Polenta with Decadent Mushrooms


Remember when I wrote last week about being so inspired by recipes in magazines? It happened again, all because of the glorious picture I’ve posted above. The recipe, once you look at it closely, is nothing fancy or complicated at all. Polenta, made a little richer with milk rather than all water. Mushrooms, both fresh and dried, sautéed with an extra hit of butter, soy sauce, and cream — just a tablespoon of each, but that makes all the difference between a meager sauté and something a bit more special to cook for your family.

Unless, of course, your family includes people who cry at the sight of sautéed mushrooms, don’t like anything mushy, and shy away from salt.

My first step was biding my time, waiting until the mushroom-loathing eight-year-old was out (at a basketball game with his dad and grandfather, who would have loved the dinner, but tough; I had a recipe to try and I was getting impatient). Step two was selling the no-mush twelve-year-old on the idea of broadening his palate to consider new textures, not just the new flavors I am usually peddling. As for the salt, to which my mother is acutely sensitive; well, I hoped the single tablespoon of soy sauce wouldn’t be too much, but it concentrates so much as it cooks down, I needed to thin the sauce with extra mushroom-soaking water. It’s a little less decadent that way, but she liked it. The twelve-year-old liked it. And I, sitting at the table with them, talking and eating, I didn’t really care what it tasted like…but I liked it, too.

image source



I have over a hundred cookbooks, but there’s something so enticing about a recipe in a magazine. It’s beautifully photographed. It’s alone — not buried in a book full of other recipes — and yet often accompanied by recipes to make a whole meal. And did I mention the beautiful photography?

I tear recipes out of magazines all the time. I don’t even (currently) subscribe to any food magazines, but they come in the New York Times magazine section and other less likely sources. They accumulate on a particular spot on the kitchen counter until I gather them up and rest them above the cookbooks on the kitchen shelf (I don’t put them into my binder of torn-and-saved recipes until I have tested them.) When I grab a cookbook off the shelf, the loose recipes often tumble off the shelf, floating down to the floor like so many onion skins. Periodically, I sort through them and wonder what seemed so special about pasta with walnut-parsley pesto, anyway? (Probably the photograph).

But recently I went from tearing to testing very quickly, and have now made Mark Bittman’s easy tortilla recipe so many times, I know it by heart. We keep a lump of dough in the breadbox, and Eli smooshes some out every morning and makes himself a fresh tortilla for breakfast.

It’s not revolutionary, eating tortillas, but making them by hand is, for us. It turns an everyday element of our weekly dinner routine into something a little more special. It makes us plan ahead a bit (the tortilla dough takes all of five minutes to bring together, but is best if it rests half an hour or so before cooking), and makes us slow down a bit as we roll (or smoosh) and cook. It gets the kids in the kitchen and gives the adults time for a leisurely cocktail before dinner. Win, win, win.

My favorite way to eat them is as I’ve shown above, with some sautéed chard and roasted sweet potatoes, a dollop of guacamole, and a drizzle of salsa.

Now excuse me while I go sort through my recipes and find something to make for dinner…

Angry Tofu

Food is love, they say and I do believe. I aspire to family meals prepared and shared with love.

But sometimes family meals take a rougher road to the table. Sometimes the cooking is a hasty chop-heat-stir-and-serve, and sometimes it’s even worse, a pot-crashing, ingredient-flinging, plate-slamming scene.

So it was the other night. There was a question about homework, and my answer didn’t satisfy. I tried again, and my — clearly tired, hungry — child moved suddenly from confused to frustrated. He started to cry. I tried again to help and he raised his voice, wanting my help still but disagreeing with what I was offering. I walked away. He followed me into the room, whimpering, the sound grating on me, emphasizing my failure to help–with homework, with disappointment, with anything.

I tried to ignore him to cook, and I’m lucky I didn’t lose a finger, I was so reckless about it. I knew he wouldn’t like the dish — Food 52’s black bean orange peel edamame — and felt small that I was taking some pleasure in that. I wiped out the pan before cooking the tofu, but didn’t wash it thoroughly, and figured the garlicky-orange tang on the tofu would bother him, too. By then, I had calmed down enough to feel a little bad about that, but still not enough to go to any extra effort.

We sat down for dinner quietly and served some food. The half of the family witnessing the storm made an extra effort to praise the meal, and he took a cautious bite. “This tastes different, “ he said, and I braced myself for some complaint; “I like it.”

And I exhaled, and took a bite, and we moved on with the evening.

Spinach Chilaquiles


Sometimes, I wander into the kitchen, hungry or pursued by hungry children, with a clear idea of how to satisfy that hunger. More often, I need to poke around in cupboards and the fridge before I can figure it out. Then there’s what happened the other day: a plan that I’d been hatching in the back of my mind — ruminating on it while I answered email, went for a run, edited two essays and went about the rest of my morning — took a detour when I opened the fridge.