Jonah is the last of my three boys/men to go off to college. I started worrying and grieving about two years ago. The thought of an empty nest terrified me. But, two years is a long time, I told myself, and I put off thinking about it. Sure, the reality crept in every now and then as I watched him tower over me and mature, but denial is a powerful thing to a mother.
This summer was a reality check. I had three, in the blink of an eye, months to drink in all I could and to impart whatever last minute wisdom I had on my youngest son.
Since Jonah is my third son, I learned a long time ago that the way to get a message across is as part of a larger conversation. Anything that seems and sounds like a lesson is going to get tossed in the discard pile if even heard at all.
Some of my messages would come as a sneak attack, like: ‘so how was school and, oh and by the way did you know that drinking your weight in alcohol will kill you?’ Others would be more of a plea, for instance: ‘you are so handsome and I love you and hope you don’t drink your weight in alcohol.’
Most of my messages were never verbal though. As a chef, I communicate through food. I pour my heart and soul into my creations. I show my love through small touches that have big flavor and carry messages of love and affection.
As my husband, who is also a chef recently said, EVEN YOUR GARNISHES HAVE GARNISHES! I have always cooked over the top, at work and at home. I don’t know how to stop potchke-ing and as the three months before Jonah left for school seemed to dissolve away, my cooking became more elaborate, all in an effort to say what I felt.
I was like this as each of my kids went away to school. I cooked favorite meals and poured my love into soufflés, soups, stews and roasts. I was determined that each kid miss my cooking and me.
I knew I had run out of time when I a trip to the farmer’s market yielded, end of the summer, tomatoes. I love tomatoes and normally celebrate their arrival. This year, I dreaded seeing them. The mom/chef in me took over and I grabbed tomatoes and concentrated my feelings into tomato soups, sauces and other tomatoey dishes.
All this culinary communication poured into meals and then Jonah left for college. Bittersweet times and flavors.
A mere 10 days after his departure, I received a text. I MISS HOMEMADE FOOD. Success was mine. I know the text indicated missing homemade food and not necessarily me, but I will grab the moment and run with it. My love went into every bite and that message was heard loud and clear,
This week, after the holiday, I am going to make some of Jonah’s favorites and when I go to visit him next week, I will arrive loaded with my love carefully packaged into small freezable containers.
Here is some of what I am taking with me.
MACARONI AND CHEESE CASSEROLE
My oldest son Zachary is also a champion for this recipe. I used to make this dish weekly. It is as comforting as a pair of fuzzy slippers, or a big hug from MOM.
Serves 6 generously
1 pound macaroni or favorite pasta shape (I use whole wheat pasta)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups milk (I use whole milk for this)
½ teaspoons fresh grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons hot sauce
3 cups shredded cheddar cheese or a mix of favorite cheeses (I use white sharp cheddar, Swiss and blue)
1 cup sour cream
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
For the crunchy topping
We have had family conversations regarding the pros and cons of a bread crumb topping for the casserole. After much discussion, the bread crumbs are in due to their texture and salty crunch.
½ cup bread crumbs (Panko* is perfect for this)
2 tablespoons melted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Pre-heat oven to 350. Bring a large saucepan with water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente (about 10 minutes depending upon size of pasta). Drain and set aside.
2. Place a large sauté over medium heat. Melt 3 tablespoons of butter. Add chopped shallot and garlic. Cook until light golden brown (about 3 minutes) Add flour and stir together. Cook the mixture for several minutes to cook out the raw flour flavor.
3. In a separate pan heat the milk until simmering. Add all at once to flour mixture. Whisk to prevent lumps. Cook until thickened (about 3-5 minutes). Add the nutmeg and hot sauce and whisk until combined.
4. Remove from heat. Add grated cheese and stir until melted.
5. Stir sour cream with cooked pasta. Add cheese mixture and stir to combine. Place in a lightly greased casserole.
6. Combine bread crumbs with melted butter and sprinkle on top of casserole. Bake at 350 until bubbly and golden (about 30 minutes).
7. Serve with salad. The macaroni and cheese casserole can be made 1 day ahead of serving and can be assembled but not baked and held in the refrigerator.
I start craving this dish in the autumn when the nights are cool. The dish is easily doubled or tripled for a crowd. It is perfect for your Sukkah or anytime.
2 ½ pounds beef chuck-cut into 2 inch pieces
1 bottle red wine (I like a hearty Pinot Noir for this)
1 spring rosemary
Several sprigs fresh thyme
½ cup flour
2 leeks-light green parts only-sliced thinly
2 carrots-peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 stalk celery-cut into large pieces
4 cloves garlic-peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 cup chicken stock
2 cups mushrooms-cut into ½ (use cremini, button or shiitake)
1 cup pearl onions-blanched, shocked and peeled
1. Place the meat and the wine in a zip-loc bag or container with a tight fitting lid. Be sure each piece of meat is covered by the wine. Let the meat marinate over night or at least 4 hours.
2. Preheat oven to 300.
3. Heat a large Dutch oven or sauté pan, lightly coated with olive oil, over medium heat.
4. Remove the meat from the wine and pat dry, reserve the wine. Salt and pepper each piece of meat. Dredge the meat in the flour and brown on all sides (about 5 minutes per side). Do this in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan.
5. Brown the vegetables in the same pan and cook until they are browned (about 10 minutes).
6. Add the wine to the pan with the tomato paste and lightly stir to gather the browned bits left in the pan by meat. Add the chicken stock and stir together.
7. Place the meat and vegetables in a large Dutch oven or casserole with a lid. Pour the wine over the meat and add the fresh herbs.
8. Braise the beef until it is tender and releases easily when pierced with a fork (about 2½-3 hours).
9. Sauté the mushrooms and onions until lightly browned and caramelized (about 5-7 minutes).
10. Add the mushrooms and onions to the beef.
11. Serve with pasta, mashed potatoes or roasted garlic-potato galette
ROASTED GARLIC-POTATO GALETTE
This is really a pretty potato dish and is my son Ari’s favorite. It has all the crispiness of potato chips with a creaminess of mashed potatoes. It is a snap to make and can make any cook look like a pro! I recommend using a Teflon or non-stick pan to make this dish as it makes flipping the galette easier. I have pans that are dedicated for specific uses and this is one of those dishes that has its own pan!
1 head garlic
¼ cup white wine
4 Russet potatoes-peeled
1 t. fresh thyme-chopped
1 t. fresh chives-chopped
1 t. fresh flat leaf parsley-chopped
Salt and pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil
1. Preheat oven to 350. Cut the head of garlic 7/8 of the way off the flowering end. Salt and pepper the large piece of garlic as needed. Sprinkle a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic. Place the garlic in a small baking dish or small sauté pan. Pour the white wine in the pan and cover tightly with foil. Roast the garlic until the cloves are very soft and can be squeezed out of the head (about 1 hour).
2. Cool the garlic before handling. Squeeze the garlic cloves from the head and mash with a fork. Using a mandolin or Asian slicer, slice the potatoes into paper thin rounds. Place the cut potatoes into a large bowl and liberally toss them with Extra Virgin olive oil. Salt and pepper as needed. Add the herbs, the roasted garlic and toss the mixture. Place an 8-10 inch sauté pan over medium-low heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil. Layer the potatoes in the pan so that they overlap and cover the bottom of the pan. The bottom layer is the layer that will be seen, so make it fairly even. Add the rest of the potatoes and spread them evenly. Slowly brown the potatoes until the bottom layer is browned and can be shaken loose (about 30 minutes).
3. Invert the potatoes onto a plate and slide the uncooked side into the pan, or, flip the potatoes over and place the pan into the oven.
4. Continue cooking the potatoes until the under side is browned and can be shaken loose (about 30 minutes).
5. Remove the potatoes and cut into wedges. Place a wedge on a plate or shallow bowl and top with beef Bourguignonne and some of the braising liquid.