Roasted Potato, Bacon, and Kale Salad

It was supposed to be a simple dinner. It was supposed to be quick, easy, and nothing about which I had to fret my little head…which is full up with fret these days because, as usual, I’ve taken on too much work. Supposed to be, supposed to be, supposed to be.

Actually, in one way, it was simple. It was simply a disaster.

Here’s what happened.

Last week, my boyfriend Chris came over for dinner. The original plan was pizza margarita, with some kind of warm side salad. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of using a frozen pizza dough I’d never tried before. Yes, I know I could have made my own dough. Yes, I know that would have been easier and healthier and yada, yada, yada. But I’ve been trying to cook from the overflowing freezer this month, and my roommate had purchased the dough a while back. It needed to be used.

Anyhow, the dough was apparently made with superglue, as it stuck to everything it touched: the counter, the pizza paddle, my hands. I couldn’t move it off the counter in one piece, let alone get it on the pizza stone. It was your basic kitchen nightmare, with sauce and cheese flying and the oven smoking and me crying. Poor Chris.

In the end, after employing a few choice words, I just folded the stupid thing in half, threw it in the oven, and called it strombolli. It was…fine.

But the salad?

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Carrot, Apple, & Ginger Soup

Right now, everything in my world is a different shade of gray. The sky, the ground, the roads—all of it. Gray, gray, gray, gray, gray. It’s everywhere. I hear they even made a movie about it.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m exaggerating? This is the view from my kitchen, people.

Gray 2

It’s a gray, gray world.

And I know, this is Lent. I know Christians are being beheaded in the Middle East. And I know some lunatic “caliph” is trying to usher in the end times. Given all that, it’s good to have little things, like the weather, to offer up.

But I still need color.

So, on Monday, I took matters into my own hands and made carrot soup.

Three bowls wide

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Lamb Biryani

Last month marked the thirteenth anniversary of my move to Steubenville. I was only supposed to be here for two years…three tops. God, however, had other plans.

When people ask me why I haven’t left yet, I usually tell them,  “I have many sins for which I need to atone.” I’m only half joking.

That’s not to say there’s nothing to love in this rusty, corrupt, polluted old town. There are beautiful babies and beautiful families; holy, generous, souls, who give more of themselves to God in a day than I’ll likely give in a lifetime; and brilliant scholars, who see the truth of the world more deeply than I’ll ever see it. There’s real friendship and real community, here. There also are $600 mortgages for 4 bedroom homes.

I’m not entirely sure which would be the harder thing to leave: the community or the real estate market.

So, that’s what Steubenville has. What it doesn’t have is beauty…and…culture….and clean air. It’s also seriously lacking an Indian restaurant. For me, this is almost as big a problem as the chewy water. Accordingly, in order to keep my sanity about me, I’ve learned to satisfy my cravings for Indian food in my own kitchen. And if I do say so myself, the results of my effort aren’t half bad.

Serving Sun

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Creamy Polenta

It’s February, which means I’m in the middle of most  every self-employed writer’s personal hell—a.k.a. “tax season”—drowning in receipts and kicking myself for not being more organized. It’s an annual ritual. Accordingly, until I get all my little spreadsheets neatly filled out and sent off to the accountant, there won’t be much cooking going on around here. Right now, the roommates and I are mostly subsisting on roasted vegetables and polenta.

Table

Polenta is my go-to “I have no time to cook but my body insists on eating” dish. It’s also a handy staple for when all those gluten-free eating friends I mentioned on Tuesday come over for dinner. It goes with just about anything, costs little more than a box of pasta, and takes just over 15 minutes to make. That is to say, it takes just over 15 minutes to make when you do it my way.

Note: All Italian cooking purists should stop reading now. You won’t like what’s coming next.

Polenta Box

Cheese

Tomato Bowl

Bowl in sun

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Sausage, Kale, & Tomato Soup

Our pasts have a way of writing themselves on our bodies. At least for me, that’s especially true of my hands.

For example, the scar on my right index finger? That’s from the Christmas party in 2005 when I nearly sliced off the tip with a bread knife. The mark on my right thumb? A lemon zester in 2011. The massive scar on my right palm comes from a 2013 run-in with a chef’s knife. And the jagged line on my left index finger owes it beginnings to an aluminum can and a batch of Sausage, Kale, and Tomato Soup in 2007.

That whole “pasts writing themselves on our bodies” thing isn’t as romantic as it first sounded, right?

Regardless, the soup was totally worth it.

Soup

That 2007 injury, in particular, stands out, because it’s the only one that ever  sent me to the Emergency Room in the middle of a dinner party. Somewhere between browning the sausage and opening the cans of tomato sauce, I sliced my finger on the jagged edge of a can’s lid. At that point, like a good (albeit deranged) hostess, I wrapped my finger in gauze, held it aloft, and finished cooking the soup, dripping blood be damned.

Not until everyone was served, did I let my friend’s husband drive me to the hospital, leaving 20-plus adults and unknown numbers of children  to enjoy their dinner in my living room.

Apparently, the soup was a rousing success. Two hours later, when I returned home with my eight stitches, my friends were still there, but the soup was gone.

I know…some friends.

Spice Jars

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Bacon and Sage Risotto

You live, you learn. Case in point? The great cookie disaster of 1996.

In December of that year, during my senior year in college, I decided I wanted to show my friends how much I loved them. With Christmas fast approaching, cookies seemed the natural way to do that. So, in my little residence hall kitchen, I baked up batches and batches of the things. Unfortunately for my friends, I  did that baking during the height of the “lettuce and tuna” phase of my life, which means I baked “healthy” cookies…with applesauce instead of butter…and Equal instead of sugar.

Some of those friends still speak to me.

Eighteen years later, I am a far wiser and saner woman. Now, when I want to show my friends how much I love them, I make risotto.

Fork 1

This little act of generosity is, of course, fine by them. More than fine, actually. That’s because there is nothing that comes out of my kitchen that my friends like better than risotto. They don’t care what kind it is— Sausage and Tomato, Butternut Squash, Lemon and Scallops, Roasted Cauliflower and Pancetta, Spring Vegetables, Seafood, or today’s offering, Bacon and Sage. They eat it all.

The good thing is, there’s also nothing I like cooking better than risotto. When I’m standing over a pot of steaming, bubbling rice, I am Babette, stirring love, not just broth, into the dish.

All food is sacramental—a sign of God’s love and an occasion for grace. But risotto strikes me as more sacramental than most. I think it’s the constant stirring, the constant attention, the constant connection with the food. Cooking risotto demands more of me, and so it ends up giving more of me, more  of my love, to those I serve.

Then, of course, when it comes to this particular dish, there’s the bacon.

Bacon 4

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Lamb and Sweet Potato Stew

In my family, the men cook. At least most of them do. My brother-in-law Andy can’t boil water (or so my sister Annmarie claims), but the rest know their way around the kitchen, including my dad.

Mind you, that wasn’t always the case. When my sisters and I were little, our mom worked the occasional evening shift in a local bookstore. On those nights, Dad’s answer to the dinner question all too often involved eggs and pancakes. Our response to that menu, just as often, involved tears. To this day, none of us want anything to do with breakfast for dinner.

With time, however, Dad’s culinary skills improved, and a few years back, when I was home visiting, Mom went out for the evening and he whipped up a lamb and mushroom stew for us. This time, there were no tears.

Since then, I’ve played around with Dad’s original recipe quite a bit, including nixing the canned mushrooms (sorry Dad) and adding spiced sweet potatoes. Now, when the windows start to frost over, I head to the store in search of inexpensive lamb.

Last week, the windows did this:

Frost FR

 

Hence, lamb was on the menu.

The great thing about this stew is that it seems impressive. After all…lamb. But it’s actually a ridiculously simple dish. Also, if you find lamb shoulder on sale (which I did—thank you, Kroger), it’s as cheap as it is simple, making it a natural choice for a winter dinner party…or an easy family dinner. The groceries for the stew came in at just under $10. If there weren’t tomatoes in the freezer (put up from last summer’s garden), it would have cost $12.

Shrooms FR

Meat FR

 

Sp4

Tomatoes

 

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