Thursday, December 9, 2010

Breaking Points and Breaks

Most days, no matter how much is going on, I relish standing in the kitchen for however many minutes I have, stirring and pouring, watching a meal emerge from piles of carefully selected ingredients or from the scraps at the bottom of the refrigerator.  There is something concrete and fleeting about making a meal that grounds the end of each day for me.  But then, every once in a while, dinner time approaches, and I head for the door, not because I have any wonderful plans to dine out, but just because I can't stand the idea of having to cook something.  The next day, invariably, I can't wait to hit the kitchen again.  The breaks, I'm convinced, keep me from reaching a breaking point.  Recently, this pattern spilled over into writing about food.  In fact, it jumped ship.  I've been cooking quite happily actually for the past month, but barely writing down a thing.  And I thought, oh, what a treat to just cook and then leave the meal, gone, in bellies and down drains.  How wonderful to not think about exactly what dash of this or extra time on that made it so good.  I had my break.  Now I can't wait to write more.  I'm not going to return to that set of meals; they belong to the ephemera.  But new meals do emerge each night. 

Winter just calls out for roasting.  Images of a georgeous standing rib roast got me through the cold and into Whole Foods, but the only local beef roasts they had were a Top Round and a Chuck Roast.  The butcher recommended the Chuck Roast.  I thought: "great, roasted hamburger meat.  Oh well, I'll feel virtuous."  It's one of the best roasts I've had.  Rich and tender with still enough sinew to look and feel like real beef.  And the flavor, well, maybe that comes from how we cooked it.

Chuck Roast 
serves 4-6

3 lb Chuck Roast
3 T coarse sea salt
2 T pepper corns
1 T rosemary
2 T olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.  In a mortar and pestle, grind the salt, pepper corns, and rosemary until almost all of the peppercorns are cracked, but most are still in large chunks.  Rub well all over roast.  In an oven-ready pan, brown the roast in the olive oil.  Transfer to oven an bake approximately 1 1/2 hours. 


Diane made these whipped sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving and told me about them.  I'm not sure how faithfully I recreated it, but the little spark of citrus, however much and in whatever form, brings out a whole new side of the sweet potato.

Diane's Citrus Whipped Sweet Potatoes
serves 4-6

6 small-medium sweet potatoes
1/8 cup cointreau
1 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt

Bake the sweet potatoes until very soft, 1-1 1/2 hours.  Peel sweet potatoes and whip, using a hand-held mixer on medium, with other ingredients.


This meal allows for a lot of time hanging out in a warm kitchen.  Renee's cocktail is light in a way that opens up the appettite, and warm in a way that fits perfectly with the season.

Renee's Ginger Lemongrass Opener

1/4 cup (2 oz.) ginger vodka
1/8 cup lemongrass water
1/2 tsp. simple syrup
1 dash angostura bitters

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