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My 19-year-old daughter is home from college, recovering from a tonsillectomy, and I couldn’t be happier. Not about the tonsils, mind you; I hate seeing her in so much pain. But with two kids out of the house, and one … Continue reading

Anytime Pasta

When the girls are home from college, all sense of time and reality are suspended. For a few precious weeks, we return to the days when they were babies, sleeping all day and awake most of the night. Winter break mandates that we loosen our grip on structure and routine as we have come to know it.  We submit to a less rigid lifestyle: no schedules, no plans, no predictable outcomes from day to day. It’s at once unsettling and deliriously perfect — and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

In this winter break fantasy land, breakfast never occurs before noon and lunch becomes obsolete. So when the chicks begin chirping in earnest long after the evening news has ended, the dinner question takes on a sense of near urgency. Fortunately the long months of less than satisfying fare on the college meal plan means that the kids will eat just about anything – as long as it has been cooked by me in our kitchen.

Here is my go-to dish when the clan is hankering for a hearty bowl of pasta. We like to scoop up each mouthful on hunks of crumbly fresh baguette. And even though the girls have returned to their respective college campuses and a  disconcerting quiet has settled on the house, I still choose this soul-satisfying meal every once in a while.  It’s quiet at the table, but there’s always spring break to look forward to.

Ah! A messy plate of pasta.

Anytime Pasta

Ingredients:
2 T olive oil
1 large onion, diced
3 garlic cloves minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes *
2 T. tomato paste
1-1/2 lbs. lean ground beef (ground turkey or chicken are both good substitutes)
1 t. nutmeg
1/4 T. sugar
1/2 T. dried oregano
1/2 T. dried basil
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. pasta **
grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

*As an alternative to the crushed tomatoes, you may use canned whole tomatoes and crush them by hand. This creates a chunkier texture to the sauce.
**Our family favorite is good old spaghetti, but any long pasta will do – fettuccine, linguine and the like.

In a dutch oven or large pot, sweat the onions in the olive oil and add garlic until aromatic, but not brown. Add tomatoes and tomato paste, bring to a simmer and cover.  While sauce is simmering, brown meat in a separate saute pan. Drain beef and add to tomato sauce, followed by remaining ingredients, except pasta. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Drain, reserving 1/2 c. of pasta water in case it is needed to thin the sauce.

Pour cooked pasta into a large, shallow bowl or platter, and top with meat sauce and grated cheese if desired.

The Family that Cooks Together

My daughter and I are collaborating on a cookbook. It’s not exactly a cookbook, per se, more like a shared compendium of recipes. We began the project at her request about a year ago, shortly after she returned from a semester abroad in Samoa. Something tells me that after four months of little more than taro, rice, coconut milk, and the occasional spit-roasted pork, she returned hungry–not simply for food, but for options.

Two years earlier, when she first left for college, I packed a copy of The Healthy College Cookbook in her duffle. Self-described as “quick, cheap, and easy,” the book was full of options for the the student seeking more than just dining hall fare. Honestly, if I had had access to recipes for “Easy Chicken Philly,” “BLT Taters,” and “Orange French Toast” as a young (and usually hungry) college coed, I’m thinking I would have learned how to fire up that skillet long before I got married.

In any case, I love that the students who wrote the Healthy College Cookbook, now all Williams College alumni, dedicated it to their families. I have a hunch that it was the mothers, fathers, siblings, and others with whom these first-time authors shared their tables that served as inspiration for the project. Let’s face it, when we are away from the ones we love, we hunger for more than just food. We long for the familiar company, conversation, sounds and smells that conjure happy memories and allow us to be ourselves.

Which brings me back to the mother-daughter recipe collection. It remains a work in progress; in fact, many pages are still blank. Which is the best part really, because the recipe book is more than a resource for those days when you just can’t decide what to make for dinner. It’s a reflection of our best days in the kitchen, our tried-and-true favorites, and our creative whimsy. It offers a glimpse into who each of us is and forever links us to one another. As long as there are pages to fill, the conversation will continue. Which is a good thing, because I still have a lot to learn.

Hangover Home Fries
Okay, no surprise here that this is one of my daughter’s contributions. Trust me, you will love these-hangover or not!

Ingredients:
3-4 potatoes, washed and diced. No peeling necessary*
1 large onion, diced or sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch (or more, according to your heat preference) dried hot pepper flakes
2 T olive oil
1 t dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste

*Feel free to pre-soak the potatoes in order to expedite the cooking process, although this is not necessary.

In a pan, sauté onions, garlic and hot pepper. When onions start to soften, add potatoes. The onions will ultimately crisp up, as potatoes will take some time to cook. Stir occasionally until potatoes start to brown around edges. Add rosemary, salt and pepper. Enjoy with ketchup or maple syrup.

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