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.

Advertisements

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.

Back Pocket

My Saturday morning routine goes like this:

Wake up. Either see that it’s too early and spend 45 minutes trying to go back to sleep or just get out of bed, grumbling about how my schedule sucks and it would be nice to be able to sleep until 9am for once in my life.

Go to the bathroom to pee, wash my face, and pet the cat, who for some reason loves hanging out with me in there.

Make coffee. Feed the cat while coffee is brewing. Stand in front of the coffee machine and stare at it, psychically willing it to brew faster.

Get coffee, take it upstairs to the office, and sit in front of my laptop for a couple of hours so I can check up on – in this order – Facebook, Tumblr, Apartment Therapy, The Kitchn, Food52, and Foodgawker. Once every couple of weeks, I add Smitten Kitchen, Serious Eats and Amateur Gourmet to the lineup.

It’s on Saturday mornings that I think the most about food, because that’s when I have the time to read about it, look at photos of it, and write my grocery list and weekly menus. I’ve occasionally thought about how fucked up it is that I spend the first part of my weekend like I spend all of my workweek – staring at a screen – but have decided that this is actually pretty relaxing for me, and doesn’t carry with it the Monday-Friday jaw clenching and stress-related terrible posture.

This week on Food52, there was a feature about readers’ Best Back Pocket Dinner Recipes, which they define as “favorite go-to meals for when the going gets tough.”

These are meals that are thrown together easily, with ingredients you probably already keep in your fridge or pantry, and that satisfy you in ways that belie their simplicity and, sometimes, frequency. Stir frys are common, as are pastas. Eggs appear a lot, which brought me to my #1 back pocket dinner recipe.

Can we please talk about frittatas? Specifically, can we please talk about how simple and versatile and wonderful they are, especially when your boyfriend has purchased a cast iron skillet that is just the wonderment of my kitchen universe right now?

Goddamn, I love me a frittata. I love that I don’t think about making one until I’m walking home from the bus stop, when it’s dark and raining and I don’t have work the next day so I don’t have to think about hurrying to make something that I can quickly shove down my gullet before cleaning the kitchen and struggling to get maybe 6 hours of sleep before I have to wake up the next day. I love that I already own everything I need to make one, but that I can always stop at my neighborhood bakery and pick up a perfectly crusty loaf of whatever they have. I love that even the most labor intensive version is really just a bunch of preps, and that eventually, those unlovely piles of chopped onion, garlic, bacon, potatoes, kale, and bread will become a gorgeously rustic meal for the next few days. I love that I can eat it in front of Netflix with hearty dashes of hot sauce and ketchup while wearing my comfiest fat pants.

I love that I never think about taking a frittata’s photo, because it’s either on my plate, in my mouth, or waiting to be consumed as leftovers and never in any of those places for long enough to be photographed.

About En Cocotterie

This is not a food blog.

Well, it’s not your typical food blog.

Here there will be no shot-by-shot recipes brimming with crystal clear photographs, perhaps taken by a professional shutterbug spouse. There will be no cookbook-worthy testing. There will be no aggressive reservation hunting or restaurant reviews. There will be no giveaways. I do not have that level of my shit together. I am not in the business of empire building.

This is a food blog in the barest sense – it is about food.

It is about a person (me) who loves food, who loves eating it and cooking it and talking about it. It is here because I have another blog where I can talk about other things, and because, when I did talk about food over there, I found that I was creating a slippery slope for myself. Weeks would go by where all I wanted to talk about was food, and this would have been fine, except I built my following on dick and fart jokes, goddammit, and my readers want it to stay that way.

With En Cocotterie (my hybridization of en cocotte and coterie, see what I did there), I’ve given myself a place to discuss one of my most favorite topics. I can talk about food in my own way, take photos when I remember and not have to apologize when I don’t. So if you’re looking for yet another overachieving food blog, one authored by someone who is (probably) a stay-at-home mom, wife, or other woman of significant means with significant amounts of time and Photoshop training, then by all means, cruise on by.

But if you find this by accident and are interested in becoming part of the conversation – part of a coterie, if you will – then you are more than welcome.

Bring snacks.