I’ll Give My Wife a Donut to Kick Your Butt

Because I am a literate grownup who notices…things…I realized after about a page and a half that last week, The Kitchn focused on grocery shopping. Specifically, how to get the most out of your money, time, and actual groceries. Which seems like something everyone should have learned in Home Ec class, or, if your high school didn’t have Home Ec, that one episode of Roseanne where Roseanne takes Darlene’s class on a field trip to the grocery store and then takes them home to make her family some meatloaf.

I am probably not the best person to give tips on grocery shopping. For one, I often break the cardinal rule, which is to never go shopping when you’re hungry. While I agree that this is fundamentally a good rule, I would also argue that I am pretty much always hungry, so how about you find a solution for that, science.

Second, as a child-free, gainfully-employed adult with no mortgage or student loan debt who works too much to take lots of vacations, I spend my money on food. While other women my age are pinning strategies for $5 meals to feed their families of four, I’m furrowing my brow at bottles of grapeseed and hazelnut oils in the gourmet aisle of the rich people grocery store. I like a good deal as much as the next person – I do have a shopper’s card and I always keep an eye to potential leftovers – but I don’t clip coupons and ultimately, the decider for me is flavor. What can I do with this item. How will it taste. That’s worth more to me than the cost per ounce and how it translates to post-apocalyptic shelf life. I can tell you what’s good, I just can’t always tell you what’s cheap.

Third, I am in the enviable position of living in one of the most walkable cities in the country. Seriously. Not long ago I had to buy a new battery for my car because I didn’t drive it for over a month. Because I am able to walk to and from the nearest supermarket with relative ease, I’m not really good for advice on big grocery shopping trips involving a cartful of items. My rule is that if I need more than the top basket of one of the small carts, I’ll probably have a miserable walk home. There is an upside to this, though, which is that buying only what I can carry home causes me to buy more wisely. I don’t buy more than I’ll use. I don’t waste what I’ve carried. Forgetting something isn’t the end of the world because I can stop by the store on my way home from the bus stop whenever I want. Works out great for me, but probably not for someone with limited time and enough room in their SUV to carry a cure for the planet they’re helping to destroy.

I do, however, have some ideas for how to optimize your grocery shopping experience. They don’t involve counting ketchup as a vegetable (ahem, Roseanne), but they’re still pretty good.

Walk. Okay, like I said, this has it’s challenges and may not be suitable for everyone. But it really does help me prioritize the ways I spend and eat. If you can walk, then walk. See what carrying your food on your back does to the way you think.

Plan. Plan plan plan plan plan. It’s one thing to go to the grocery store when you’re hungry, but it’s quite another to go when you’re hungry and have no idea what you want. Now, obviously this means that you should make a list. But what goes on it? How do you decide? Do you just replenish what you used up? Or do you do like me and create a meal plan each week and build your list around this first?

meal plan pic+
grocery list pic
=
Oh look, I went grocery shopping like a smart person. The cheap white wine was for cooking, btw.

When I know what I’m cooking, I know what I need. And when I know what I need, I don’t spend 30 extra minutes wandering around a store and walking out with way more than I can comfortably carry.

Map. If you’re like me, you probably go to the same grocery store every week. Or at least the same few stores, depending on what you need and where the least-crowded evening bus lets off. But you know your way around is what I’m saying, and shouldn’t your list reflect that? From top to bottom, my grocery list reflects the map of my regular store. It goes from the first stuff I see to the last stuff, which helps me avoid forgetting anything and keeps me on track (I don’t get distracted by the bakery section if I know for damn sure that I’m not buying anything there).

Smug. Well, smugness. Because after you map your grocery trip, how superior will it feel to see that you’ve stuck almost exclusively to the outside aisles (ahem, less processed garbage parts of the store)?

Cook. I mean, duh. But really, shopping for groceries is so much more enjoyable if you have designs on the stuff you’re buying. It’s also a lot more fun to take a chance on something you’ve never used before. And it feels weirdly good when the cashier holds up that bottle of pomegranate molasses and says “I always wanted to know how to use this stuff…what do you suggest?” (Ahem, I suggest using it like balsamic or, as I did this past week, drizzling it over an hyperbolically delicious roasted carrot, citrus, and avocado salad.)

CSA. I’ve written all about my CSA adventures over at another blog, and I firmly believe that having one for even part of a year has made me a better cook and a more conscientious shopper. Having someone else select locally grown and in-season produce is a terrific way to have at least half of your shopping done and over with (and paid for in advance, which is worth almost as much as the shitty aghast looks you get from rich dicks at the farmer’s market when you just pick up your box and walk off).

Impulse buy! But not like you think. What I mean is buy off your list, but only staple items that are on sale. You might not need an extra can of tomatoes or bag of beans or can of fancy Italian tuna now, but you will need them someday, and in this past week alone, I have been delighted to see that my previous impulse buys of ham hocks, frozen berries, and pecans were able to cut the amount of stuff I had to haul back to the house.

But if you want, go ahead and download the Pinterest-y “pantry templates.” Have grocery parties. Spend $200 a week at Costco on lots of stuff you won’t use and that might not nourish you even if you do. Wonder why heading to the grocery store at 6pm on a weeknight or 2pm on a Saturday is always so stressful. I’m sure Home Ec served you well.

ATTENTION RICH SKINNY WOMEN

You know that “bone broth” is just stock, right?

And that it doesn’t need to cost $10 for an 8-ounce cup at your newest local organic bone broth pop-up?

And that some of us have been making it for years because it a) tastes better than store-bought stock and b) costs less, too?

And that most of our parents and grandparents made their own stock for the same reason?

And that you’re not on some culinary or health forefront?

And that you could just buy a whole chicken at the store, roast it yourself, save the bones, and make the stuff yourself?

Because it’s JUST FUCKING STOCK?

How I Got Down on Pi Day

I have always wanted to be one of those people who knew the dates of things.

It’s not that I have trouble remembering dates (for example, I always know my mother’s birthday and when my taxes are due and that November 1st is All Saint’s Day because 12 years of parochial school meant I had the day off), but I’ve always wanted to be the type of person who could remember that July 14th is National Mac and Cheese Day or that November 13th is Sadie Hawkins Day or, as an American, remember other countries’ holidays such as Bastille Day, Guy Fawkes Day or Walpurgis Night. I always thought it would be fun to be able to send invites to a handful of friends that say “April 27th is King’s Birthday in the Netherlands! Everyone bring a nickel bag and a stroopwaffel and let’s raise a toast to de koning!”

Alas, this is something I never do. I never remember the dates, I never keep a calendar for reference, and I never throw impromptu parties because that would seriously cut into my Netflix time. Also, I would have to put on real pants.

But one date I always remember is Pi Day. 3/14, for those of you confused about our backwards American way of marking dates like March 14th. For one, it’s hard to forget. Even when Pi Day falls on a weekday and has to compete with things like my job, chores, and getting up at 5am, I’m always reminded of it because I follow 2 kinds of people on the Internet – geeks and cooks. And Pi Day was made for both of them.

So I try to celebrate Pi Day each year. The trouble is, I’m not particularly good at making pie, and I’m also really bad at math. I know pie is supposed to be straightforward – make crust, dump things in crust, maybe put something on dump, bake – but for me, it is fraught with problems.

It starts with the fact that I hate making pie crust. I hate it. I hate making pastry dough in general because it’s messy and requires the perfect distribution of butter, and to be honest, I am only willing to do that with biscuits and even then I dread having to spend 10 whole minutes grating a frozen stick of butter and praying that it doesn’t get melty.

Then comes blind baking, which I’m told is the easiest thing in the world but it has always seemed like a weird interim/limbo step to me. Like waiting in an airport bar. I mean, how long is this goddamn dessert supposed to take, anyway? And why would I just keep a bunch of dried beans around if I’m not going to eat them?

Last comes the part about the actual end product. Like babies, dogs, and apex predators, I believe that pies can smell fear. They have to. There is no other explanation for why, after I’ve done everything right and according to the recipe, my pies always end up a little too crisp in the crust and a little too wet on the bottom, and while they taste good, no one’s taking any photos of them because it’s too hard to balance a camera in one hand and a plate of slippery mess in the other.

So what’s the solution?

I don’t make pies. Well. I say I make pies but they’re not really pies, they’re more like other things in a pie dish. And I just buy the dough. So. I make cheater pies.

What can you make as a cheater pie? Practically anything. Brownies. Crumbles. Round cake with stuff on top, as long as it’s in the right dish. Hand pies, because what’s an easier pie than folding dough over some jam like a homemade Pop Tart? Or you can just say to hell with pie altogether, and make whatever makes you feel like celebrating. For me, yesterday, Pi Day, that was a Grapefruit Polenta Cake.

I wish I could credit someone with the original recipe or at least tell you I adapted this from somewhere, but the truth is, in my opinion, so many people were fucking up what I felt was the best version of a Grapefruit Polenta Cake that I thought to hell with all of them. To hell with the glazes. To hell with the $12/bag almond flour. To hell with the the candied flower garnishes and the bottles of liqueur that I’ll use maybe once a year (unless someone can locate a Seattle source for Combier Pamplemousse Rose, because if that happens then all bets are off and I will be drunk all the tiiiiiiiime). All I wanted was a slightly sweet, golden-hued and almond-perfumed cake that tasted like grapefruit. And maybe I could dust it with confectioner’s sugar instead of drenching it in some viscous, sticky swill that would attract every mote of dust and airborne cat hair in my house.

I just wanted something simple. I wanted something that tasted like grapefruit. I wanted something that would allow me to pause mid-baking to eat half a grapefruit, to be honest. I really can’t get enough grapefruit.

So. I didn’t make a pie. I made a cake. A round cake, a fruit cake, a cake that’s almost a pie only it isn’t, and aside from measuring a few things, there was very little math involved.

grapefruit polenta cake

Grapefruit Polenta Cake

You’ll Need:

1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, mostly melted
1 cup sugar
zest of 2 red grapefruits (no pith!)
3 large eggs
1 tsp almond extract
Juice of ½ medium red grapefruit
1 cup whole milk or yogurt
2 cups AP flour
3/4 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp kosher salt
½ cup confectioner’s sugar, for dusting*

For syrup*:
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
1/3 cup sugar

*If you eschew the syrup and confectioner’s sugar because you absolutely must make a glaze, just combine 1/3 cup grapefruit juice with 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar and whisk until it looks like you know what. But I hope you don’t have a cat.

You’ll Do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In one bowl, combine the grapefruit zest and sugar with your fingers. Why fingers? Because it smells fucking amazing and you get to have grapefruit oil in your skin, ya dingus. Anyway, combine the sugar and zest, and then add the butter. Beat with a whisk until fluffy.

Add the eggs and almond extract and beat until combined, and then add the grapefruit juice and, again, beat until combined. Then do the same thing with the milk or yogurt. Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt. Add the wet mixture to this and stir until combined.

In a 9-inch round and/or springform pan lined with parchment paper (you can also grease with butter or cooking spray if your pan isn’t non-stick), pour the batter and smooth the top with a spoon or spatula. Place into oven and bake for 45 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Place pan on rack and allow to cool somewhat before removing from the pan. Place cake on a large plate, then poke small incisions with a knife into the surface of the cake and slooooowly pour the syrup over it.

Once the cake is dry and cool (if not, this next step will result in a semen-esque sludge), dust the confectioner’s sugar on top with a sieve.

This cake is great with strong coffee in the morning, but it strikes me now (ahem, after I’ve had my cake and coffee) that this would be terrific served with cava and maybe a fat lobe of La Tur cheese.

Jesus wept.

Kimcheese Fries

When we were in elementary school, one of my younger sister’s teachers left on medical leave. In that teacher’s place was an older man – this was in a school staffed mostly by young women and nuns, btw – who was a Korean War veteran.

Now, one of our grandfathers was also a Korean War veteran, but the difference between the two was that our grandfather never talked about the war. This substitute teacher did. A lot. Every night, my sister would tell stories at dinner about the atrocities this teacher had shared and the way he’d threaten the class. If they didn’t shut up, he said, he’d bury them up to their necks in dirt and kimchi.

“YOU KNOW WHAT KIMCHI IS, KIDS?” he’d scream. “IT’S ROTTEN CABBAGE THAT THEY STICK IN THE GROUND FOR YEARS AND THEN THEY DIG IT UP AND EAT IT.”

So for years, everyone in my family was understandably horrified by the idea of kimchi.

But eventually, like many other things I once referred to as “grody,” I came around to kimchi. Perhaps it was the development of my adult palate and its appreciation for things sour, spicy, and funky that did the trick. Perhaps it was moving to a city with a larger Korean population. Perhaps it was the proximity of Kimchi House, a restaurant in my neighborhood that advertises kimchi-and-pork belly fried rice, and the way I gaze hungrily at the menu board while passing it on my walk home every day.

Whatever it was, I transformed from an adamant kimchi-hater to a kimchi fan, and I like Kimchi House the best. If you live in Seattle (especially in Ballard), I highly recommend stopping in for a meal and a takeaway container of their tinglingly-spicy, just-about-crunchy, not-too-farty kimchi.

And if you can’t figure out how to use it at home, may I recommend these kimchi cheese fries?

Yep. I made kimchi cheese fries. It may sound weird at first (or maybe you’re like me and it sounded fucking amazing from the get-go), but when you really consider its parts – creamy, crispy roasted potatoes, beefy marinated flank steak, zingy chopped scallions, melty mild cheese – what better accompaniment to cheese fries than a piquant and lip-smacking kimchi?

kimchi cheese fries
It’s the perfect blend of my family’s culinary history (lots of potatoes), my Midwestern roots (cheese, please) and one of my most recent culinary appreciations (kimchi). It’s salty, spicy, earthy, and satisfying, and as with many of my favorite meals, it goes great with a beer.

Kimchi Cheese Fries

You’ll Need:

1 lb. (or more) thin-sliced or flank steak, cut against the grain into strips
2 tbs. low-sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
½ tsp sugar
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt
1 tbs. ketchup
2 lbs. Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into finger-sized “fries”
2 tbs. olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch scallions, chopped
6-8 oz. kimchi, roughly chopped
2-3 cups mild melty cheese (I used a Kroger-branded shredded mozzarella and a Mexican blend)

You’ll Do:

Preheat oven to 405 degrees.

Combine the steak strips with soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, salt, and ketchup in a bowl and allow to marinate.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the potatoes until they are just fork tender. Gently drain and let rest for about 5 minutes, until much of the steam has escaped.

Arrange potatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet (two baking sheets of necessary), and dress with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place in oven and allow to bake for 30-40 minutes, until the bottoms are crispy and the tops are dry. Feel free to toss them once if you’d like two sides to be crispy.

While potatoes are baking, sauté the steak strips in a skillet over medium high heat until just barely cooked through. They should be sliced thin enough that this should only take a couple of minutes at most. Remove from heat and set aside.

Remove crispy potato fries from oven, and top with minced garlic, steak strips, scallions, kimchi, and cheese (I like doing mine in two layers because casseroles are in my blood, yo). Return to oven and cook until cheese is melty but not browning, about 5 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from oven and allow to set for about 2 minutes. You’ll have to eat it with a fork but who cares, you’ll have a beer, too.

Cookie, You’re Adapted

Yesterday I mentioned that, with a few tweaks of my own, this cookie recipe is about the best basic cookie dough recipe I’ve ever found.

The oatmeal is great because it makes the dough a little chewier without being too…oatmealy, I guess, and I don’t know about you, but unless a cookie contains chocolate, I’m usually not interested (sole exception is a non-chocolate cookie being used as a containment system for ice cream in an ice cream sandwich, top choices being the Lemon/Honey Lavender from Ruby Jewels and the Snickerdoodle/Double Vanilla Bean from Cupcake Royale).

But like I said, I have tweaked the recipe slightly, for reasons of texture and volume. Below is my dough recipe based on this recipe, as well as a few additions you can make noted below:

Chocolate Chip Cookies

You’ll Need:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus an additional ½ cup set aside
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda, plus an additional ¼ tsp set aside
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, plus an additional ¼ tsp set aside
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, majorly softened
  • ¼ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 1/4 cups firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 cups (12 ounces) dark chocolate chips

You’ll Do:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.*

In one bowl, combine the 2 cups flour, 1 tsp baking soda, ½ tsp baking powder, salt, and oats.

In another bowl, beat the butter, coconut oil, and sugars until combined. Once these are combined, add the eggs and vanilla and, again, beat until combined. (I know a lot of people use mixers or actual beaters for this, but I just use a sturdy whisk because I’m neither made of money nor do I have a wealthy-but-wrinkled benefactor funding my kitchen appliance dreams).

Combine both bowls until a dough forms. Because of the coconut oil, this dough may seem a little…wet, I guess, and if you like a thinner, crispier cookie, then you can leave it as is. But if you like a thicker, chewier cookie (like I do), then now is the time to combine your set aside quantities of flour, baking soda, and baking powder and add them to the dough, being sure to work it evenly through.

Now add your chocolate chips and any other additions you feel like making.** Make sure they are distributed throughout the dough.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, and using a tablespoon, portion out the dough in round balls. As I noted below (asterisk at the preheating the oven part), I prefer to do this with chilled dough. Also, I find that one baking sheet can handle 12-16 cookies, and there’s enough dough left over for a whole batch that you can either make right away, or portion and freeze for later. The frozen dough can go straight into the oven to bake for 15-18 minutes. Which is awesome because hey, effortless cookies at some point in the future!

Place baking sheet on center rack of the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes. I find that 13-14 minutes is best for a just-golden cookie that cools to a mainly chewy texture and slightly harder bottom. If I’m baking for people with a more discerning palate, sometimes I’ll sprinkle flaky salt on top of the cookies as soon as I take them out of the oven to cool.

* Only preheat your oven if you’re going to bake right away. I mention this because I like to refrigerate my dough for at least an hour before baking, although like half a day is best. It’s easier to shape once it’s chilled and the finished product is more uniform. Once your dough is made, just cover the bowl in plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

** Recent cookies in my kitchen have been Chocolate Chip Pecan Cherry (using chopped pecans and dried cherries in whatever quantities I felt like tasting), Chocolate Chip Earl Grey Cocoa Nib (melt the butter and coconut oil in a saucepan containing two bags of good Earl Grey tea, infuse over low heat for about 5 minutes, and add 3/4 cup cocoa nibs into the dough along with the chocolate chips), White Chocolate Chip Lavender (sub dark chocolate for white, infuse 2 tbs dried lavender in the oil and butter), and Chocolate Chip Orange Espresso (add zest of 1 large orange to wet ingredients and 1 tsp of instant espresso powder to dry ingredients).

Obviously my version is open to interpretation, as well, so if you’re interested in learning how different factors affect the taste, texture and appearance of your basic chocolate chip cookie, the Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie Guides from Handle the Heat are really helpful, as is this examination by the Food Lab at Serious Eats.

Freeze Away

Speaking of away, I should acknowledge that I’ve been there recently. “Away,” I mean. I’ve been working a lot, traveling some, and both are, unfortunately, connected. While I don’t mind working so much, I do have issued with the “away” part, both because I am a nervous flier and because I really don’t like to be away from home very much.

Which I know is tremendously uncool.

Don’t get me wrong – I can enjoy travel. And I do think it’s essential to becoming a more informed, empathetic, well-rounded person. However, I have come to realize that I am happiest when at home, and every trip, no matter how productive or enlightening, is just a way station in the process to get back home again.

This last week’s travel was a work trip. To Reno. And apologies to anyone from Reno who enjoys and knows how to make the most out of their home, but personally, I do not wish to return to a land of cars, strip malls, gas station slot machines, dirt and rocks. Okay, fine, I know all about the diversity of high desert ecology and the wild mustang herds were pretty cool and I’m sure Lake Tahoe has something to offer, but overall? Reno, Nevada is Armpit USA and for once in my life, I was thrilled to board a plane out of there.

So. Sorry, Renoans. Or Renoites. You know what, I don’t really give a shit.

As happy as I was to get home, one of the downsides of this is realizing that there’s nothing left in the fridge after you’ve spent the past week eating in sub-par restaurants in a city where no one knows how to use Yelp properly (or, um, just has horrific taste). Sure, you could eat a bowl of cereal if the milk’s still good and there’s probably enough ingredients for grilled cheese, but when you’ve been away, you want a meal. A real one. Something to scoop and scrape from a bowl, something made with your own hands, something that’s warm and delicious and will hopefully reduce the weird and disgusting bloat you’ve acquired along with dry desert nosebleeds.

Enter the freezer meal. I recently/not-so-recently-because-I’m-a-lazy-writer-these-days wrote a post about cooking freezer meals for friends who just became parents for the first time. The idea was to set them up with ready-made foods that didn’t require a shopping trip plus and hour or more in the kitchen. Just take whatever out of the freezer in the morning, and heat the thawed product for dinner. Easy enough, especially when the only other thing your brain has room to contain is how to care for the newborn who now lives in your house.

Freezer meals are also great for non-parents after long workdays, kitchen creativity droughts, or spates of travel. They’re time-saving, economical, and in some cases, can feel like a great big hug from your Past Self when your Future Self is tired, dehydrated, and just can’t cope with another trip to the grocery store where they will wander, bewildered, through aisles of too much selection and not enough to actually eat.

So what to freeze? Casseroles. Soups. Biscuit, cookie, and scone dough. Sauces. Cuts of meat, packages of vegetables, and little bags of rice and grains to even out all of the fries you’ve been consuming lately. And when you’ve been eating like a garbage person for the past several days, that lovingly preserved and warmed bowl of chicken-parmesan-and-kale meatballs in a lemony broth of carrot, onion, celery and fennel served with a little bit of ditalini or orzo is like a gift for your body and brain.

And then, the next day, when you wake up and realize you’re an adult and can reasonably eat cookies for breakfast if you damn well please, you can preheat your oven to 350 and pop in those frozen balls of dark chocolate, cocoa nib, and earl grey cookies you practically invented (or just adapted from this recipe, which is, with a few tweaks of my own, about the best basic cookie dough recipe I’ve ever found).

These gifts to yourself, this benevolent foresight for when you are hungry, sick or tired, are the most satisfying “life hacks” you can experience. They will give you a reason to come home again, and to tackle the things that may have been neglected while you were away (seriously, boyfriends, is it so hard to do a load of dishes between the beer drinking and Tombstone pizza-eating?).

They may even give you the strength to sit down and write again. So get to freezing.

A Cat, a Freezer, a Friendship

No, this post is not as morbid as it sounds, but I really feel that for you to understand its true scope, I have to lay it out in that order:

A Cat
In May of 2002, I got a cat. Actually, I got The Cat, which became his name since nothing else would fit. From 2002 to 2014, The Cat moved with me a total of 8 times, 6 of which were cross-country moves. He never complained. He never got revenge. He was always my fellow traveler and best bud, and when he died this year of advanced lymphoma, I was, understandably, devastated.

One of The Cat’s favorite people was Courtney, my Seattle best friend, fellow cat person, and willing conversational companion with The Cat (he was a talker). Courtney knew exactly how it felt to say goodbye to a friend like The Cat, and for Christmas this year, she commissioned this from Cincinnati-based artist (and obvious knockout talent) Dylan Speeg:

the cat painting
Which means two things:

1. She beat me at Christmas AGAIN.
2. I’m getting her back.

A Freezer
Courtney is currently knocked up and will remain that way until sometime around the first week of February. Her daughter is anticipated to be either a drummer or a soccer player, but either way she kicks like a boss and already has a terrific library at her disposal.

Because babies are notorious for keeping their parents desperately sleep-deprived and unlikely to cook decent, wholesome meals for themselves, I had planned to have an arsenal of freezer meals available to Courtney and her husband for whenever their daughter shows up.

Below is the starter list of meals to be delivered throughout January and into February. Which basically means here’s what I’ll be eating and freezing portions of for the new parents to reheat whenever they have an extra 30 minutes of lucid wakefulness:

freezer meals
A Friendship
And I’m doing this because Courtney is my best friend (also kind of because she keeps beating me at Christmas and THIS WILL NOT STAND, MOTHERFUCKERS). I’m doing this because for both of us, food — at least the kind that is delicious, nutritious, and made with care — means love. It means that someone is thinking of you. It means that someone wants you to feel warm, nourished, and thought about when you might be sitting wild-eyed in your living room after three consecutive weeks of sleeping for no more than an hour at a time, so how on earth can you be expected to purchase, prepare, and consume fresh meals?

Also because she beat me at Christmas.

Photographic Evidence

…of last night’s Feast of the Three or Four Fishes:

xmas eve dinner
You guys. Oh my god, you guys. I don’t even know how I managed to pull this off. It didn’t seem like a lot on paper (original menu or the prep list) but if my boss hadn’t let everyone leave at noon yesterday, I’m not sure I could have managed this. Namely the latkes, which I will a) do in advance next year and b) make with pre-shredded frozen potatoes because who cares if it’s cheating when your regular shredded potatoes just turn a rusty shade of brown, like, immediately.

Not that anyone complained about them. They didn’t look like the results of the Smitten Kitchen recipe that bore their existence, but I have yet to meet a decent human being who will turn down fried potatoes topped in fats and salt.

I would like it noted that I deserve all of the awards, please, for creating a Christmas Eve menu made up of items that double as superlative Christmas Day brunch items. That strata? The one with sausage, butternut squash, kale, feta, roasted red peppers, and sun-dried tomatoes? Basically just a breakfast casserole. Because I just ate it for breakfast, and I feel slightly less hungover now, at least if I don’t think about the five bottles of champagne that once lived in our refrigerator. Of those five bottles, only one exists today.

So I’ve got my protein. I ate some vegetables. I had my coffee, and then my tea (made with my fancy new infuser and my fancy new loose leaf tea). I’m hydrating. I’m planning my New Year’s Day menu, which is infinitely easier because all Hoppin’ John requires is ten hours and a slow cooker.

Feast of the Three or Four Fishes

First things first – I am not Italian. Not even in the least, most tiniest bit. I know this because I got the 23andMe test last year, and while the analysis of my DNA surprisingly revealed small parts Iberian, West African, and Middle Eastern/North African, there is 0% Italian ancestry in my genes.

What am I, though? Mostly Irish and British. Which means that when I say that something is “THE WORST,” I am always aware that my ancestors came primarily from a wet, starved rock in the Atlantic so maybe I’m just talking out of my ass.

Anyway.

I’m not at all Italian, but this doesn’t stop me from cribbing on their holiday traditions for food. This year I am borrowing from the Feast of the Seven Fishes and making it mostly un-Italian and also a little bit lazy manageable with Three to Four Fishes. Technically three, but could be four if we’re talking about format rather than actual fish species (ahem, salmon).

The menu:

– Potato latkes with crème fraiche, cured salmon, and ikura
– Roasted shrimp with artichoke-herb pesto
– Buttery crab bread pudding
– Strata with chard, roasted red peppers, butternut squash, chicken sausage, and sage
– Salami (a St. Louis tradition and Christmas present from my dad) and cheese
– Something sweet, hopefully brought by someone else because hello, I am making everything else
– Champagne. Lots of champagne.

Of all of the menus I plan during the year, Christmas Eve might be my favorite. Traditionally, the Christmas Eve meal is shared between myself and my boyfriend of 8 years, Graham. For those who don’t know Graham from my other blog, he is a professional cook who currently works as a sous chef and erstwhile pastry chef at a Seattle-area restaurant. The thing about dating a chef is a) they don’t cook at home and b) any expectation that you will get to spend weekends and/or holidays together is ludicrous and insane. So, then, getting to spend Christmas Eve together means I can go a little nuts and make the richest, most comforting, sooooometimes most expensive meal I can.

A few years ago it was shortribs braised in red wine and spooned over a gooey, creamy Parmesan polenta. Last year it was a breathtakingly pricey porchetta that I didn’t realize cost so much until I was physically handing over the money for it, effectively living out one of my recurring nightmares about buying things at mystery prices that turn out to bankrupt me (the porchetta did not actually bankrupt me, but thinking about how much it cost still makes my stomach hurt).

This year’s Feast of the Three or Four Fishes will be expensive but not prohibitively so, and we’re also sharing it with our friend Craig, who moved from St. Louis to Seattle a literal three days ago, and a couple of other friends with whom we booked an extremely fancy hotel suite last year and drank ourselves silly until six the next morning. Which, for someone who isn’t at all Italian, kind of beats having to slave over aeons of prep and homemade pastas only to have it consumed by a groaning table of hirsute gesticulators.

So we will have our busted Feast of the Seven Fishes, stolen from the Italians and infused with healthy amounts of Jewish potato presentation, Seattle seafood, and a little bit of Irish thriftiness.

Definitely nothing even approaching THE WORST.

Fridge Soup

Recently, Clotilde over at Chocolate and Zucchini – perhaps the very first food blog I ever read, something like 10 years ago – wrote a post about what she calls “Clean the Fridge Soup.” The idea is to use up vegetables and other ingredients that have gone past their prime (no glazing them in expensive butter and serving them alongside a breathtakingly expensive roast to the Queen, guys) but have not completely turned to shit (duh).

I found the post during a rare Sunday food blog scan, and was delighted to see something so relevant, as I’d already planned a sort of Clean the Fridge Soup for myself this week.

fridge soup - menu pic

My Clean the Fridge Soup was planned around a bag of carrots I got in our CSA box three weeks ago. Yep. Three weeks ago. But carrots are hardy, okay, and if they’re stored properly, they’ll keep for ages. Even so, I was getting antsy with them just sitting on the bottom shelf and decided that I was going to have to do something about them.

Luckily, I had to make chicken stock. Let me be more specific: I had to get rid of the chicken carcasses in the freezer because my boyfriend was complaining about them. Is that better? He’s right, anyway, we’re tight on room and until we drop $300 on a chest freezer, I simply cannot cram any more bones in there when we so desperately need the room for Trader Joe’s Cookie Butter ice cream, which I will now refer to exclusively as “the love of my life.” Sorry, boyfriend.

So I planned a chicken stock Sunday, and because I am resourceful, I decided to use some of the finished stock (ahem, not put it back into the freezer) to make dinner the next night, which would also take care of the carrots I needed to use, and by “use” I mean “roast.” Which is really one of the top 5 secret ingredients of all great soups, if a technique can be an ingredient. Roast what you can, develop those deep flavors and caramelized surfaces, and then just puree the shit out of them later.

Also into the roasting pan went some red bell peppers and fennel, and eventually all of that went into a pot with some mirepoix, stock, tomato paste and warm spices like paprika and cayenne, and then everything got zizzed in my food processor (which I initially filled too high, resulting in a minor mess) and then went back into the pot and finished with a little bit of heavy cream (expensive, organic and local – another one of the top 5 secret ingredients).

So it was basically a grownup version of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, which is why it made infinite sense to serve it for dinner alongside grilled cheese sandwiches (spread mayo on the outside of the bread instead of butter, YOU’RE WELCOME EVERYONE). And why, upon finishing his portion, my boyfriend stood up and said “I could eat a MOUNTAIN of that.”

And, later this week, the dregs of it will become the base for a kind of cheater romesco sauce to drizzle over a bowl of chicken sausage, roasted broccoli, and brown rice. (A still shortcut-ish but slightly realer and, frankly, outstanding romesco sauce can be found here.)

Which is exactly what I’ll need in the week before Christmas, because as I implied earlier, if it’s not easy enough to make and comforting enough for me to fold my weepy old bones around a bowl of it and feel a tiny bit better about what I’m doing with my life, I am just not fucking interested.