Here’s my Times Union column for October. You can also read it on the TU website here. The recipes included are Love Letter Pot of Beans, Spiced Apple Bundt Cake and Brothy Beef Short Ribs with Ginger and Spice.
We live in a world where things are made to sound better because they can be done quickly. There are entire cookbooks devoted to dinner in under 30 minutes. And according to the TV, five minutes a day is all that’s needed for flat, muscled abs. You’ve seen it all, I’m sure. It’s got me thinking about the kind of things that aren’t done quickly and do take a decent amount of time. The more I think about it, the more I realize that the best things, the things that really matter, cannot be done in under 30 minutes and though these things are often varied, they have common denominators: time and care.
I’d like to offer, as examples of what we should spend time on, children and beef stew. Two wildly different things, I know. But children, like a Sunday stew, demand your attention and your time. We can indulge our children with gifts, but really, it’s time spent together that really matters. It’s listening to how their day was or playing a game of cards. And the stew? It’s the same idea: the slow stirring and simmering is what matters most. Like I said, it’s precious, precious time.
In my world, time often relates to how I feed people. There are the things that are quick, sure, like the cup of coffee I make for my husband or the bagel I toss to Elliot, like we are passing a baton in a relay race as he runs out the door (late, again) to school. But what of the simmering pot of soup and the cinnamon scones with the crunchy sugar topping? Those are the things that take precious time and in my mind, show love. If you are ever lost for words but need to express love, you could do it with a lasagna, a cake, chicken noodle soup or a loaf of crusty bread. Something, anything that took some of your precious time, and that you offer up with a full heart. That food is a token of how much you care.
How sweet and touching it is, when food has been made for you and when it’s taken much of a Sunday, and maybe even a bit of the Saturday night before, to prepare. I’m not talking about rich or fancy foods, just dishes that take—and you know where I’m going here—time. Here are a few recipes for fall, for family, for anyone you love, things that take more than a few minutes from your day.
I am a bean lover and since I eat a lot of vegetarian food, beans are huge. I use canned beans, for sure, but when I take the time to soak and simmer and carefully prepare a big pot of garlic-scented beans, there’s a lot of love in that pot. The recipe here calls for cannellini beans, but I cook all kinds of dried beans: black, pinto, Roman – whatever, really, I can get my hands on. Once you’ve made that pot of beans, it’s like a blank canvas and the possibilities are many. Use them in chili, in soup, on salad. They are good simply out of the pot. The only tiny secret to getting a big, tasty pot of beans (aside from, of course, the time spent cooking them) is adding salt. I know, I know, we’ve been told our whole lives to not salt beans. Salt makes beans tough, they said. Don’t add salt, they told us. I don’t know who said it first, but it’s so ingrained that perhaps we are born believing it. And, get this: it’s not true. A little salt in the soaking liquid helps tenderize the skin of your beans, and a little more salt in the simmering liquid gives them flavor. Beans cooked without salt taste exactly like cardboard. I know this, because I’ve done it. So please, add a little salt, along with all that love, into your pot of beans. Here, cannellini beans are used as a base for flavorful roasted cherry tomatoes. Those simple little tomatoes become jammy and sweet when roasted and the feta changes texture, acting more like a creamy cheese than a crumbly one. All of this makes the kind of dinner I love: simple, rustic and those beans which took so much time to make? There was enough to eat and enough to share. What is not to love?
Next up is the kind of food my family swoons over: shreddy, tender beef, in a rich broth that’s got enough fat in it to be lip-smacking. Beef short ribs are another kind of blank canvas food, and still another that requires an investment of time. The meat itself is stewy, and requires long simmering in flavorful broth to achieve what people really want in comfort food: melty, savory pieces of meat that feel nothing but good when going down. Short ribs are good cooked in red wine, with prunes and rosemary, with only a whole head of garlic and broth. Here, they’re paired up with sesame seeds and oil, adding nutty flavor, ginger and a bit of spice. The tablespoon of chile paste won’t knock your socks off, but if you’re wary, scale it back to a teaspoon. You can always add more.
Lastly, a cake. A simple, fall-flavored cake. There are always apples knocking around in our crisper, the sad apples that are bruised or a little soft that no one wants to eat. I am their savior, and use them in cakes, which is much preferable to the compost. If you can, in any apple baking recipe, use a variety of apples: some sweet, some tart. This medley will give your baked goods more depth of flavor. The apples in this cake are peeled and grated directly into the batter and they kind of melt and disappear, leaving a gentle apple sweetness and a very moist crumb. I’ve topped it with brown butter, stirred together with bourbon and powdered sugar. Browning the butter gives the frosting a nutty flavor, and it’s plenty indulgent, with a hearty nip of bourbon, sugar and some salt, too, to balance it all out.
It’s pretty simple, the equation for feeding people and showing them how you feel. It looks something like this: food + time = love. What’s that you say? Lots of love, but very little time? I understand that, and your people do, too. Go ahead and make your own equation, with however much time you’ve got. Another secret is that it’s not so much the time you invest, but how much love you put into it.