I so far haven’t written about a recipe unless I really enjoy it (I’ve yet to document any of my kitchen fails, as Laura so awesomely did), but there are definitely varying levels on my enjoyment scale. There are the tasty but not precisely thrilling recipes that sneak into my weeknight rotation. Good, even great, and often notable especially for their easiness, but not exactly life changing. A perfectly lovely side of the scale. I don’t expect life changing from every or even most of my weeknight dinners, after all. But then. Then, there are the rare awesome recipes that pull me up short and make me say “oh YUM” out loud when I take my first bite. Recipes that I immediately want to make again, and can’t wait to proselytize about to anyone who will listen. Shutterbean’s lemon chicken is squarely on that side of the scale.
I’m starting to think that spring might truly be on its lazy way to Boston. In recent days, I’ve actually felt warm sun on my face and I’ve been leaving my puffy coat in the closet for the first time since November. And it’s about time, to say the least. I have to admit, though, that if not for this year’s extra long comfort food season, I wouldn’t have come across this insta-favorite pasta. I’ve been warming myself with rich, rib-sticking meals for nearly five months, but it was just two weeks ago that I happened upon this perfect winter meal. Spicy, cheesy, weeknight-friendly, and even better as leftovers, it’s the silver lining to this bummer winter.
I love a recipe that teaches me a new technique. Even one that, in retrospect, I probably could (should?) have thought of on my own. In the case of this hearty stew–filled with chicken, pumpkin, black beans, corn, quinoa, and smoky spice–it was cooking whole chicken breasts right in the broth that makes up the foundation of the stew, turning it into almost a one pot meal. Once the chicken is cooked you take it out, shred, and then toss it back in. Genius, right? Nothing like combining steps to impress me on a weeknight. How quickly and easily this dish comes together plus the great flavor made it an instant keeper during this seemingly endless winter. It was a perfect simple dinner for nights when I wanted something satisfying that wouldn’t take too much effort, and I have a feeling it’s going to see me into the spring.
This Valentine’s Day, Hal and I opted to skip presents. But I wanted to have something up my sleeve just in case, since I had a hunch he wouldn’t be able to resist at least a little surprise. I was right, and he came home with the Joy the Baker cookbook and lovely flowers (neither count as “real” gifts in his mind, I learned), making me very glad I had planned ahead. Hal was a little confused when I opened the fridge and offered him a taste of something tan-ish out of a canning jar as his gift, but his confusion turned to glee when he realized what he was tasting: homemade spicy tahini mustard, based on a beloved treat at Talde, a favorite restaurant in our neighborhood. Not exactly the fanciest or most traditional heart day gift, but it went over big. The jar was empty in less than a week.
Finding this recipe felt like finding a $20 bill in an old wallet. I was relaxing and leafing through Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table when it jumped out at me: a quick bread with two kinds of cheese, a whole packet of chives, and a good portion of walnuts. In other words, simple, irresistible, and a guaranteed winner. How could I have missed this recipe the countless times I’d looked through this book? Who knows. Who cares. I wasted no more time before letting the bread exceed my expectations. It’s delicious enough to eat morning, noon, and night. Twice at night, actually: it’s both a great cocktail snack and dinner accompaniment. It’s even seasonally appropriate: you can make it with Irish cheddar and serve it with Guinness at your St. Patrick’s Day party this weekend (or with mounds of bacon at the very necessary morning-after brunch).
This is not a recipe that will win any beauty pageants. On the contrary, the finished dish looks a bit like something Oliver Twist might have asked for some more of. It’s something of a mush of beans, with slices of sausage and dots of carrot to keep it from being totally monochrome. But, like so many things in life, appearances are deceiving and it’s what’s on the inside that counts. Because in this case, what’s on the inside is seriously tasty. I never had beans and franks mixed together as a kid. Though I loved (and still love) both hot dogs and baked beans, I wanted them to be separate, thank you very much. Now that I’m older and wiser, I see the appeal of mixing everything together.
Today, I’m taking a break from the now! new! next! mode of the internet to talk about a cookbook that was published six years ago. No Time to Cook, by Australian lifestyle guru Donna Hay, is by no means hot off the press, but the recipes couldn’t be more relevant to the timeless struggle of what to have for dinner. The struggle has been particularly brutal for me this winter. For a time, the effort of fending against all of this polar-arctic-vortex-blasting froze me into a rut where nothing seemed easy enough or delicious enough to warrant the effort. Lured in by the sunny pictures of perfect food, I forced myself to give Hay’s book a try. Like a light therapy box, No Time to Cook proved to be a mid-winter lifesaver.
Despite the dullness outside, the book has made my kitchen bright (she uses lots of lemons), tart (olives are a favorite), and hot (red pepper flakes at every turn). On these cold, dark days, when all I want to do is come home and watch my cold, dark shows (e.g., “House of Cards,” “True Detective,” “The Bachelor”), Hay has inspired me to spend just a little bit of time in the kitchen. The reward has been genuinely simple, flavorful meals that I’m never too tired to make.