Plainclothes Feast

A weekly peek at one dinner table, in the heart of one home, in the center of the country


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Radish Salsa (for chicken tacos)

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Nine years ago today, a heavy chill was spreading through my body as I began to understand that, despite the superficial similarities between the word cowlick and the word colic, the two phenomena had nothing in common. At all. The words had always been linked in my subconscious mind, both somehow related to childhood and to stubbornness. And yet, as a nascent recognition took hold of me, on the day my first baby came home from the hospital, I knew: The inherent orneriness of hairs that refused to lie down really could not compare to the penetrating, writhing, red-faced wails of a baby who had been, just a few hours before, safely ensconced in his own personal bubble. Of course, he was brand new, and I still held out hope that his utter misery was the result of his shock at having been ejected from his warm, wet, muffled home into the fierce cold of January and the jostling hands, bright lights, and loud laughter of a family who had passed too many years without an infant among them.

newborn Gus

Nine years ago

Over the coming weeks and months, many well-meaning know-it-alls assured me that he would start sleeping through the night, and he would learn to nap on his own, and he would stop screaming all three of us into a million tiny shards every single evening. Somewhere along the way, although much later than they or the pediatrician or anyone one on earth would probably have predicted, he did. I no longer know just when those things happened, but I do know it took a long while.

Nine years have passed. The color eventually returned to my face. (My pallor in the photo above is mostly blood loss but also a little bit of terror.) And the pink elf swaddled ineptly in my arms turned, against all odds, into a weird and wonderful boy.

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But he never outgrew his colic. I’m not kidding. He is strung with raw wire, this child. Everything in his world blares and blazes and races. He feels all disruptions deep in his gut. Case in point: We cannot take him out to eat without watching his urgent dissolution into a puddle of overstimulated agony. God forbid the restaurant is plastered with television screens on mute while music plays a little too loudly in the background.  Rarely can he be coaxed to lift his face from his folded arms, and almost never does he actually consume the food we insist upon buying him. (Why don’t we learn?)

Not too long ago, though, we discovered a restaurant that he does not hate. It’s a dive, plain and simple, one I won’t name because it routinely flunks its health inspections. The same young woman who serves the food also cooks the food and works the register. The back room is painted in semi-tropical solid colors. The walls are unadorned. No music burbles through overhead speakers. A small television in the front room softly plays Mexican soap operas, but we don’t eat in that room. And, most blessedly of all, no one is ever there. Within a few minutes of his arrival the first time, our now-9-year-old declared, “This is officially my favorite restaurant.” The fact that the cook also tops her specialty chicken tacos with his favorite vegetable, radishes–I told you he was weird!–sealed his devotion.

Of course, given his druthers, he’d always prefer to eat at home. So, for his birthday party dinner (the dinner we shared with Nana and Papa at our house, after leaving the community center where he and 15 of his closest friends–holy cow!–swam themselves into exhausted heaps and then made daggers out of cedar and duct tape), I served my version of his favorite restaurant’s chicken tacos.

I seasoned and slow-roasted the chicken breasts, instantly improving upon the restaurant’s version which includes stir-fried chicken pieces, and served the shredded meat in soft corn tortillas topped with cheese and sour cream and, of course, radish salsa.

It may be more of a relish than a salsa. I’m not sure. In any case, it goes on top of tacos, so I’m calling it salsa for now. It’s super-simple, amazingly fresh-tasting, and only mildly peppery.

Here it is…

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Radish Salsa (for chicken tacos…or whatever)

6 or so radishes

1 bunch of green onions

1 cup of cilantro leaves

the juice of one lime

salt and pepper to taste

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  1. Cut the radishes lengthwise and then slice them into thin half-moons.
  2. Chop the green onions and the cilantro.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
  3. In a bowl, combine them with the lime juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Let stand at least 30 minutes but no more than 4 hours (or your radishes will go limp).
  5. Serve on tacos…or whatever.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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Roasted Vegetables with Balsamic Vinaigrette

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My crew, dressed in preparation for Santa’s arrival.

Do you know what Santa brought my kids this year (besides a whole lot of plastic-y happiness that will no doubt be shattered, scattered, and otherwise forgotten by Christmas 2016)?

In order of oldest to youngest, they received, tucked into their stockings, the following spice grinders: tri-colored peppercorns, pink Himalayan sea salt, and cinnamon-sugar. If you had no idea that cinnamon sugar was available in a grinder, then you must have forgotten that Santa can always find a way, especially when his elfin spy (of the on-the-shelf variety) reports to him that the littlest member of this family consumes 3-4 slices of cinnamon toast every morning and sometimes begs for more.

That’s what they are, my three:

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The Pepperhead

 

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 The Salty Girl 

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The All-sugar-all-the-time Maniac

A complete set.

You know we’re spicy people when spice grinders travel all the way from the North Pole to turn up in Christmas stockings.

Still doubtful? Here’s a recipe I’ve made about half a dozen times in as many weeks, since I discovered it on smittenkitchen.com. I’ve tweaked it a little bit since then (of course), not that there was anything wrong with the original, but just because I think that, given the option of a dipping sauce that contains mayonnaise and one that does not, I’ll choose the mayo every time.  To put it a different way, think of this either/or: roasted broccoli spears with vinegar dipping sauce vs. roasted broccoli spears with creamy vinegar dipping sauce.

veggies on plate

It surely is hard to get decent photos of one’s dinner in the dark evenings of January

You’re with me, right?

I’ve been making it with broccoli because that’s what I did the first time, and it was unimpeachable. But tonight, I made both broccoli and brussels sprouts because I was fixing a roast and I reasoned that, when serving a good-sized portion of medium-rare meat, the more green you can pile on the side, the better. This turned out to be doubly true because my roast wasn’t great. It wasn’t awful–it was perfectly medium rare, for heaven’s sake–but it wasn’t tender. I’m blaming the butcher. (Watch this: Stupid butcher, cutting me a tough roast! I hate that guy!)

Meanwhile, the lovely caramelized vegetables, drizzled with tart-creamy dressing and then dragged, on their path mouthward, through some respectable buttermilk mashed potatoes really kept me from grieving for the roast. I honestly didn’t much miss it. (Still hate the butcher, though, if you were wondering.)

Here‘s a link to Deb Perelman’s original post, should you (for some weird reason) not love creamy with your everything.

And here’s what I did:

Roasted Vegetables with Creamy Balsamic Dipping Sauce

1 lb. broccoli, cut into large florets and with the tough skin peeled away from the remaining stalks

1 lb. brussels sprouts, cored, peeled, and cut in half longitudinally

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

A generous sprinkle “Vegetable Roast Spice Blend.” (Yes, it probably needs a marketing specialist if it’s going to hit the big time.) Recipe follows…

                 Vegetable Roast Spice Blend

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In a spare spice jar, combine 2 teaspoons brown sugar, 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, 1 teaspoon ancho chili powder, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon salt…and shake it up before using it.

You’ll have extra you can save for next time!

Creamy Balsamic Dipping/Drizzling Sauce

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or whatever sort of vinegar you love)

1/2 teaspoon coarse mustard

1 tablespoon mayonnaise

pinch of salt and pepper

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

2. While the oven is heating, prep your veggies and mix up your spices.

2. Drizzle olive oil in the bottom of your pan or pans. Don’t overcrowd your veggies: You want contact between their flat parts and the hot metal. (By the way, if you have cast iron pans, they work great for getting that caramel color.) Arrange them for maximum surface contact. Then sprinkle them generously with the spice mixture.

3. Pop them in the oven and leave them there for 12-20 minutes. The brussels take less time; the broccoli takes more.

4. While they’re roasting, whisk together your sauce.

5. Serve hot, drizzled with the dipping sauce.

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