A TABLE LES ENFANTS! DINNER’S READY!
Contrary to popular belief, I do cook meals for my family. Occasionally. I love weekends and vacations when JP does all of the cooking. That frees me up to think sweet. Admittedly, there are days when my family starts hovering around the kitchen looking for signs of something savory, something which may constitute a meal, stomachs growling, and sadly they only find cake. Or macarons. Or pie. Then general grumpiness ensues. Oh, tell me why, gods of the sweet tooth? Why do I feel such a weight on my shoulders to produce a luscious, tempting, savory meal each and every day for my three men? True, they – well, he – never complains about the occasional cheese-bread-banana for dinner if I’ve been overwhelmed with my blogging duties, nor will he willingly turn up his nose at a scrumptious dessert. But dried pasta with jarred sauce doesn’t always cut it. Not 3 days in a row. Simon, admittedly, is happy enough if there are frozen pizzas in the freezer and Clem just huffs and puffs then makes plans with friends to eat out.
But once in a while, something stirs me to action, a brisk walk through the market on a cool Autumn day, the tempting odor wafting out of a restaurant as I rush by, an exquisite dish pictured on someone’s blog or a lazy stroll through one of my favorite cookbooks and my imagination is revved, my taste buds a-tingle, my hand itching to be wrapped tightly around my beautiful kitchen knife, slicing, chopping, mincing. Thoughts of stirring thick sauces in pots simmering merrily on the stove make me shiver with sensuous pleasure, delightful fragrances tickling the nose of JP as he walks through the door after a long slog through the rat race, and I’m off, basket draped over my arm and list held tightly in my hand.
I keep returning to my childhood mealtimes, times filled with either delight or dread, depending on what was placed before us on the table. Mom’s dry-as-shoe-leather liver, the crispy, caramelized onions she whipped up to accompany it and the bottle of ketchup my only saving grace. Cabbage soup that I won’t even begin to describe. Or would it be something wonderful like Surprise Burgers or Tuna-Noodle Casserole, that old Girl Scout-inspired standby? Whatever was brought to the table, good or bad, it was served up like clockwork: 6:00 on the nose every evening, exactly half an hour after dad got home. Mom, like all mom’s everywhere, would lean out the back door and yell for us kids to get to the table. Sue and Andrew on one side of the table facing Michael and I on the other, mom and dad flanking us at either end. Walter Cronkite blaring in the other room so dad could listen all the way through to “And that’s the way it is…” We were all happy eaters, giggling and laughing throughout the meal, trying hard, as hard as kids can, to stay quiet, not a peep, so dad could listen to the news. Games played around the meal: who could eat the most broccoli or spinach and titles would be bestowed: Popeye for the evening or Biggest Tree-Eating Giant. As we got older, “getting Sue angry” would be mine and Michael’s own special game: look like we were simply concentrated on whatever wonder was on our plate yet, through grimaces and secret signs, make our older sister blow her top! And get yelled at by dad!
There would be rejoicing all around whenever we saw dad pull out the pancake griddle or fire up the charcoal grill out in front of the house! Weekends, then and now, cooking was, and is, The Man’s Job: breakfast for dinner or steaks and burgers tossed on the grill when it was dad, moules frites or Potée or Tagine for my well-traveled husband. We were, and are, assured of something wonderful on our plates, a culinary treasure, a voyage to another place.
We are fueled by our childhoods, influenced in ways we may or may not like to admit. Dinnertime is a ritual we repeat across generations, its importance in our daily lives essential to our cultural survival. It holds the family together, gathering around the table after a day running helter-skelter between school or work, lunches grabbed on the run or lunches swallowed over business deals. Dinnertime is a calm haven, a time to get to know each other over and over again, to laugh and to bond.
Sometimes I go simple, striving to create a homey atmosphere, everything and everyone in their rightful, comfortable place. Sometimes I pull out all the stops, spending hours pouring over cookbooks, baking fresh bread or muffins, flour flying, or bringing a little exotic mystery and wonderment to the table. Ever anxious to elicit oohs and ahhs from those able and willing to make their way to my kitchen table, like the best of those 1950’s television housewives, I throw all of my energy into choosing the right recipe and recreating yet another scrumptious meal.
Lately I have been on an Indian streak, and influenced by my Indian food blog friends I have made luscious Eggs and Chick Peas in an Indian-Style Cream Sauce and that incredible Aloo Gosht, Delhi-style Lamb and Potatoes served over Aromatic Saffron Rice and both proved to me how simple it is to make and serve such fragrant, rich, delicious, magical dishes. So, streak I am on. This wonderful, family-style Chicken Curry is a recipe from Meeta’s blog, What’s For Lunch, Honey? She does point out that it is her dad’s recipe. It is indeed easy to make and is mild enough, yet flavorful enough, to please all palates. My only complaint was that there was not enough of the delicious sauce, so next time I prepare this dish, I will double the proportions for everything except the amount of chicken and make twice as much sauce. Thank-you, Meeta, for a wonderful recipe enjoyed by all.
The perfect family meal!
1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces. You can also simply use 8 chicken drumsticks or drumsticks/thighs. I used 2 leg/thigh portions and 2 breast filets.
4-6 medium sized tomatoes – peeled and coarsely chopped.
1 medium onion - finely chopped
4 Tbs vegetable oil
1 ¼” (3 cm) piece ginger – peeled and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves - finely chopped
1-2 green chillies – seeds removed and finely chopped. The fiery hotness depends on your taste.
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp turmeric powder
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs yogurt – I used thick Greek yogurt
a small bunch of coriander leaves – chopped
In a large pan heat the oil and fry the chopped onions on a low to medium heat for 10 minutes. Stirring occasionally, gently brown the onions making sure they do not burn.
Add the chopped ginger, garlic and chili to the pan and continue frying for another minute or so.
Add the cumin, coriander and turmeric powders to the mixture and fry for another 2 minutes, stirring continuously so that the spices do not stick to the pan. Add salt and pepper.
Add the water and the tomatoes. Turn up the heat and bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Place the chicken pieces into the pan and coat with the sauce. Covered, allow the chicken to cook for 30-40 minutes over a low heat, turning the pieces of chicken every so often.
Now stir in the yogurt. Make sure the liquid does not boil after you have added the yogurt to it as it will get clumpy. Add half of the lime juice. Taste and if you like add some more.
Sprinkle chopped coriander leaves and serve with basmati rice or a pilaf.
I precooked the dish up until the addition of the yogurt and lime juice. I removed it from the heat, covered the pot and went with Simon to a cooking class we had signed up for. When we returned, I discovered that JP had finished the dish, gently reheating the chicken in the sauce and stirring in the yogurt and the lime. And he made simple, plain basmati rice to accompany it. Perfect!