In Week Eighteen I caught up on all the blog post writing! Hopefully you can’t tell from reading this after the fact, but somewhere around Week Four, I started not being able to keep up with the cooking and the writing and the running of the business and the family and the holidays. So I began keeping notes, made a promise to myself to pick it up in January, and after Christmas came up with a very strict schedule to get it back on track. This week I completed the plan and am now positioned to return to writing these posts in real time. It has been a huge hurdle to churn out all of these posts en masse, but I am committed to telling the story of this project as much as I am committed to actually cooking all of the recipes. Huge victory dance over here this week! Thank you for reading along.
WHAT I COOKED
Shrimp and Swordfish Curry, Cooking for Jeffrey
Roasted Raspberry Applesauce, Cooking for Jeffrey
Parmesan and Thyme Crackers, Back to Basics
Cauliflower and Celery Root Soup, Make It Ahead
Camembert and Prosciutto Tartines, Cooking for Jeffrey
Wild Rice Salad, How Easy Is That?
Chocolate Orange Mousse, Barefoot In Paris
WHAT I LEARNED
MUSSELS WITH SAFFRON MAYONNAISE. If you enjoy mussels, you must try these. These literally took less than five minutes to prepare, and it was a satisfying and communal appetizer. We all stood around the cast iron skillet and devoured these in a split second. Perfect party food or first course for a casual evening together with fellow mussel-loving friends.
FILET OF BEEF BOURGUIGNON. It’s not a surprise that another version of Ina’s Beef Bourguignon is amazing. I wrote about my love of this classic French favorite in Week Thirteen. The same opinions apply here. What was surprising to me about this dish was an unexpected gift found in the pacing of the preparation process. The truth is, when it was time for me to make this, I didn’t have a lot to give. I usually bring a measure of energy and excitement to the cooking process, but on this particular Tuesday I was found lacking in both. I didn’t want to cook. I wanted to cry and curl up in my bed and forget the wreck of a day I was having. But I had to cook. So, I read the recipe, looking for a spark that would inspire me to dig deep and dive in. I discovered this dish could be prepared slowly, one step at a time, gently, not requiring a lot of hustle or energy. It is presented in a simple progression of steps that can each be completed while the previous ingredient cooks or simmers. For me, this week, it felt like a metaphor for life. Can you chop an onion? Yes. I can chop an onion. Great. Then start there. One simple step is all that is required of you in the moment. Once that is done, you move on. Can you dice the bacon? Yes. So easy. I can definitely dice a few slices of bacon. Excellent. That’s all you have to do right now. And so it went on, one step, then another, and another, building slowly, never requiring scads of energy from me or ever feeling like I was taking on a huge project. Just chop the next vegetable, then see what’s next. I continued in this manner, one gentle step at a time, and before I knew it, I had created something outstanding and excellent, ready to be tucked into the fridge until I pulled it out the next day to serve this spectacular dish to my lunch guests. I felt a sense of accomplishment that in turn poured into my emptiness and encouraged me to keep going. Sometimes the food is more than the food.
CREME BRULEE. The kitchen torch is so fun!! It’s awesome to watch the sugar melt then brown then burn and smoke, yielding the scent of caramel and the satisfying sizzle as the sugar transforms into a sweet ceiling of sugar glass on top of creamy vanilla custard. This dessert is not difficult. It’s perfect and works equally well in individual dishes or as one large dish. It feels celebratory and elegant, but in truth is much easier to prepare than cake or pie.
ROASTED RASPBERRY APPLESAUCE. Please, everyone, make homemade applesauce at least once in your life. Do it for me. Do it for your children. Do it for yourself. You will not regret the choice to bake apples with brown sugar, butter, citrus, and in this case, raspberries, until soft and perfect. This is out of this world. I find it satisfying on a soul level. How can something so simple be so delicious?
WILD RICE SALAD. As an Instagram follower informed me, wild rice is not rice at all. It is a grass, native to North America and called “rice” because of the similarity in how it cooks. This salad has an odd list of ingredients, but it works. I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy a cold rice salad with fruit and nuts and green onions, but I definitely will be making this again.
ROASTED RATATOUILLE AND PARMESAN POLENTA. Let’s talk about the polenta first. I cannot think of a better way to use six cups of homemade chicken stock. This polenta is heaven in a bowl. I have only ever had bland, soupy, mushy polenta. This was an entirely different experience. The course-grain cornmeal that Ina suggests is paramount. Plus, in this case, I happened to have homemade chicken stock on hand, and I would bet it has a lot to do with the way this turned out. You cannot fake homemade stock. At the end this gets a healthy dose of grated parmesan, a nob of butter, and a generous portion of creme fraiche. Comfort in a bowl, best side dish ever, blowing-my-mind good. The Roasted Ratatouille on top of this? I’m done. I could not get a second helping fast enough. When I saw the recipe I was really prepared for something underwhelming. It looks like every other version Ina has of roasting vegetables at high heat with olive oil and salt and pepper. I truly thought this was going to be a joke. It is not a joke. It is one of the best things I have cooked so far, and if you give me your address I will come over and make it for you because I want everyone to try this.