saturday was kitchen day

by Sandra

My Saturdays are usually pretty busy. Most of them are spent at my thesis advisor’s playwrights workshop from 10 to 1. That group, an amazingly fun, creative bunch, are fast becoming a highlight of my week, but workshop was canceled last weekend, so all of a sudden, I had a full day free to do whatever I wanted—a rarity for sure. I chose to spend it in the kitchen, which itself has become exceedingly rare these days, what with two writers groups, a couple of jobs, and everything else to keep up with.

If you keep up with my tumblr page at all, you may have noticed a recent post mentioning this kitchen time. It’s quite a lengthy list of things, and truly, I did spend about six hours all told, cooking up various item. And of course I took some photos!

This is how my morning started, by making polenta. Polenta is not complicated. It’s cooked cornmeal. That’s it. It’s also an extremely dense and filling, which makes it a nice breakfast choice. I used a recipe from 101 Cookbooks, but really, there is no recipe needed. Add cornmeal and water over some heat, and stir ….. and stir and stir and stir … as the cornmeal congeals and bubbles up like a cauldron of steaming gruel. Sound appetizing? Actually, it is, in part because of its versatility:  on top here, I added walnuts, figs, dates, maple syrup and a little milk.

Once I had breakfast under my belt, I rolled up my sleeves and got down to a little more creative cooking.

These are spicy cocoa roasted almonds, with cocoa powder, cinnamon and a dash of cayenne pepper to give it some kick. I’d had the cocoa powder sitting around to use in another great recipe for mocha crunch oatmeal from the kitchn. A freshly-purchased bag of raw almonds pushed me over the edge to go ahead and make these. The cayenne is not overpowering, but adds just a hint of heat and they are good, good, good. And addictive. My roommates attacked the bag all day and I’m surprised, a week later, that there are any still left at all!

Next was some lemon curd. I have always wanted to make lemon curd and having just bought a few meyer lemons, I had the opportunity. I love the idea of homemade kitchen staples:  mustard, mayonnaise, ketchup, butter, and lemon curd falls into that category for me. I found the recipe from David Lebovitz, and was particularly attracted to the fact that his was a no-nonsense approach to making it—basically adding all the ingredients together over heat until it emulsified. Other recipes I’d found were too fussy, calling for various multi-step processes. Lebovitz’s was fast and economical, but did require a fair amount of furious stirring to make sure the eggs didn’t cook over the high heat. What an amazing little joy this lemon curd was. I’ve been eating it for breakfast all week, spread over crisp toast with a little margarine. As you can see, I didn’t wait to start enjoying it before taking a picture of it. Light and sweet and tart … oh my ….

At this point, I worked out and showered and then things turned savory. Molly and I had been to the Gorbals a couple weeks back, the downtown L.A. restaurant owned by Top Chef alum Ilan Hall. The standout dish there was none other than a humble bowl of braised red cabbage. How exciting could that be? We were both surprised by how nourishing, warm and comforting that cabbage was. In an instance of synchronicity, The New York Times Well blog featured a recipe for none other than braised red cabbage late last week, so I pounced on the chance to try and recreate the dish. I was underwhelmed at first bite, but like all slow-cooked dishes, the flavor picked up considerably in the days ahead. You can’t feel bad eating this dish. Undeniably healthy, warm, and filling, it’s just good.

The cooking did not stop here. The photo taking did, however, because it got dark, but here I took a nap and watched the latest episode of Project Runway and then got around to making two things for Sunday’s Super Bowl party:  braised short ribs and what are affectionately called kitchen sink bars, which are impossibly rich and I’m sure that Dad would have loved them but still would have found a way to decry them as “not sweet enough.” Well, they were definitely sweet enough for me.

Is that it, Sandra? Yes, that’s it. Just a half-dozen dishes in one go. I was tired at the end of the day, but one good thing about cooking up such a large amount of food all at once means having eats on hand for at least another week. Considering how much time I don’t have for the kitchen, a full day of it came just in the nick of time.