Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Where Have I Gone?

Nowhere. I'm still here, and I still cook. Lately, however, I've been too exhausted to actually photograph what I've cooked.

Let me 'splain.

For reasons that I can no longer recall (probably because of the aforementioned exhaustion), I decided it would be a good idea--no, a great idea--to run a half marathon. Of course! Because since high school, the only running I've done has been out of patience, out of time, out of money, and out of energy. And of course picking up one foot and then the other didn't play much of a role in any of that. So why on earth would I not run a half marathon? I can see no way in which this carefully constructed plan could possibly fail.

I picked the Seattle half marathon, which is held the Sunday after Thanksgiving each year. The choice was based more on convenience than on any characteristic of the race, or out of consideration for how spectacular the weather will be (because if there is anything the weather in Seattle will be on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, it is not spectacular). I started training. By about last Sunday (six weeks out from the race), I realized I was hopelessly undertrained. I had only been training for five weeks prior to that. So I reconsidered. I had seen an ad in a running magazine for a half marathon at Walt Disney World in the spring, A quick internet search revealed the Disney Princess Half Marathon on March 7th.

I posted a Facebook status asking if anyone wanted to do it with me. One friend, a dedicated half marathoner, said she would. And so, dear reader, I am comitted to training between now and March 7th for a half marathon. This means I get up at 4:30 a.m. many mornings (I sleep in until 5 on the weekends) and run on a treadmill in my basement. As a result, I am exhausted. I manage to get through work and evenings with my kids, but I spiral down quickly from the time I turn out their lights. I am a lot of fun to be around.

As a second circumstance in all of this--and another major contributor to my lack of posts--is that I am doing more of my own recipe development. I still read all the wonderful food magazines I get, but I'm spending a lot of time using those as inspiration, rather than as instructions. It takes a lot longer, I'm discovering, to perfect something you dreamed up, instead of making something from a recipe that someone else has spent hours conceiving and perfecting. And it goes without saying (although here I am saying it anyway) that it takes even longer still when you have a full time job in an industry unrelated to food, four kids, a husband, and a house (no dog--come on, I'm not crazy, you know). I have a couple of things in the works, but to tide you over until then, here's the Chicken Pot Pie I made for dinner last night (and was too dead tired to photograph). Because I make this for my kids an average of twice a month, I've got the recipe down.

Chicken Pot Pie
makes enough for two adults and four hyper-picky kids with leftovers for the adults' lunches. It would probably serve 4-6 normal people, depending on how ravenous they were.

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup heavy cream, ½ and ½, or milk
About 1 c frozen peas (no need to thaw)
About 1 c frozen pearl onions (no need to thaw)
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into ¼” dice
Salt and pepper

Poach chicken breasts until cooked through and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, shred meat and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350. In a large saucepan melt butter over medium heat, and add flour. Whisk over medium heat, about three minutes. Add chicken broth and whisk until slightly thickened. Add cream (heavy cream tastes best, of course, but if you can’t bear the thought of the fat, use half and half or milk; it will still be good, just not as rich). Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add shredded chicken and vegetables. Continue cooking until thickened, about 10 minutes (the ice on the frozen vegetables will thin the sauce down, but it doesn’t take long to thicken back up). Taste and correct seasoning. Pour chicken mixture into a 2 quart casserole coated with cooking spray. Top with biscuits. Bake about 15 minutes, or until biscuits are golden.


2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter, cut in small pieces
1 cup buttermilk

In a food processor, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Pulse two or three times to combine. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal (maybe 12 or 14 times). With the motor running, pour the buttermilk into the feed tube slowly, watching the consistency of the dough. Once it pulls together, stop pouring and turn off the machine. Check dough by giving it a pinch—if it sticks together, it has enough liquid in it. Odds are you will not need all of the buttermilk.

Turn dough out on a floured surface and pat out to about ¾” thick. Using a biscuit or cookie cutter, cut out as many biscuits as you can. (I have used cat shaped cutters, hearts, stars and plain circles—be warned, the more complex the shape, the less likely it is to “work” as a biscuit. Kids think the shapes are cute, though.) You’ll probably have about 16 biscuits. Place these on top of the pot pie filling and bake as directed above.

Quantity Note: you can make more of this casserole, and cook it in a 9”x13” pan. To do so, you’ll need an extra tablespoon each of butter and flour, an extra cup of broth, and about an additional half cup of cream or milk. You’ll also want to up your vegetables and poach another chicken breast. I don’t make it in that big a pan because my kids eat like anorexic sparrows doing a Ghandi imitation, and I used to wind up with three tons of leftovers. While I like this chicken pot pie, I prefer not to eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a whole week. I'm just fickle that way.

Monday, October 05, 2009

No! Not Gourmet!

I am shocked! I get that ad revenue is down, I get that they need to cut costs, but to close down Gourmet! Get rid of Lucky, get rid of one of your golf titles, cut Architectural Digest down to six months a year, but please don't get rid of Gourmet!

I have to be completely honest--when Ruth Reichl took over, like so many others, I declared the magazine to be ruined, and let my subscription lapse. I felt a little like I did in high school. You know, you're friends with someone early on, then they join some club or team and you feel like their new friends change them. The new person they've become just isn't someone you want to be friends with at that point in your life. You both move on. Then, one day several months or years later, you find yourself interacting with this person--maybe you're both on the yearbook committee now, or you're both in the spring musical production--and you realize that you've both changed more, and now you can be friends again.

Well that's how it was with me and Gourmet. Gourmet's new friend Ruth changed it, and not for the better in my opinion at the time. Then, one day, maybe two years ago now, I picked up a copy on the newsstand. I don't know what prompted me--maybe it had a pretty cover. Maybe I had read something on a food blog about a recipe that sounded good (let's be honest--that was probably it). Whatever the motivating factor was, I picked it up and kept picking it up. And then I subscribed. And now I make probably two recipes a month out of it, and flag even more for future use. I love what Gourmet has become--it's much more in synch with how I cook today. Lots of weeknight recipes, with a nice mix of fancier stuff for weekends and holidays when I have more time for cooking.

In fact, so completely have I about-faced on Gourmet that when a friend told me she had old issues from 1999 - 2004 or so that she would let me I have, I jumped at the chance. That span represents the almost entire time that Gourmet and I were estranged. I got a second chance! The stash even included the September 1999 issue that was the first one on which Ruth Reichl worked, and which created such an outcry (both for and against), as well as the November 1999 issue in which said outcry was recorded. I also have the August 1999 issue, which was the one just prior to Reichl's taking over, and which followed the older format. It's fascinating to read the two together.

Of course, the magazine has come even further now, with bigger changes that are nice to see and note. In the period BR (Before Ruth), Gourmet's opinion was clearly that there were no restaurants worth troubling with anywhere but New York and LA. Ruth expanded the restaurant reviews to the whole country. Gourmet used to be full of huge beautiful pictures of Italy, Francy, Germany, Laos...big glossy shots of places far away, along with travel tips for when you got to go (ha!). They still cover some travel, but it's not the main focus any more. The main focus is clearly food. Food that you could cook on Thursday night, as well as things you could make for your guests on Saturday night, or for Thanksgiving dinner. I feel it's more well-adjusted in the past couple of years. The Quick Cook or Gourmet Every Day columns from so long ago often had things like oatmeal cookies and cranberry sorbet. Perfect! Just what I serve for dinner every night! No, now you get things like steak, pork chops, and shrimp, as well as vegetarian choices. Much more useful.

I'm just hoping Conde Nast gives Gourmet a second chance. I looked at the Conde Nast website, bu there was no "contact us" button, so I guess I'll send an email directly to Gourmet. They can't do this! I already subscribe to Bon Appetit, Food + Wine, Martha Stewart Everyday Food, Cooking Light, Fine Cooking, and Donna Hay Magazine. On the newsstand I often buy The Food Network Magazine, La Cucina Italiana, and Delicious. I refuse to buy Paula Deen, Rachel Ray, anything Taste of Home, and anything Cook's Illustrated publishes. There will be a sad hole left in my cooking life.