What I Eat On Dates

So, since I last wrote I've been working very hard to find someone to kiss on New Year's Eve. And I'm happy to report that I might. actually. have. done. it. (!) But, since NYE is 10 months away, I don't want to jinx it. Anything can happen, I guess, and I don't find myself in this position that often. We'll see. 

In the meantime it's a struggle to fit it all in falling in love (with someone who lives kinda far away); helicopter parenting; doing my job; trying to write, etc....  And, of course, I'm riddled with guilt is it okay to run down to New York for a weekend for theater and oysters and sex? Or should I stay at home with my kid fulfilling her every need until she's off on her own, which is at least two years away? Are you ever done being a mother... or, if not "done," can the balance ever be tipped in the other direction... even just a little? Is it okay to have it be my turn?

What I Make At Home

Luckily, when life seems too complicated, food is a way to take care of us both, and one thing that S and I both agree on is that Martha Stewart's Macaroni and Cheese 101 is a perfect comfort meal on a late winter Sunday night. 

Of course it's delicious on it's own, but I like to add a bunch of stuff like chorizo, tomatoes, and lacinato (Tuscan) kale with lots of dried chile de árbol. But I'm on a mission not to be controlling, so I'll let you decide for yourselves. Martha's original recipe serves 12; I've halved it here for a cozy, easy, non-entertaining size. If you're trying to find someone to kiss on New Year's Eve, you might want to have a salad instead, but I suggest just letting it go ignore the millions of calories and enjoy. There will be even more for you to kiss.

Macaroni and Cheese 101
Adapted from the Martha Stewart Living Cookbook

Serves 6
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, plus more for casserole
3 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4- to l/2-inch pieces
2 1/4 cups whole milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoons coarse salt, plus more for water
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 1/4 cups (about 9 ounces) grated sharp white cheddar cheese
1 cup  (about 4 ounces) grated Gruyère or 3/4 cupc (about 4 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese (I usually use a combination
 1/2 pound elbow macaroni

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter a 1 1/2-quart casserole dish; set aside. Place the bread in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Pour the melted butter into the bowl with the bread, and toss. Set the breadcrumbs aside.
2. Warm the milk in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a high-sided skillet over medium heat. When the butter bubbles, add the flour. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
3. While whisking, slowly pour in the hot milk a little at a time to keep mixture smooth. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick, 8 to 12 minutes.
4. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in salt, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne pepper, 1 1/2 cups cheddar cheese, and 3/4 cups Gruyère (or 1/2 cup Pecorino Romano); set the cheese sauce aside.
5. Cover a large pot of salted water, and bring to a boil. Cook the macaroni until the outside of pasta is cooked and the inside is underdone, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer the macaroni to a colander, rinse under cold running water, and drain well. Stir the macaroni into the reserved cheese sauce.
6. Pour the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheeses, and the breadcrumbs over the top. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes (though I needed a bit more time to get it brown, but your oven may vary). Transfer the dish to a wire rack for 5 minutes; serve plain or with whatever accompaniments you like.


What Are You Doing....?

In a pinch, a big jar of cornichons make a great date.

I have a Facebook friend who posted that this was the first year since she was 13 (she's now in her early 40's) that she hadn't been kissed at midnight on New Year's Eve. And that it was sad but gave her a lot to think about. Huh. I honestly can't even remember the last time I had that compulsory midnight kiss. I'm not saying I haven't been kissed at all. I've been kissed quite often, actually, and well (for the record, I'm a very good kisser), but not on New Year's due to a number of factors that I won't get into here. Not since I was married and definitely not the last year I lived with my husband. So, I'm thinking it's at least been since 2000 or 2001. But things were already pretty funky in 2001, so maybe I was across the room or sound asleep when the ball dropped. Anyway, I'm wondering -- should this be a goal? A resolution, perhaps? To be kissed at midnight on New Year's Eve? 

Oh sure, I've had the perfunctory peck from friends and family after they've already kissed their real person. I usually turn my head slightly to avoid the look of pity. One year I even got a cork in the eye, so that was tactile contact at least. 

This year S and I were stuck in the narrow winding streets of Old Montreal in our car until about 12:02, January 1. When we finally pulled into the lot, S commented that maybe the old Quebecois parking attendant might kiss me. That didn't make me feel pathetic at all. Anyway, I was pretty sure he wouldn't have even if I asked.

I don't buy into the whole you must have a great time on New Year's Eve or else your life sucks thing (see also: Valentine's Day). But it would be nice to kiss the right person any time or day that I wanted. 

Okay, fine. I'll put it on my goals/resolutions list, and we'll see where I am in 352 days. 
In the meantime, cook this:

Chicken Tagine with Green Olives and Preserved Lemon
Adapted from The Food Network/Tyler Florence (I don't know who Tyler Florence is, but he also has a kick-ass Texas Chili worth looking up)

1 cinnamon stick
1 t whole black peppercorns
1 t cumin seeds
1 t sweet or hot paprika
1 t red pepper flakes
1/4 t whole cloves
3 T extra virgin olive oil, plus more for frying
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1 t chopped fresh ginger
1 handfull fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
1 large pinch saffron
2 lbs boneless chicken thighs
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 preserved lemon (easy enough to find a recipe for homemade, but requires a month of advanced planning. I just zip over to the closest middle eastern market)
1/2 c cracked green olives
1 c chicken stock

In a skillet over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, paprika, red pepper flakes, and cloves until they start to smoke. Remove from heat and grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

In a bowl large enough to accommodate the chicken, add the oil, spice mix, garlic, ginger, cilantro, bay leaves, and saffron. Mix to a paste. Add chicken, rubbing the marinade all over the pieces. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and reserve marinade. Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper. In a tagine or large casserole over medium high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Put in chicken pieces and lightly brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until just starting to brown, about 3 minutes. Rinse preserved lemon well. Scoop out flesh and discard; cut peel into strips and add to pan. Add reserved marinade, olives, and chicken stock. Cover tightly and cook over medium low heat for 30 to 35 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through. Remove bay leaf and discard. Taste juices and adjust seasoning. Place chicken on a warm platter. Spoon juices with the preserved lemon, olives, and onions over chicken.

Serve with couscous. At Tyler's suggestion I've been adding the juice of 1/2 a caracara orange (caracara for the couscous), sliced scallions, and chopped dried apricots.