Perfect Roasted Potatoes

I understand that it is August and you are likely in no frame of mind to crank your oven to 425.  I won’t even try and convince you that you should.  What I will do is ask that you please bookmark this page and give it some clever title in your computer so that you will be constantly reminded that once the mercury dips below Hades, you have a date with Perfect Roasted Potatoes.

I recall reading a similar recipe back in my CI days.  I think I may have even pulled the page out and tucked it away into my recipe folders.  And then we had that ugly breakup and throwing away their roasted potato recipe was the culinary equivalent of deleting them from my cell phone or destroying all the mix tapes they made me.  It hurt but it was the right thing to do.

However, The Universe apparently believed that Perfect Roasted Potatoes and I were destined to meet.  Because The Universe guided my browser over to Chocolate and Zucchini where Clotilde effusively described how this recipe transformed her into a perfect potato roaster.  Who am I to scoff at the combined wisdom of The Universe, Clotilde, and Pascale and her mother in law?

So now that you are reading this, you are also presented with this wisdom.  Use it wisely.

Perfect Roasted Potatoes

Adapted from Chocolate and Zucchini

BAH Note:  I may have gotten a little impatient with my potatoes and didn’t let all of them get the lovely golden crust the results from the banged up surface of the parboiled potatoes being roasted.  But believe me, the crust is magical and the potatoes really are perfect.

  • 2 1/2 pounds potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • kosher salt

Heat the oven to 425 degrees and line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.  Fill a pot large enough to  hold all your potatoes with cold water and and set on the stove.

Peel your potatoes, or partially peel if using smooth skinned potatoes, cut them into bite sized chunks, and place them in the pot.  Cover the pot and bring the water to a boil over high heat.  Once boiling, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 5 minutes.

As soon as the water begins to boil, add the vegetable oil to the sheet pan and place it in the oven while the potatoes cook.

After the potatoes have simmered for 5 minutes, drain them and return them to the pot.  Put the lid back on and carefully but firmly shake the potatoes around inside the pot.  You want the surface of the potatoes to get a little banged up so they will form a crust in the oven.

Carefully remove the hot sheet pan from the oven and transfer the potatoes onto it.  Generously sprinkle with kosher salt and use a heat resistant spatula or spoon to make sure the potatoes are well coated with the hot oil.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a paring knife meets no resistance when inserted .  The exterior will have a golden crust and the inside will be light and fluffy.  Enjoy these immediately.

{printable recipe}

Fine Cooking’s Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

I’ve had pork on my mind.  Which is really something I never anticipated coming from an anti-barbecue background.  It took baby steps to get me here.  Some Andy Nelsons pulled pork love here.  Some Urban BBQ deep fried brisket in an eggroll happiness there. I have come to appreciate the simple beauty of a meat and two sides platter…not to mention a lemonade perfumed with some of Kentucky’s finest distilled spirits.

Just recently The Mistah and I paid a call to Mr. Andy Nelson where we commented that the old auto shop that serves as overflow seating is absolutely perfect.  We speculated that down south, where barbecue is a noun instead of a verb, the best eating would likely be found someplace like that…a little forgotten structure on the side of the road with sauce stained wooden tables and sticky floors.  I hope to test this theory extensively in the future.

Until then, I will have to be content to either make a run for carry out when the pork invades my thoughts or work some pulled pork magic in my own kitchen.  Thanks to the folks at Fine Cooking, I can do that. And so can you.

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Adapted from Fine Cooking

  • 4 pounds pork shoulder, bone in or boneless, trimmed
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 3 or 4 dashes hot sauce
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Combine the sliced onion, 1/3 cup vinegar, brown sugar, cumin, chili powder and 1 teaspoon salt in the insert of a slow cooker.  Add the pork and coat it completely with the mixture.  Cover and cook on low 7 to 8 hours or 5 to 6 hours on high until the pork is tender and falling apart.

Carefully transfer the pork to a cutting board.  Shred the pork, discarding the bone (if applicable) and fat.  Whisk the tomato paste, hot sauce, remaining vinegar and salt into the juices.  Add the shredded pork and any accumulated juices back to the slow cooker and stir to combine.  Taste for seasoning and add additional salt, vinegar, and hot sauce as desired.

{printable recipe}

Prelude To A Post

One week.  Seven days.  Too many hours, minutes, and seconds to calculate.  I hope I’ve used this time wisely.  Like a crab that has just sloughed off its shell, I’ve felt exposed and vulnerable.  So I’ve retreated to places that feel safe.  But I’ve also ventured out, reached out, because I know I can’t stay hidden away.

I have been humbled by the outpouring of support generated by my words.  Both in person and online, I have felt caring and compassion.  So it felt wrong to go from a place of such powerful words one day to a recipe for chicken bake the next.  And I made a decision to cancel the posts that had been scheduled for the rest of last week.  But just as I can’t stay locked away in the hopes of avoiding pain, this space I have created can’t stay fixed on that emotion.

I’ve mentioned before that I write my posts and schedule them to publish in advance.  That’s the only way I can balance all that I want to do with all that I have to do.  And it keeps this space from spiraling out of control and completely consuming my life.  I say that because I won’t publish a post that was written after this experience until sometime well into the fall.  In my mind there is a discord between the words that have already been written and the ones that are to come.  I can’t imagine that something won’t be changed, won’t feel or sound different, when I sit down and tackle the mountain of recipes that need to be posted.

I will be interested to see if that’s the case when the new stories are written.  Will there be an obvious shift or will it be something subtle, almost undefinable?  And it will be interesting to see if any of the posts that publish in the interim will take on any new significance to me reading them through a different filter.

Thankfully, I have the freedom to take my time and let the words come to me.

Big Summer Potluck 2011

I have said time and time again that The Universe gets me to the places I need to be at the exact moment that I need to be there.  I may not even realize in the moment that something profound is happening. Or there may be an awareness that washes over me that I need to pay attention.  I may not know why, I just know that I do.  And at a later time, the why makes itself known.

I have also made a confession or two here on the blog.  They have been tongue in cheek confessions but it would not be dishonest to say that I use this platform the way some people use religion.  Through this blog I have found a community that is overflowing with love, understanding, support, and encouragement.  Being in the presence of the people I have met as a result of BAH brings me peace and lifts me up.  It touches me deeply to share time in their presence and to share a meal of communion with them, in a way that religion and church never has.

So it really should not have been unexpected that at some point in my life these two bricks in my foundation should intersect.  And on July 30th, in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania, at Big Summer Potluck 2001, that’s exactly what happened.

My cell phone was put away.  I wasn’t checking email or tweeting.  I made a conscious decision to be in the moment…to give up control.  I was listening to Shauna Ahern speak.  We were at a blogging event so ostensibly her remarks were about this activity we all engage in.  And yet, it was so much more.  I can’t speak for anyone else in that room, but as Shauna’s words reached me I heard her telling me that it’s ok to be vulnerable, to face my fears, and not to let myself get in my own way of finding happiness and success. Not just in blogging, but in life.  That sometimes there are thing that you absolutely have to say and trying to ignore them will simply give them more power.  In that moment, I knew why I have struggled so mightily with finding the words for BAH.  I have been trying to ignore the words that needed to be said because they scared me.  In my mind, I could pick out on one hand when I was truly being authentic instead of merely filling space to get to a recipe.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

Then at lunch, in a completely unrelated conversation, I finally admitted to myself that I was filled with sadness because I did not have a single happy childhood memory of a time with my parents.  They had divorced when I was very young. I had absolutely no context of them together.  And through my experience as their child, I could not wrap my mind around what had brought them together in the first place.

It was being out of my normal routine, away from the usual barriers that I put up to avoid this truth, that I finally acknowledged it.  There was no laundry to do, no dishes to wash, no food to cook.  Once those were stripped away and I was surrounded by these people who valued me for me that I could finally have the courage to admit to my own profound sense of loss and regret. It was powerful in a way that I could have never anticipated.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

Later in the afternoon, Penny De Los Santos spoke about capturing moments and making pictures.  She spoke of patience and waiting for the moment and being able to connect to another person through the camera.  She painted vivid pictures for us with her words instead of her photographs.  There were tears in the room as she painted these pictures.  Tears of humility and vulnerability.  Tears of acknowledgment. Tears of sadness.  And then I thought that was where the lesson ended.

We shared in a wonderful dinner.  We raised our glasses to one another and the sense of community that we shared.  We hugged…we hugged a lot.  And we cried….both quietly during presentations about our own fears and anxieties and openly during one on one conversations.  This was no mere “blogging conference”.  This was more.  It was a retreat.  It was spiritual.  It was people being vulnerable and human and asking for acceptance and validation.  And through the tears, there was comfort and acceptance.  I felt validated and accepted for me…that I was a good person worthy of good things.  And I thought that was where the lesson ended.

At the end of the day, back at the hotel, I finally pulled out my phone.  And I saw a string of missed calls and messages from family members.  And I knew that whatever had been said in those messages was not good.  Both of my parents were terminally ill.  One was in hospice care and the other had recently undergone another round of treatment to try and prolong the inevitable.  It was merely a question of which parent it was.

It was my mother.

We had a difficult relationship.  I had drawn a boundary over the years.  We did not communicate.  I made a point of not being in the same place as she was if I could.  I could not reconcile my sense of empathy for her as a person with my sense of disappointment for the pain that she had caused me a a parent.  I knew that she was terminally ill.  I had struggled over the last few weeks about whether I should go and see her. I got updates through my siblings.  I drove my grandmother to see her only child in hospice, but I did not go in.  From the outside it looked as though I was cold and uncaring.  But I protected myself…I carried too much hurt at her hands.  I could not imagine what words she could ever say to bring me to a place of forgiveness.  I thought that her death would merely be a physical end to the emotional relationship that I had walked away from years ago.  I expected it to be easy.  To be a relief.

And then suddenly, I was faced with the reality that I knew was coming.  Her life had ended.  And in as much as I place my faith, whatever it is I have, in The Universe, I knew that I was where I needed to be to get that news.  I was not alone.  I was surrounded by people who could never possibly understand the significance that their presence played in that moment.  I was surrounded by warm embraces and hugs that forever linked me to the people behind them.  I reached out to my community and they gave me unconditional support.

I reached out to a friend who knew me; knew the situation and the dynamic.  As I sat on the floor of the bathroom, sobbing, she gave me a safe space.  She gave me refuge to say that I didn’t know how to feel.  And the next morning, surrounded by the people who are my community, my tribe, they collectively embraced me.  Both those with whom I had shared this information and those who had no idea…who thought the sunglasses at breakfast were because I had enjoyed my wee box of wine too much the night before.  And I thought the hard part of the lesson was over.

I drove home and got back to my life. To the dirty litter box and the dirty laundry.  To the messages in my voicemail and the dishes that needed to be put away.  To my grandmother who now had lost both her husband and her only child.  And my heart ached for her loss; not for my own.  I could not fathom how forsaken it must feel to lose the people you love; to outlive most of the people you know.  I did not sleep that night.

I drifted between dozing off and realizing that I was wide awake.  The minutes passed like hours and the hours were days.  And in the morning, with the sun streaming brightly through the window, the world had kept moving on.  Death didn’t stop it.  Tears didn’t stop it.  It just kept going.

As I left the house that morning, I realized that I hadn’t brought in the mail when I got home the day before.  Opening the mailbox, there was a bright yellow envelope.  Canary yellow.  Sunshine yellow.  The return address was my mother’s.  I took it and walked to the car not knowing what to expect when I opened the envelope.  When I did, the typewritten words on the page made me angry at first.  I had no idea that someone could reach out from beyond the grave to try and manipulate my feelings.  But as I read further, pieces of a puzzle that I hadn’t realize I was working on fell into place.  Halfway down the page, I read:

“I don’t know if anyone has told you this or not, but your mother has been talking to you on your blog for years…All those stories about her mother were actually stories of her childhood and your grandmother.  She did not do this to hurt you.  She did it because she wanted to be close to you  and it was the only way she could have any contact with you.  She is very proud of you and all that you have become…”

I didn’t even have to read the name that was given in the letter to identify her on my blog.  In my heart, I had known.  There was always something familiar about her.  Always something that didn’t quite add up with the comments that she would leave and the facts that she would give.  There were moments in our correspondence through the blog that I nearly came out and asked her who the hell she really was.  But I never did.

In that immediate split second, I heard Shauna’s voice in my head saying that our first instinctual response is our true response and that everything after that is our internal editor trying to create a socially acceptable response.  And my first response was that without knowing what I  needed to hear, my mother had finally given me the validation that I needed.  That by doing what we essentially all do and being someone else online, she had finally been able to speak to me in a way that I could hear and cut beyond the anger and hurt.  I could see her as just a name on a comment and not be weighed down by a lifetime of a disappointing relationship and unmet expectations.

The irony is that it was easier to be the best version of myself, the person that I hope I really am, to someone with whom I have no intimate relationship.  It was easier to be free and kind and caring towards someone who I didn’t associate with pain and neglect and contempt.  And while it makes me sad that the two of us could never be these people to one another in real life, I am so profoundly grateful for the knowledge that she  wanted to and found a way to connect with me in a way that actually did respect the boundaries that I had established.

As a parent, and as a person, she had many flaws.  And as a daughter, and a person, I have many flaws as well.  But as two people who corresponded through my blog, I think perhaps we were able to be the best versions of ourselves to one another.  If I can take the gift that she gave me and finally get to a place of forgiveness, then I think the second half of my life could be much happier than the first half.  If I can consciously make an effort to let go of the weight that I have carried for forty years, then maybe I can see the happiness in the small, quiet moments and recognize them for being the perfection that they are.  And maybe, just maybe, I can be a little more forgiving of myself and those closest to me.

If you have read this far, have stuck with a very stream of consciousness rambling with very little editing (and no spell check), I thank you.  This post is not so much about the events and activities of Big Summer Potluck 2011 as much as it is about me selfishly using this space to finally say that I have been sad and angry for a long time and that a weekend in a converted barn in rural Pennsylvania took me a few steps further on my journey to moving beyond that.  That was the lesson. That was my church where The Universe knew I needed to be.

To those of you that were part of that weekend, I thank you for your support, even when you didn’t realize you were giving it.  To those who knew and hugged me extra long, you will always have a special place in my heart.  To Shauna, who sparked that first moment of realization, I would not have had the courage to say these things if you had not shared your story with us.  I hope that through my words, I have painted as memorable a picture as Penny De Los Santos did.  In their own way, both of these incredibly strong women inspired me.

Risotto Style Pasta with Chicken and Mushrooms

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I’m going to disagree with the folks at Epicurious, Merriam-Webster,,,, and countless other resources that define Risotto as a rice dish.  If I’ve heard Anne Burrell say it once, she’s said it a hundred times, risotto is a method of cooking.  But we’ve all basically shorthanded it so that it generally refers to the final product instead of the method.  I’d like you to reconsider that.  And The Minimalist is going to help.

I should say that Risotto Style Pasta is more involved than dumping your pasta into boiling water and walking away for 8 minutes.  Risotto style pasta requires hands on participation.  It needs you to whisper sweet nothings into the pot while you gently stir the broth and pasta.  What you’ll get in return is a love letter to creamy al dente perfection.

I don’t know about you, but I think we could all use a love letter every now and then.  I mean image how much happier the world could be if we all got love letters; if we all felt important and special; if we all had a belly full of satisfying creamy pasta with chicken and mushrooms.  Maybe one day we will thank The Minimalist for his contribution to world peace.

Risotto Style Pasta with Chicken and Mushrooms

Adapted from Mark Bittman

BAH Note:  According to The Minimalist’s recipe, it looks like you can use almost any kind of pasta….cut pasta like ziti or long pasta like spaghetti.  I wouldn’t go for extremely thin pastas like angel hair, or any fresh or refrigerated pasta, you need them to be able to stand up to a fair amount of cooking without falling apart.  If you happen to have leftover cooked chicken on hand, I would add that in at the very end instead of dicing up raw chicken and cooking it with the pasta.  I thought the leftovers a day or two later were even better than what we served up right off the stove.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1/2 pound orzo
  • 1/2 cup white wine (optional)
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 3 or 4 boneless chicken thighs
  • grated parmesan

Carefully dice the chicken thighs and set them aside.

Heat the olive oil in a dutch oven or large skillet over medium heat.  Add the shallot and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms begin to brown, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.

While the mushrooms cook, bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a medium saucepan.

Add the pasta and diced chicken to the pot with the mushrooms and stir so that it gets completely coated with the oil in the pot.  Add the wine, if using, or 1/2 cup of the broth and let the liquid cook down.

Add the remaining broth in 1/2 cup increments, stirring frequently.  You want most of the liquid in the pot to evaporate before you add more.  After about 10 minutes, the pasta should be close to al dente.  Continue to cook to your desired doneness, taste for seasoning, and add salt as needed.

Serve garnished with grated parmesan.

{printable recipe}