the day after his memorial service, I gave birth to my son Teddy.

*

Since having the baby, my phone calls with my pediatrician mother have become even more frequent, and during a recent one, she casually asked if I wanted her old Rolex. It was broken, but she would pay to have it fixed. I told her thank you but no.

Despite Mom’s unyielding encouragement, my interest in her ongoing jewelry collection has been for the most part to mockingly inquire about upgrades—a reference to her habit of trading in one of her current gold/diamond pieces for store credit at Kay’s, and then paying a bit more to get a larger, shinier version, culminating eventually I suppose with the acquisition of The Great Star of Africa.

“What are you doing for a watch in the mean time?” I asked. “Upgrade?”

“Yeah,” she said, a bit deflated, realizing I was making fun of her.

Four years ago, I wouldn’t have shown such restraint. At that time, when both the price of gold and my husband Matt’s and my need for a new computer were at all-time highs, I sold a menagerie of my mom’s jeweled hand-me-downs for cash.

But Matt’s and my careers are in better places now. (That is to say, they actually exist.) If we really needed a new computer, we could hopefully make it happen without pawning family heirlooms.

*

On my mom’s next visit, when Teddy was just three months old, she brought the Rolex. She’d repaired it anyway. “Look, you can sell it if you want,” she said; the steel and yellow gold timepiece dangled elegantly from her left thumb and forefinger. “Just don’t tell me about it.”

I took it in my hands and examined it. I knew it well. She’d worn it for my entire life, or at least it felt that way. It had been a gift, and on the back was an inscription:

Merry Christmas
1987
Love, Dan

Dan was Mom’s first boyfriend after my parents’ divorce. I remembered him. He was sweet and easygoing—perhaps to a fault.

That night, I Googled the watch’s make and model. On eBay, the same one was selling from anywhere between two and three thousand dollars.

During Mom’s following visit, a mere six weeks later, she asked if I’d sold it. I told her no, not yet, but that it didn’t seem to be keeping time very well.

“You have to wear it, Ame! Or, if you’re not going to wear it, you have to shake it everyday so it winds.” She reset the time and date and handed it back to me. I slipped it on my wrist and tightened the clasp, heeding her directive.

A few hours later, I was changing Teddy’s diaper, holding his feet with my left hand (my classy, Rolex hand) when I realized that he wasn’t kicking and trying to roll over like he usually did. Instead, he was reaching for the gleaming object on my wrist. “He likes the watch, Mom,” I shouted to her in the next room.

“Oh yeah, Ame. He loves mine.” Her upgrade was to a diamond-faced version.

A few days later, I was on a walk with my neighbor when she noticed the watch. Embarrassed to be caught wearing such a name brand luxury item, I quickly explained its origins and that I was planning on selling it. “No, you should keep it,” she said. “And wear it.”

Until this moment, I can’t say I’d considered this option. The watch was my mother’s. It suited her and her life as a successful doctor, as a conservative Republican, and as a well-to-do older woman with a collection of Christmas sweaters a month deep. Our worlds couldn’t be farther apart.

But a few days after dropping Mom at the airport, I was still wearing it. Matt noticed.

“It stops running if you don’t,” I told him, glancing down at it. “Plus, Teddy likes it.”

He nodded slowly, lower lip turned out—holding back a further comment.
Perhaps because it’s one of those ubiquitous worries (“Oh no, I’m turning into my mother!”), or perhaps because I do see a lot of her in me, I’ve held my mom’s peculiarities at a safe, laughable distance. But, of course, she could be a lot worse.

Sure, she dresses in a gold-and-diamond suit of armor, drinks Diet Coke for breakfast, and regularly spouts Fox News talking points.

She clearly loves me beyond description, she adores Teddy, and despite seeming to mostly use Matt as means to get to her favorite LA delicatessen, I know she loves him too.

*

It’s months later and still the watch hangs on my left wrist.

I could make a good argument for holding onto it as a keepsake, as a guaranteed souvenir, unlike the ones I’ll never have from my dad, but perhaps it’s something else.

Maybe Mom and I have more in common than I thought.

Maybe I’ve exaggerated our differences over the years, and below the surface, my mom is as compassionate as I believe myself to be and likewise, I’m just as stubborn as she is. Maybe, too, she simply can’t be summed up so easily. Maybe those years of fighting unsupportive peers to become a doctor during a time when not many women were doing so and coping with a very public failed marriage hardened her in a way that I can only tangentially understand.

Or maybe, like Teddy, I just like the watch.



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3/4/15

What is Bon Appétempt?

I don’t think that anyone wants to be any one thing. More than that, I think it’s impossible. Mothers can’t just be mothers. They are also daughters, sisters, partners, coworkers, bosses, cooks, writers, dancers, free-ranging animals, etc. Same with fathers. Same with your best friend. Same with the woman who runs the daycare where you send your baby. Same with your 13-month-old baby who throws tantrums for you and your husband but apparently not for the woman who runs the daycare.
*
On the Monday before Christmas, I had the super cool opportunity to go to NPR’s offices in Los Angeles and record an interview with Audie Cornish for All Things Considered. I was so excited; my book would be out in six weeks, and I imagined all the people I might convert into readers who might then buy my book! Long story short, the interview never made it to air.
I don’t know how All Things Considered works, but Matt kept telling me that this happens a lot—that they cut interviews and segments when something else comes up, and since my interview was holiday-themed, it had a short window to air before Christmas anyway. But I mostly blamed myself, sure that I messed up the interview somehow; I know that I’m not exactly a precise, articulate speaker, let alone one who says things in concise sound bites. No, I usually take a moment to process a question before giving an often meandering answer.

So, a month later, when I had some phone interviews lined up to publicize the book, I decided to brush up on how to concisely and clearly answer questions about myself. Ha! What a silly notion! I really did though. Matt actually emailed me a list of questions that he thought interviewers might ask. The first one was: “What is Bon Appétempt?” (Which, of course, is a trick question because it’s both a blog and a book. Nice try, Matt!)

But now that the book has been out for a whole month and Matt’s and my big PR push (sorry, but that’s what we’ve been calling it around here) is winding down, I found myself asking the same question, although this time strictly in terms of the blog. And this is what I came up with:
Which brings us back to my original statement: I don’t think that anyone wants to be any one thing.

At my book event in Raleigh, some kind person in the audience asked me if I would continue along with the blog now that the book was out. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I think it was something along the lines of: Yes! Absolutely, yes!

In a way, this post is a longer answer to that same question. Of course I’m going to continue with Bon Appétempt. I’m obsessed with this blog and the people who read it. But this time around, I want to give myself (even more?) carte blanche to write about whatever it is I want to write about; to post whatever it is I want to post.

On the same day that I made the above pie chart in my journal, I also drew this:
Yes, I want to write about gymnastics. In fact, I have a gymnastics-related story I’m working on (more on that later). I also have two essays I wrote that I tried to place with the New York Times Magazine as part of Matt’s and my big PR push (sorry, sorry—it’s just what we called it!), but as the NYT passed on them, I am looking forward to posting them here as well.

That said, I’m positive that the future will still hold recipes, culinary adventures, miscellaneous videos, photographs, and writing. But I think the best case scenario, as far as I see it, is that one day in the not-too distant future, you’ll be reading this blog and someone will be reading it over your shoulder; and you’ll turn around, catching them in the act, and they’ll say, probably with a furrowed brow, “Bon Appétempt? What is that?”

And you’ll be like: “Honestly, I don’t even f*cking know anymore.”

See you next week, friends!
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2/24/15

Stuffed Cabbage, Ligurian-Style / I Want to Skype With You!

Yesterday during an interview, I was asked for a recent recipe from the blog that might be suitable for a beginner cook. And as I tried to come up with an answer, my mind scrolled through the last few blog posts. But the only food-based one that came to me were the pizzelle cookies, which didn’t seem right for a new cook. Of course, now, with my blog right in front of me, I know I should’ve said the shrimp and scallion pancakes, but they didn’t come to mind, mostly because it's been so long since I made them; they no longer felt like something I'd recently cooked. Needless to say, that question and my non-answer got scratched from the record.

I bring this up to show where my head has been: publicizing and promoting the book, i.e. not cooking. And while I’ve enjoyed much of it and have been thrilled to hear from readers, I’m also enjoying the return of my small, quiet life complete with trying out new recipes for the blog on weekends. Which brings me to one of my favorite days from the mini book tour: the one day I actually cooked something.
Perhaps you remember from the baked oatmeal video that Matt’s mom doesn’t eat meat but that Matt’s dad does and rather enjoys it. So when I decided on this Mario Batali recipe for (vegetarian) stuffed cabbage, it was met with enthusiasm from Matt’s mom and thinly-veiled suspicion from Matt’s dad as well as from Matt himself. Fair enough. I mean, I understand how maybe stuffed cabbage—even when followed by the much more exotic words Ligurian-style—doesn’t sound great to everyone. But I was won over by Mario’s beautiful photo and the pound of potatoes that were to be part of the filling.

And though Matt and his dad might have felt lukewarm about the recipe, they were both psyched to gather some of the ingredients at Penn Mac (a.k.a. Pennsylvania Macaroni Company), which (and despite the 15-degree weather) they rode to on their bikes.
The recipe ended up being a really good one to try with family members because though not difficult, there was a lot of chopping of vegetables. My mom came over early in the afternoon and together with Matt’s mom, we chopped potatoes and onions into teeny tiny pieces while Matt and his dad kept an eye on Teddy.
All of this work was made even sweeter by Matt’s parents' all-encompassing sound system. Music is piped in all throughout their place—even the bathroom, where one occasionally got “blasted.” Getting blasted was when you would be in the bathroom minding your business when the music suddenly got really loud. (Matt’s dad does this both as a practical joke and, in his words, as “a courtesy to his guests.”)

We listened to a lot of Billy Bragg, The Smiths, and Bob Dylan, and I couldn’t help myself from occasionally jamming out on the air guitar.
We served the cabbage with some fresh pasta, a simple red sauce, and tons of grated Pecorino Romano. Dessert was my mom’s famous cheesecake with some stewed blueberries. It was such a delicious meal, but more than that, a great day spent in the kitchen with my family. It reminded me how I don’t get to do this enough anymore—not just cooking with family but cooking in general. I’d really like to change that somehow. To which I say: sigh.   
But back to book-related things for a two quick moments.

1. I want to Skype with your book club!

As I’ve said already, it was so amazing and fun to meet and chat with some of you at the LA, Pittsburgh, and Raleigh book events. But since I’ll likely not be able to travel to other cities in the nearish future, Matt and I got to brainstorming and came up with an idea: What if your book club read my book and then you guys could Skype me in for a spirited discussion? Well, I would love to do that! If this interests you, just get your book club on board and then email me (bonappetempt@gmail.com) and we’ll work out a date and a time for the Skype session!

2. There’s a giveaway on Goodreads right now! We’re offering up 20 copies, so g’head and enter!

OK, that’s all for now. Talk to (and maybe even see?) you soon!
 
***

Stuffed Cabbage, Ligurian-Style slightly adapted from Mario Batali

NOTE: When we made this, we had much more filling than large cabbage leaves. So, if I were going to make this again, I would either make a little less filling or I’d pick up two cabbages and maybe some extra sauce so that I could use all of the filling.

1 large green cabbage (3 to 4 pounds)
Salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 medium red onions, cut into ½-inch dices.
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta, drained
About 1 cup finely slivered fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 cups basic tomato sauce
¾ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, separated

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pasta pot. Fill a large bowl with cool water, and place it nearby.

Remove the tough outer leaves of the cabbage, finely chop them, and set them aside. Carefully cut out the cabbage core with a sharp knife.

Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water. Drop the whole cabbage into the water and cook until it is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Then transfer the cabbage to the bowl of cool water and let it cool.

When the cabbage is cool enough to handle, drain it. Carefully remove the whole leaves from the head, and set aside about a dozen of the best and largest. Chop the remaining cabbage into 1/4-inch pieces and set them aside.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat the oil over medium heat until just smoking. Add the onions, garlic, potatoes, and the raw and cooked chopped cabbage. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very soft, 15 to 18 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and allow to cool.

When the potato mixture is cool, add the ricotta, basil, parsley, and 1/4 cup of the Pecorino Romano and fold together. Place a scant 1/2 cup of the cabbage/ricotta mixture in the center of each whole cabbage leaf. Fold each leaf around the filling like a burrito, and secure it with a toothpick.

Pour the tomato sauce into a 9- by 13-inch baking dish, and arrange the cabbage packets on top. Cover the dish tightly with foil, and bake for 30 minutes.

Remove the foil, sprinkle the cabbage packets with the grated pecorino, and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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