Tuesday, October 23, 2012

a momentary welling of joy

A year or two ago, I listened to a radio interview with one of the owners of Canlis, arguably Seattle’s finest restaurant. The essence of what I heard sticks with me to this day. He described mistakes in the kitchen as opportunities for learning, growth; something his mother taught him long ago. I have disasters on a major scale, minor disappointments, and everything in between in my day-to-day life in the kitchen. Upon my questioning, one of my boys might say he likes, but doesn’t love, something I’ve made, and I’ll say that I agree, if I do, and offer my thoughts about the reason for the outcome, if I have any. “Yes, I overcooked/underseasoned that. Next time, this is what I think I’ll try to do differently.” “It would’ve worked better if I’d sliced those more thinly, I think.” “I’d like to try it another way I read about some time.” And so on.

I attended a talk today in which the speaker raised the question of when we play. I had to think about it. I decided my primary play is probably in the kitchen, in making something from scratch, trying something new, especially at a time when I might have taken a shortcut. I like to think these efforts also convey a sense of warmth to my family in harder times; in the days of full schedules and homework loads; a momentary welling of joy. A breakfast of pancakes or eggs on a chilly school morning when the expectation might have been a bowl of cereal; a dinner of comfort, even if eaten in a rush on the way to a practice.

When I shop, I generally don’t bring a list. I work my way through the store a couple of times a week, starting with produce. I see what looks good; what’s new since I was last there; as I slowly wind my way through each section. I mentally construct meals as I push my cart. Sometimes I get home regretful of not having thought to buy a certain ingredient, but generally it works for me. I have a theory that this approach also sharpens my memory – trying to recall recipes; memorizing what we’re running low on rather than writing it down – akin to the way working crossword puzzles is supposed to cut down on the risk of Alzheimer’s.

I love any friend who brings up braising over tea. Last week, Kira told me about a recipe that involves braising beans and leeks together. I remembered our conversation as I shopped yesterday morning. After I ate lunch, I pulled out the book she said the recipe was from, and got a pot going before I went to pick up the boys from school. There is very little, it seems, that doesn’t stand to benefit from the slow, barely-simmering method. I know I'll be making this combination again and again.

Braised White Beans and Leeks
From The Sprouted Kitchen

1 pound dried white runner or cannellini beans, rinsed and picked over
3 large leeks
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 celery stalks, diced
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons herbes de Provence
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup shredded mozzarella
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Soak the beans, uncovered, in a large bowl of cold water for at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Drain and set aside.

Arrange a rack in the lower third of your oven. Preheat to 225F.

Trim the leeks, discarding the tough green tops. Halve them vertically, and rinse well in cold water, cleaning out any dirt trapped between the layers. Slice into thin half circles.

In a large Dutch oven or ovenproof casserole, warm the olive oil. Add the celery, garlic and leeks, and cook until the vegetables are softened, 3-5 minutes.

Add the beans, thyme, herbes de Provence, and red pepper flakes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the vegetable broth and ½ cup water, and bring the mixture to a gentle boil. Cover the pot with an ovenproof lid or cover it tightly with foil. Place it in the oven and cook, checking occasionally to make sure the pot is never dry, until the beans are soft throughout but not falling apart, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. If the pot seems dry, add water in ½ cup increments and stir once or twice. Adjust the salt and pepper as necessary.

Remove the pot from the oven and turn the heat up to 500F. Sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan on top of the bean mixture and put the pot back in the oven, leaving the lid off. Cook until the cheese is completely melted and brown in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Yield: 6-8 servings


emily said...

i feel like a broken record when i say how much i'm enjoying your writing lately, lecia. and i'm looking forward to trying this recipe.

Denise | Chez Danisse said...

I'm with Emily.

likeschocolate said...

Sounds yummy! Did the children like the recipe!

Lecia said...

Emily, Denise: Thank you, friends. Let me know what you think!

likeschocolate: they did!

Anonymous said...

We are finishing up a horrible stomach flu, and with my CSA share delivery yesterday I had everything to make this. We are a gf df family so I sadly omitted the cheese, but I think it will be just as warm and filling! Thanks for sharing, been meaning to pick up a copy of the book. And I too adore your photography and writing.
Neighbor in the South (Lake Tapps)

molly said...

How did I not bookmark this in the SK book? Off to fix that. And to work this into our schedule.

Best of luck on the middle school search, Lecia. It is a time of transition, to be sure.


Francesca said...

I"m both overjoyed and surprised to have found someone else (an American!) in the blogosphere who goes grocery shopping without a list. I've always wondered about the argument which so many people advocate, that grocery lists are an efficient and, even, a frugal way to shop (i.e. you're not tempted to overbuy). Seems to me that such lists work only for non perishable food, because, how can you know what's fresh in your store before going there? And because
"food is rarely just food, after all", as you write, I'm convinced that we'd eat better and spend less if we shopped with all of our senses alert, instead of staring at a list.

chai ling said...

2.11pm. typing this up from my new desk. i have just moved in to a new town. a new neighborhood. when things surrounded me are all brand new, i am glad when i log onto the internet i found myself doing something not new. reading your blog is a good habit i keep. and i always finish it with a fresh thought learning something new. this kitchen post and grocery shop fits well into my new and 1st kitchen. you are like an old friend living far, lecia.

KPiep said...

I so wish I enjoyed cooking! For me it's just about the worst chore...made even more unpleasant by our restrictions (even though I'm at peace with those now). Rather perversely, I do enjoy reading/watching about those who truly love it.