Cooking to get the mental juices going

Last week was a heavy writing week. Some assignments caught up with me. Three excellent book reviews for the journal for which I serve as Review Editor came in. Each needed a little tweaking. Then the piece I was invited to contribute to a zoom this week crept up too quickly! Last week was actually been set aside to assemble my thoughts for this short, hopefully insightful statement.

When I write I usually collect my material, create an outline, then start filling. Along the way, the order of the points might change. Some might be eliminated or new thoughts added. Wordsmithing, or the art of polishing language, follows along the way as I review the progress. I call the process “cogitating,” letting the ideas swirl around and around in my head, to emerge when they have taken full or almost full shape.

How better to free your mind than by cooking. Not that cooking is a mindless endeavor, but I think different muscles in my brain are engaged. Based on what was in the ever-present larder, fridge, and freezer, two really good, somewhat complex dishes got my creative juices going. One came from the collection of recipes harvested and saved from unknown internet sources. The other was taken from one of my beloved, but neglected cookbooks.

Chicken with shallots. The recipe calls for 8 bone-in chicken thighs. I used a whole cut-up chicken with extra legs (they make good lunch for my daughter). Pat the chicken dry with paper towels, then sprinkle with 2-3 tbsp of flour, 1 tbsp kosher salt, and 1 tbsp black pepper. Melt 2 tbsp butter (or vegetable oil) in a skillet on a medium heat. Cook the chicken until well browned and crisp* on all sides, remove.

*My grad school best friend phoned and we’d not spoken for a long time. The chicken was a bit more browned than desired, still tasted great.

Add 12-15 whole peeled medium shallots, sauté until they become soft, 10-12 minutes. Add 2 cups of white wine and stir with a large spoon to deglaze the pot (scrape up all the stuff stuck on the bottom), add 2 tbsp Dijon mustard and 2 sprigs of tarragon. Return the chicken, including any drippings, to the pan. Cover and turn the heat to low, and simmer 30 minutes. Remove the lid and cook another 15-20 minutes for the sauce to reduce and thicken. If desired, add 2 cups of halved cherry tomatoes, and serve immediately. I added chopped mushrooms, a little improvisation.

Our meal included the last package of frozen Christmas-time gnocchi from Aldi along with steamed green beans and a salad.

Beef Bourguignon. I recently read Dearie, a biography of Julia Child by Bob Spitz. That and the package of sirloin tips in the freezer inspired our next meal. When Julia’s epic tome was published, she specified that the spine be configured to allow the book to remain open to the desired page. I used my trusty New Basics Cookbook* for this recipe and I need a paperweight hold it open. As always, some ingredients were missing. I also halved the recipe because I had only a little over a pound of meat. Nevertheless, the family enjoyed the result.

*This book has the most amazing cake recipe made with Chardonnay in it, makes a great wedding cake!

Preheat the oven at 350 degrees. You’re supposed to start by cooking 8 ounces of bacon until crisp. No bacon in our larder. In the bacon fat, or some oil, saute 3 pounds of beef chuck cut into 1-inch pieces until browned.

Add 1 cup of chopped onions, 3 tbsp flour, salt, and pepper. Cook over high heat stirring constantly for about 5 minutes. Add 3 cups of Burgundy wine, 3 cups of beef stock, 2 tbsp of tomato paste, and 1 tbsp chopped rosemary and bring to a boil. Cover and put in the oven for about 2 hours.

While the meat is cooking, boil 3-4 peeled and chopped carrots until tender, about 5-6 minutes. Drain and reserve. Saute 8 ounces of thinly sliced mushrooms* over medium heat.

*Chanterelles are recommended, I used large white mushrooms. You use what you have on hand!

Remove the meat from the oven to the stove over low heat. Add the vegetables, 2 cups of pearl onions, and 1 tbsp of red current jelly, heat thoroughly.

Serve over egg noodles with a steamed green vegetable.

Now back to my zoom assignment. One more run-through remains. Hope it goes well.


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