Anand had so much fun setting the table creatively, I had to share. 🙂
The leftover pasta looks a little dull on the plate next to the brightness of the steak and broccoli on the plate, but it was super-tasty, so we’ll allow it. Tasty > pretty. Kevin had made simple sautéed chicken thighs with bacon, served with buttered spinach noodles the night before. It was fine, but I had some leftovers to use up.
I ended up re-doing the dish after Saturday’s dinner — I put a little olive oil in the pan, added a bit of flour, sautéed for a minute, added cream, salt, pepper, to make a nice sauce. Then lemon juice (careful that the cream wasn’t too hot at that point, so it wouldn’t curdle), because I was craving a bit of tang. Added in his chicken with a bit of bacon, also the leftover sautéed onions and mushrooms from the fridge, also the leftover roasted brussels sprouts from the fridge, plus the cooked spinach fettucine.
Just stirred it all together for a minute to blend — didn’t want to make the pasta mushy — and then grated in about 1/2 a cup of fresh Parmesan, stirring. Mmm….refrigerator pasta. It’s the best, esp. if you’re the frugal sort who hates wasting food, and the easily-bored sort who doesn’t want to eat exactly the same thing as you’ve eaten for the last three days….
It came out so well that on Sunday, I had to stop and ask Anand if he *really* wanted thirds of the pasta, if he was actually still hungry, or if it was just tasty. He paused, and admitted that it was just tasty. I told him to slow down and drink a glass of water, see if he wasn’t actually full. He was, as it turned out.
I mean, not too full for dessert, but that’s a separate stomach anyway. 🙂 We just did Italian cookies (that a kind soul had brought to the garden club meet-up we’d hosted earlier that day) and Mommy’s failed chocolates. They were fine, just not quite as delicious as I’d hoped. Failed chocolate is often still tasty.
The finished Valentine’s Day pizza (I’m a little behind on posting! Too much cooking!) — one for Kev, one for me, very romantic. When we were living together in Philly, lo, these many ages ago, we used to go get saag at this one food cart, and it was delicious; I was thinking of that when putting this recipe together.
It was pretty filling, so we ended up splitting one, and having the other one for lunch the next day. (Which is actually what we usually did with the food cart saag too.)
Just made it on naan, which was great, though the TJ’s pizza dough would also work fine. Sri Lankan spinach curry for the base, curried lamb with tomatoes, homemade paneer. Mmm…
A friend asked me for a good spinach curry recipe, and I had to admit that I’ve never managed one I was happy with, so I tried working on it this weekend. I love saag / palak in restaurants, but my earlier attempts came out sort of watery and lacking in flavor; they just made me sad.
So I spent a while looking up recipes, and it seemed like most of the ones I found which might approximate restaurant saag used chopped spinach and went heavy on the cream. Which, okay, cream makes things delicious. But I was hoping to do a vegan version, and also one that was a little bit lighter and healthier, with some good fresh spinach brightness.
The key to that, I think, is the onions. And I know you’ve heard me go on about onions before, and their importance to Sri Lankan cuisine, but seriously, the amount of flavor you get out of a properly cooked onion is hard to beat.
For this, I chopped a mix of red onion and shallot — you could do either separately; I just happened to have both on hand. Yellow or white onions would also be fine, but the red onion and shallots gave a sweetness and delicacy that I thought worked particularly well with the fresh spinach. (And of course, they were awfully pretty contrasting with the curry leaves and green chili as I cooked!)
After that, it was a fairly standard base approach — sauté in oil or ghee with cumin seed and mustard seed (I call for traditional black mustard seed in my recipes, but brown is really fine; I’d avoid yellow, though, as it changes the flavor noticeably) until golden. Keeping heat on medium or even medium-low will reduce the risk of burning if you’ve stepped away to chop something; it’ll take a little longer, but the onions also caramelize beautifully this way, so if you can afford the time, I’d do that.
Add garlic after a bit (if you put it in with the onions initially, it’s susceptible to burning), curry leaves if you have them (there are no good substitutes, so just skip if not), and chopped green chili. (I didn’t have fresh ginger on hand, but if I did, I would have added some with the onions. Since I didn’t, I added a t. of ground ginger later in the dish, with the turmeric and salt.)
This basic approach is what I’d recommend for most of our vegetable curries, and indeed, for curries in general.
I’ve found over the past few years of talking to folks about their cooking habits that a lot of people skip the onions in a dish, or reduce the amount dramatically, not realizing that they’re the base of the flavor. That applies to Italian spaghetti sauce as much as to Sri Lankan curry.
I know chopping onions is a bit of a pain, but it can’t be beat for depth of flavor. There’s a reason why cooking school makes aspiring chefs start with chopping mounds and mounds and mounds of onions.
So once you have the seasoned onions cooked down nicely (see previous post), the next step is to add some more spices — turmeric and salt are really all you need at this point. And then you could use chopped frozen spinach, but if you have fresh baby spinach, it’s lovely — I dumped two bags in here.
You basically can’t stir them at this point without lots of spinach falling out of your pan (I tried), but if you’re just patient and let it be, within a few minutes the spinach will have reduced enough to stir into the onions for a few more minutes.
You could stop the recipe at this point if you’re aiming for super-healthy low-calorie greens, and it would be tasty! But I definitely wanted a sauce, and anyway, coconut makes things better. So I added 1 cup (half a can) of coconut milk and stirred that in too.
You’re almost done at this point — the last step, always, is to check the seasonings. I’ve been surprised to learn, over the last few years of working on the cookbook, how many people are intimidated by phrases like ‘salt to taste.’
As a very rough estimate, most ‘feed 4-6 people’ dishes I use call for a teaspoon of salt for the pot, so if you’re really not sure, I’d go with something like that.
(Better to undersalt than over, so if you’re not sure, start with 1/2 a teaspoon — you can always add more, but you can’t take salt out of the curry!
If you DO oversalt, that’s tricky to fix — if it’s a dish where you can add potatoes, I’d do that (you can cut them up and cook them in the microwave separately, or boil them, so that you’re adding cooked potatoes to the dish, rather than raw potatoes which will make the whole dish cook for an extra 20-30 minutes, dulling the overall flavors.
Alternately, make a second batch of the dish, without salt. Combine them, so the salt flavors the whole thing more evenly. And if you have too much for your needs, then freeze some. That’s a lot of work, though, and requires you to have enough ingredients on hand to do this. Or you can freeze the over-salted batch to fix on another day, labelling appropriately. Yes, I’ve done this. Have I mentioned that I *hate* wasting food?)
I always take a little bit of sauce at the end, dab it on the back of my left hand, and lick it up to taste. Sometimes it’s perfect; sometimes it wants a little more salt. For this one, I added another 1/2 t. of salt, and then a T of fresh-squeezed lime juice. (Bottled is fine if you don’t have fresh on hand.)
Be a little careful adding lemon or lime if you’re using cream instead of coconut milk — when acid hits hot dairy, it tends to curdle. You’ll make cheese, which is another post altogether. So stir in the cream or coconut milk, let it cook and blend with the other ingredients for a few minutes, make sure your heat is at medium and not boiling over, and THEN add the lime juice.
The result will be glorious. 🙂 Enjoy with rice and curry, or as we did this weekend, spread on naan and toasted as delicious flatbread / pizza.
Will post actual recipe in next post, with measurements. 🙂
Sri Lankan Spinach Curry
(30 minutes, serves 4; gluten-free, vegan)
(This is the actual recipe — see previous two posts for Cook’s Illustrated-style explication of recipe development + paean to onions.)
2 medium onions (preferably red), chopped fine
2 T oil or ghee
1 t. black mustard seed
1 t. cumin seed
1 T ginger, chopped
1 dozen curry leaves
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 t. salt
1/2 t. turmeric
22 ounces baby spinach (2 bags)
1 c. coconut milk
1 T lime juice
1. Sauté onions in oil or ghee over medium heat. Add mustard seed, cumin seed, ginger, and curry leaves.
2. After a few minutes, add chopped garlic, salt, and turmeric, and continue cooking until golden-translucent, stirring as needed, about 15 minutes total.
3. Add spinach to pan (in two batches if necessary, depending on size of pan), let cook down for a few minutes. When reduced, stir into onions and cook for a few more minutes.
4. Add coconut milk and stir; add lime juice and stir. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed. Serve hot with rice or roti.
I could photograph this spinach curry ALL DAY. 🙂
(And hey, ten years in, my zinc island countertop really has weathered and patinated the way I’d hoped. Makes me so happy. (It’s not heat-proof, though, so use with care.))
(Sri Lankan spinach curry recipe in previous post.)
Sunday dinner this week we kept simple — we had some leftover pasta from the day before, so we just added steak and broccoli. About 20-25 minutes of cooking time, and the kids (mostly Kavi) did almost all of it, with instruction / supervision.
First we got the water boiling for the broccoli, which we were going to boil this time. (Sometimes we steam it, sometimes we roast it. Broccoli happens a lot around here, as it’s the only green vegetable both kids will reliably eat.) The pot was heavy enough that Kavi had a little trouble moving it over — got to get that girl doing more household and yard work, build up some arm muscles! She plays soccer, but that is not helping her arms any. 🙂
Kavi really loves steak, so she was pretty excited to learn how easy it was to make for herself. Rinse, pat dry with paper towels, season with salt and pepper (the kids love using the grinders), add a bit of oil. Get the grill pan really hot (toss some water on to make sure it’s sizzling, which is always fun). Put steak on pan and set timer for 3-4 minutes (depending on how thick your steak is; we were doing NY strip, so went with 4).
Check on the water for the broccoli — boiling yet? Almost. We’d already cut it up a few days before (leftover for serving with dip at a party), so that bit was taken care of. We put some dishes away, clearing the dishwasher for later use.
Okay, water at a full rolling boil, plenty of bubbles, in goes the broccoli, careful not to splash yourself with boiling water.
There goes the timer for the steaks — flip them! Don’t mess with them otherwise! Set another timer for 3 minutes. I showed Kavi how you can press a finger into the pad at the base of your thumb to remind yourself of the right level of squishiness for steak doneness — medium rare is what we all like. We pressed a finger in the steak to test — still too soft. Empty some more dishes from the dishwasher.
We were a little tight on time here, because broccoli and steak were finishing at about the same time — the broccoli got *slightly* overcooked as a result. Not enough to be mushy though, which was good, because the kids won’t eat it then! It’s hard to manage the timings perfectly when you’re also trying to teach two kids.
Timer goes off, steak on the cutting board, add a bit more salt and pepper, leave it to rest. (Important — if you cut it now, the juices will just flow out; messy, and less tasty steak resulting).
Drain the broccoli. This bit, I did for them, because the pot was borderline too heavy for Kavi to lift. I told her she could just take them out with a spatula instead; if I’d had one nearby, I would’ve had her do that, but I didn’t — poor planning on my part! Next time. I also warned them to be careful with the steam when pouring out the broccoli into the colander — you can burn your face or hands pretty easily. No good.
Broccoli back in the pot, and now Anand and Kevin have finished the dishwasher, heated up the leftover pasta, and are off setting the table and lighting the candles while we finish up. Kavi adds several pats of butter to the broccoli and gently stirs; we could’ve added some salt too, but with salted butter, didn’t feel we needed it. The sweetness of the broccoli was coming through nicely.
Then slicing the steak, making it pretty with a few of Daddy’s favorite kumato tomatoes, and off to eat. 🙂
It was very satisfying teaching her how to do this at age 12. I basically didn’t learn to cook ’til college; I feel like they’re getting a big advantange in life here! Happy parenting.
Our Sunday dinner was a little harried this week, because I was still sick on Sunday, so we pushed it to Monday since there wasn’t school, and then I forgot that Kavi had an orthodontist appointment, plus I was finally making good progress on my revision after much procrastination, and Kavi was super-tired, so we ended up pulling back on the planned menu, skipping the roti and the roasted broccoli / cauliflower I had planned, and just having Kevin and Anand cook steamed broccoli to go with ginger-garlic chicken.
But Anand prepped broccoli for the first time, and also cut up chicken for the first time, and even seasoned the ginger-garlic chicken too. And we sat down and lit a few candles and ate together for at least 15 minutes, and even played a game of Geography over dinner, and we had the mango pudding that Kavi and I made on Saturday, so I’m going to call it success.
At the commencement welcome, one of the conference chairs of SALA made a joke about how we’re going to talk well and eat well. I’m not sure I’m talking all that well (still tired and a little out of it!), but my gosh, they do feed us well here.
Breakfast & lunch for two days are included in your registration, along with a very hearty closing reception that they said could easily be your dinner that night; coffee and tea service is also laid out throughout, which has been very handy for me, as I duck out of my room, grab some hot coffee, and duck back in to work a little more.
But just look at what they’ve served us so far! (I forgot to take photos of the avocado tartine and the fig tartine at breakfast, but they were very pretty.) One slight tweak I’d suggest for the hotel — I love that they used chicken thighs instead of breast, in terms of flavor, but personally, I wouldn’t have served it on the bone for a buffet like this. Too difficult to eat while sitting on low couches, managing drinks, etc. Nothing that requires knives!
I think my favorite, flavor-wise, was the combination of the curried salmon w/ the roasted sweet potatoes. Mmmm… I liked it so much I decided to skip dessert and go back for seconds of that instead. The roasted potatoes were also perfectly done, and delish.
Funny travel / eating moment. So yesterday, I was VERY tired, and I really just wanted some spicy Asian comfort food for dinner. Luckily, there was a Vietnamese restaurant with good reviews (Long Provincial) half a block away from my hotel. So I staggered in there, made it to a table, and ordered a dish I knew I liked, Cá Kho Tộ, which is caramelized and braised catfish.
The waiter asked if I wanted rice with that, which I mean, what kind of question is that? Does anyone actually eat this intensely flavored dish — sweet and salty and spicy — without rice? Maybe white people do? Surely Vietnamese people don’t? I don’t really know, but I was startled.
Anyway, I said yes, and he went away and came back eventually (service was a little slow; I think they were understaffed). I’d offer photos of the food at the restaurant, but they seated me in an area that was so moody and dark that I could barely see my food, much less photograph it.
Luckily, the book I had brought to read was on my Kindle; otherwise, I would’ve asked to be moved to the brightly-lit section. (Re-reading Civil Campaign, because when I’m that tired, all I want is comfort reading, and Miles being an ass and everyone he knows calling him on it is about as comforting as it gets. I love Miles, I identify intensely with Miles, but Miles is also often a very cogent warning as to how I might go horribly astray…anyway. Back to our story.)
So he brings me this beautiful big clay pot full of fish and intense sauce, and this teeny tiny bowl of rice. Hm. I started eating, but usually I don’t eat very much at any given meal (I eat many many small meals), so I only finished about a third of the fish and all of the rice.
You really needed the rice! I honestly don’t know that I could’ve borne to eat the fish & sauce otherwise, because the flavors would’ve been unpleasantly intense. But balancing each bite of delicate fish and savory sauce with an appropriate amount of rice, it was just perfect.
(Not the best Cá Kho Tộ I’ve had, and $22 was rather a lot for catfish, but eh, it’s downtown Seattle, and as I said, half a block from my hotel. I’m not complaining about the price (well done gouging the tourists, Asian peeps, say I!), and the dish itself was fine. I’d eat there again! And besides, it makes three meals for me, so it all works out. Only because of the rice, though, so onwards…)
Here’s the funniest bit, at least to me. When I’d finished, I asked him for a container to pack it up, but also, if I could have some more rice. And I swear, he almost laughed when he said yes. I can’t be sure. But when he brought back the container for the fish, he also brought back rice — TWICE AS MUCH as he’d originally served me. And he didn’t charge me for it either.
So, I dunno, because I’m not an expert in Vietnamese food, and I honestly don’t know how this dish is typically eaten in Vietnam. But I wonder if the first serving of rice was geared for white tourists, and the takeaway much larger portion was because he’d realized that I knew how to eat the dish properly…? Hmm…
Regardless, I ate half of my leftovers for first breakfast, and they were delicious. 🙂
Kavi forbid cooking pictures yesterday, because her hair was a mess (I may have made her pull it back in the kitchen with a carabiner clip because that’s all that was handy), but the first Sunday night dinner went reasonably well.
Anand got to pick, so we went with lasagne, his favorite. Kavi browned the sausage and ground beef (maybe her first time cooking meat?), cooked down the tomatoes into sauce, and seasoned both meats and sauce with salt, pepper, Italian herbs, onion powder. Then both of them layered the sauce / noodles / meat / ricotta / mozzarella in the pan a few times.
Kevin and I mostly just talked them through the recipe (such as it is), and offered some tips, like tilting the pan to drain the excess fat from the meat and using paper towels to sop that oil up and toss it away. Covered the lasagne with foil (talking about why you’d want to use foil and not, say, plastic wrap!), stuck it in the oven at 375 for an hour. Later, removed foil, let lasagne cook an additional 15 minutes (browning the top, letting the liquid cook off), then grown-ups pulled the hot, heavy pan out of the oven and let it cool for 15 minutes on the counter while the kids set the table, before we all sat down to eat.
Anand was pretty distractible, and kept running off to watch YouTube when he didn’t have an active task, but he did come and do everything he was asked to, and I think he had fun layering the ingredients in the baking dish. He was pretty stressed yesterday about vacation break ending and school starting again today, so we were inclined to let him self-soothe with electronics as needed. We’re going to try to wean everyone off electronics for the cooking Sunday dinner time, but it’ll be a process, I think. (I had to pause my online game with Jed to later eat, and it took some willpower!)
We really should’ve made a salad, garlic bread, and dessert — there was plenty of time while the lasagne was cooking, but Kavi had a book to finish reading for school, and as I said, I had a game going, so we all dispersed instead. Luckily, there was some leftover broccoli from lunch, and Kev cut up a bell pepper, so that counted as sufficient veg. to accompany.
And then we actually:
– set the table (kids)
– got everyone water (kids)
– washed hands before dinner (everyone)
– sat down and talked together while eating (everyone)
– used utensils to eat the lasagne (everyone, even Anand, which is new for him — he is not a utensil fan, but as we said, eventually he might be asked to eat with the president, who won’t be Trump, and then he’ll need to use utensils. Or if not the president, then his grandmother (Kev’s mom), who is also big on utensils
– cleared up afterwards (mostly Kev)
There’s plenty of lasagne left for dinner tonight, and today’s lunch for the grown-ups at work, so that’s also a nice way of easing into the work week. We’ll try to plan on making enough at Sunday night dinner to cover Monday, at least.
There was an extended discussion of whether Anand was allowed to repeat phrases because he thought it was funny. Kavi first came up with the rule that he couldn’t say specific phrases, but he just kept changing the phrases (there was a lot of ‘but why?’ for example). Finally she hit on: “No deliberately annoying people at the dinner table,” and Anand laughed. While he didn’t explicitly concede the point, he did stop the repeating, which I think we all took as a win. 🙂
It was really nice. They’re now old enough that we can have interesting conversations; I honestly didn’t have the patience for doing this with little ones, and I salute those of you who do! I know many families do dinner together every night, and we’ve never done that — we’ve always just wandered off to eat with our books and shows separately. But at least once a week, sitting together, being off electronics for a few hours, and teaching the kids some basic dinner table etiquette seems useful.
It’s a piece of the parenting project that we’ve somewhat neglected, but teaching them how to get along in community and not deliberately annoy people just because you think it’s funny seems worth the expenditure of a little effort and energy. Even if it means I have to delay the last few moves in my game. (Jed was stomping me anyway!)
Pictured: Anand demonstrating what he considers proper use of a fork…
The semester is over, so I had time to actually come up with a new recipe tonight, for a curried chestnut soup. 🙂 So seasonal!
You can roast the chestnuts yourself — a little more effort, but it’s tasty to peel and eat some of that sweet nuttiness while it’s hot. Just be careful when cutting crosses into the chestnuts before you roast, so your knife doesn’t slip. Or you can buy a jar of them already roasted, though you may need to find a specialty shop for that. If you cleverly reserved turkey stock after Thanksgiving, you could pull some out of the freezer and use it for this. That was my plan, but I forgot to freeze the extra stock until it was too late this year. Oh well.
I used Sri Lankan roasted curry powder, but I think any standard South Asian curry powder would be tasty. The complex spicing balances the sweetness of the chestnuts and the saltiness of the prosciutto (or the mushrooms sautéed in butter with salt). Substitute in vegetable oil, vegetable stock, and coconut milk to make this a filling, nutritious, and delicious vegan meal.
Curried Chestnut, Leek, and Carrot Soup, with Fried Prosciutto (or Sautéed Mushrooms)
(serves 4, about 30 minutes (aside from chestnut roasting time))
3 T unsalted butter
2 leeks, white parts sliced thin
2 carrots, peeled and chopped finely
1/2 t. salt
1 t. pepper
about 15 oz. (3 c.) roasted and peeled chestnuts
6 c. chicken stock
1 t. curry powder
1/4 c. heavy cream
additional salt and pepper to taste
1/2 t. lime juice
Optional: either fried prosciutto or mushrooms sautéed in butter for garnish — make them while the soup is simmering
1. Heat butter in large soup pot and stir in leeks, carrots, salt, and pepper. Sauté, stirring, about 5 minutes.
2. Add chestnuts and chicken stock, bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.
3. Transfer soup carefully to blender — I’d use a large ladle rather than trying to pour a pot of hot soup! (If you have an immersion stick blender, that’s even easier.) Purée, and return to pot. (It’s fine to leave a cup or so of broth in the pot; just stir it into the purée when you return it to the pot.) Add cream and stir. Taste and add salt / pepper as desired; if the soup is too thick, add a little more stock. Stir in the lime juice and simmer a few more minutes, until well blended.
4. Serve hot, garnished with prosciutto or mushrooms. (I don’t recommend both together — I tried it, and oddly, they clash.) If you want to make it even prettier, you could drizzle a little cream into the bowl, or add a scattering of chives. Mmm….
As part of this publishing-a-cookbook thing, I’ve learned a lot more about how people approach food and cooking. It’s made me really sad, learning just how many people never learned how to improvise tasty meals out of what’s in the fridge, or from leftovers. It can be a huge timesaver and moneysaver, letting you use up ingredients efficiently (almost nothing in our fridge ever goes bad), while still keeping plenty of delicious variety in weekly meals. A well-stocked spice cabinet lets you bring in lots of international flavors too!
Pictured below are three dishes we made post-Thanksgiving with the leftover turkey: Thai yellow curry turkey, with plenty of veggies, served with a little rice. Turkey and bacon with broccoli and pasta in a Parmesan-y white sauce, which the kids devoured. Turkey mulligatawny soup with apples, mild enough to feed my in-laws, but with enough South Asian flavor to make me happy.
None of these are difficult, but I didn’t have a recipe for any of them; after many years of cooking, I just know how to take leftovers and make up dishes with them. And this isn’t because I’m some sort of fabulous cook — it’s the kind of basic home-cooking skills that I have to think were common across America a few decades ago, and which seem to have gotten lost a little along the way. I didn’t actually learn how to do this growing up, but picked it up in my 20s and 30s. I started with recipes, but over time, learned enough basic approaches to food to not need recipes most nights.
Take the Thanksgiving turkey, for example. Okay, so you make a turkey, you feed a lot of people for dinner, it’s the end of the night. What next? Well, in my house, we pick the meat off the bones, as much as you can. If you’re fastidious, you can use a knife and fork for this, but it’s easier to do thoroughly with your clean hands. Put all the meat in a storage container in the fridge, wrap up the remaining carcass in foil and throw it in the freezer. Go to sleep, replete.
The next day, turkey sandwiches are classic and so satisfying. There are lots of interesting recipes online, but I’m perfectly happy with some good white bread, mayo, turkey, and cranberry sauce. I’m too tired to cook the day after Thanksgiving, but honestly, I’m mostly just eating stuffing out of the Pyrex, standing in the kitchen with a fork.
By day three, if you’re like me, you’re craving something spicy and also easy, because you don’t really want to do a lot of cooking yet. Thai curry to the rescue — Thai curry paste makes the seasoning part easy (I like Maesri brand), and it’s a one-pot dish. Thai curries kept us going through the infant / toddler years — Kev and I probably made one at least once a week, and managed it through a sleep-deprived haze. Kev actually made this one — he texted me when I was coming home on the train and asked what I wanted for dinner — I requested Thai yellow curry, and thirty minutes later, walked in the door to this.
Add a can of paste and a can of coconut milk to the pot, bring to a boil, add in some turkey, chicken broth, and whatever random veggies you have on hand that you want to use up, bring to a boil, simmer 20 minutes. (Carrots and potatoes and such, put it in with the turkey, since they’ll need longer cooking; bell peppers and green veggies, add near the end, so they don’t get mushy.) Nice additions include a can of bamboo shoots, drained, a little fish sauce, some brown sugar, Thai basil if you can get it, Italian basil if not. Crushed chili peppers if you want it spicier.
Put on some rice (which will also take 20 minutes to cook), or if you really want it one pot, you can add rice noodles directly to the curry in the last few minutes of cooking. The whole thing takes 30 minutes tops. Once you’ve made a Thai curry from a recipe a few times, you can probably do this without a recipe, and without thinking very much; a pot of this will provide several meals, so that should hold you a day or two. We keep several cans of Thai curry paste in our pantry (yellow, red, green, panang, massaman) at all times, and a good supply of Chaokoh coconut milk.
But the kids don’t like Thai curry, you say? No problem — that’s when you boil some pasta — rotini, penne, whatever you like. I always set a timer for the boiling, so I don’t lose track while doing other cooking and end up with mushy noodles, yuck.
In a separate pan, sauté some bacon (because turkey on its own can be a little dry) and add the turkey. Then you make a sort of roux — put a tablespoon or two of flour in the pan, sauté it in the bacon fat (add oil or butter if needed), stirring until it browns a bit, a minute or two, then add enough milk (maybe a cup?) and stir to make a creamy sauce.
I think I was in my 30s before I learned how to do this — ‘roux’ sounded so fancy and sort of intimidating. But it is EASY and the resulting sauce is fabulous for rejuvenating tired pasta, meats, veggies, etc. I am pretty sure this is technically a béchamel, one of the French mother sauces, which also sounds fancy and intimidating, but don’t let that fanciness get in your way! Fat + flour + milk. That’s all it is. (If you add gruyere cheese or white cheddar, it becomes a Mornay sauce. Extra-fancy.)
Grate in some Parmesan for extra yumminess (you can use the shaker-style Parmesan if you’re tired, but it doesn’t blend quite as well; it stays a little gritty because of additives they use to keep the cheese in the shaker from clumping). If the sauce gets too thick, add more milk and stir it ’til well blended (and maybe turn down the heat).
Taste — add salt / pepper as desired, then stir in the pasta. I had some leftover cooked broccoli, so I added that too — frozen peas are also a standard addition to this kind of thing around here. We make some version of this pretty often with the leftovers from the cooked rotisserie chicken we pick up at the grocery store, maybe every two weeks? It’s a staple in our house.
There are a lot of ways these dishes can go wrong, of course, and that’s the bit where I think people often get frustrated and give up. They put green veggies in too early, and so they come out mushy and flavorless. They cook the dish on too high a heat, or get distracted by the baby or the internet, so the sauce scorches. (Timers are your friend. Also stirring.) They forget the salt (it’s not as good if you just shake it on after cooking is done), or worse, put in too much salt accidentally (hard to recover from).
And when you’re cooking tired, or in a hurry, you’re more likely to make that kind of mistake, and more likely to get really frustrated when you do, so there’s a class-based element to this that I want to highlight. It’s so much easier to become a good cook if you have the time and energy to spare for the learning.
Which is a sort of horrible catch-22, because not knowing how to do this kind of cooking leads so many 20-somethings and 30-somethings to rely on a lot of takeout, which ends up costing them much more money in the long run. I feel like we really did an entire generation a massive disservice when so much of schooling switched over to college prep and cut home ec (and shop!) to make room in the curriculum. I don’t know what it would take to bring all of that back to the public schools, along with basic civics and budgeting, but I’d like to see an effort.
I mean, I teach college, and I do think the students learn something worthwhile in my English classes. But as a parent myself, I want to launch my kids with better-than-basic domestic skills, as well as the ability to write a coherent, well-argued paper utilizing strong critical thinking skills. Do we really not have time to teach both?
The last dish here is the soup, made with turkey stock. That’s for a weekend day, maybe the week after Thanksgiving, maybe months later. That turkey carcass will be good for quite a while! You pull it out of the freezer, throw it in a big pot with plenty of water and some coarsely chopped onions.
Depending on what ethnic direction you’re leaning in for the meals that follow, pick your additions — carrots are often good, or celery. They’ll all basically dissolve, along with the onions, making the stock flavorful, and if you want, you can just fish them out at the end, though I don’t generally bother. I wanted South Asian spicing for my soups, so I went mulligatawny-style: garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, plenty of black pepper, salt. Bring it to a boil, let it simmer, 3-4 hrs. Now you’ve got a great turkey stock. Portion whatever you’re not using right away out and freeze it for a tired day.
I made the soup just a week or so after Thanksgiving, so we still had some turkey meat left in the fridge. (Some people aren’t comfortable eating meat that’s been in the fridge for a week; our stomachs are fine with it, but use your judgement and experience here!) So this was just the easiest thing to do for my visiting in-laws; heat up some stock, simmer the turkey in it for 15-20 minutes or so, add some quartered apples and cook just until they’re softened, but still have some bite to them. Serve hot; we added some buttered French bread, which felt oddly appropriate for a colonial soup. And very tasty.
There was plenty of stock left for several more soups later in the year, when the nights get long and cold and dark, and all you want is to huddle around a tasty warm bowl of soup.
Simple comforts — at least, they ought to be simple. I wish they were for everyone.