A Day Without a Woman

Wednesday, March 8, 2017 – My husband’s Day Without a Woman is a drive to the airport, a flight to Vegas, and the beginning of an annual boys’ weekend. An educated and intelligent, capable man, he has apparently misinterpreted the point of today. The trip was planned months ago and I am figuring out when I’m going to cash in my own weekend away, but my zen vanished when he asked to have the last cup of coffee before he embarked on his vacation. He lives still because he cooked all weekend and we are still basking in delicious leftovers (Arroz con Pollo and Skillet Calzone).

Wombat (not what his mother named him; you may have noticed I don’t use my family’s real names) wasn’t much of a cook when we met, but early in our relationship he challenged me to a bet (I don’t remember what the bet even was, probably something about sports because he was extremely confident), and the loser had to cook dinner for the winner and watch the movie of his/her choice. I brought over Mary Poppins and he made me chicken Cordon Bleu, lemon asparagus, and Bananas Foster. Turns out we both won because that meal was the beginning of his culinary interest, and now at least two weekends a month, he is working on some new recipe he found in a magazine or online. He has come light years from the guy who left me a voicemail at work wondering where the grocery keeps the lemon zest (“I got lemon peel, lemon pepper, and then a whole regular lemon just in case.”)

As a (mostly) stay at home mom, I haven’t the luxury of taking today off (especially under the circumstances), and with Wednesday being my day with the most kid-free time, abstaining from economic stimulation wasn’t going to happen either. Kids have to eat and we were out of the following this morning: milk, apples, bagels, broccoli, and Frosted Mini Wheats. These are THE foods the boys will reliably eat. If we were also out of butter and baby carrots, starvation would soon follow. I dropped Meatball at preschool and hit two groceries (regular grocery and warehouse store) and spent an undisclosed amount of money on beautiful produce (berries were on sale! so was spinach!) along with the staples on my list. Then I returned home and lovingly shelved and stored all the healthy victuals before digging through the freezer and helping myself to more than a serving of Samoas (I support all women, including future women). I believe it was Julia Child who said “All things in moderation, including moderation” and even if it wasn’t, it’s a damn good way to live.

We are going to have leftovers one last time tonight, and the next two evenings aren’t going to be conducive to experimentation in the kitchen. Do not fret, you are getting a recipe this week! It’s just not a NEW recipe, not to me at least. For at least 3 years now, I have been corning my own beef for St Patrick’s Day. It brines for 10 days and really does blow commercial corned beef out of the water. This year I’m only brining for 9 days because my brisket this year is smaller than in years past and also I forgot. All the time is in the waiting, and there is little additional work, so why not give it a try? I’d lecture here on historical authenticity and cultural preservation, but this isn’t Irish food. Corned beef and cabbage is an American invention, along with what we call Soda Bread. So let’s keep the “ish” in Irish!

Clockwise from the left: juniper, ginger (duh), cloves, cinnamon, and (obviously) allspice and mustard seeds

Alton Brown (my husband’s original culinary muse, aside from me of course) published this recipe in Good Eats 3 and it can also be found here.

Corned Beef, for Corned Beef and Cabbage

  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons saltpeter Optional and I’ve never used it. It’s primary function is to make the meat pink. I can live without that, especially if it means I don’t have to buy something I know I’ll only use once a year.
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 8 whole allspice berries
  • 12 whole juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 pounds ice
  • 1 4-5 pound beef brisket trimmed I’ve always used grass-fed beef for this recipe as we buy a quarter or a side annually and have a brisket on hand. I can’t imagine that the flavor would be much different with conventional beef, especially after 10 days in brine. This year’s brisket is much smaller and I’m quite concerned that we won’t have enough leftovers for the accompanying hash recipe, which is heaven.
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped

Place the water into a large 6 to 8 quart stockpot along with salt, sugar, saltpeter, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the ice. Stir until the ice has melted. If necessary, place the brine into the refrigerator until it reaches a temperature of 45 degrees F. Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. I have never seen 2 gallon zip-top bags at any market in three states. I have used oven bags in past years but this year I am halving the recipe for my smaller brisket and using a 1 gallon bag. Seal and lay flat inside a container because you do NOT want brine all over the fridge if your bag springs a leak, cover and place in the refrigerator for 10 days. Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine. I flip the bag and wiggle it a bit to mix and distribute the brine.

Let the brining begin!

After 10 days, remove from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water by 1-inch. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until the meat is fork tender. Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Tune in next week for Corned Beef and Cabbage. St Patty’s Day is on a Friday, so we even get a dispensation from the Pope this year!


9/52 Thai Noodles with Cinnamon and Shrimp


It’s Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, and for Catholics it is also a day of fasting (limiting food intake) and abstinence (no red meat, poultry or alcohol). Our family is what I would call “Cathol-ish”. We are not regular churchgoers, haven’t been since the Extended Deployment and Two Manhattan Christmas of 2013 (a different story for another post), but we do make it on the major holidays. (When my husband was quizzing Peanut on fire safety for Cub Scouts, he asked “What’s something we do twice a year?”  Peanut answered enthusiastically “Go to church!” Survey says: Change smoke detector batteries. We gave him partial credit.) The boys go to vacation Bible school every summer and we say grace before dinner every night. We do aim to observe Lenten traditions every year to prepare for Easter (because Peeps and the Resurrection). We didn’t (and won’t) make it to mass today but I did call my husband at work and remind him he can’t eat the leftover Hemingway burger he took in for lunch and haven’t forgotten to abstain from meat myself (yet). That plus the shrimp for dinner (which I did not enjoy with a glass of wine) and the angst I’m having over what to give up is a significant step up from our standard religious effort, and isn’t that mindfulness ultimately the point of Lent? Now let’s get on to the food before this religion talk goes from endearingly honest to irreverently controversial.

Another Nigella recipe here. She writes her recipes with charming and vivid descriptions and anecdotes that make it impossible to not want to try them. This one has been on my radar for a while, but I was in danger of making this blog all about Nigella there for a bit. As it stands now, 3/9 recipes so far are from Simply Nigella. That’s still pretty heavy for a single publication but, dang, she’s just so amazing (I will admit as I transcribe these recipes, I find her comma usage excessive. She’s more than likely correct, but still)! If you want to just go ahead and buy the book, you’d be wise to do so. (I am not compensated for any product recommendations or reviews. I just like telling people what I think about stuff.)

The dish was a hit, and pretty quick to assemble (faster than 30 minutes in only ONE POT!) 7 thumbs up for this one from the family, Meatball offering a single thumb of dissent because he liked the sauce on the shrimp, but not the noodles. His approval of sauce in any form is a huge leap, though, so taking that into consideration, I’m willing to declare this a unanimous win. Peanut rated it 2,026 yums on a scale where pizza (his favorite meal) is 3,000 yums, and completely cleaned his plate while continually declaring how delicious it was. Full disclosure, cinnamon is the predominant flavor. If you don’t care for cinnamon or take issue with flavors you associate with “sweet” in savory dishes, this one’s not for you.

As always, the recipe follows with my notes boldface. 

Thai Noodles with Cinnamon and Shrimp (Serves 2)

I doubled this recipe to serve the four of us with 2 smaller servings of leftovers. Quantities below are the original recipe for two.

  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped “Roughly chopped” is my favorite preparation for garlic, which can become rather tedious when you get into directions like “minced”, “sliced”, and “finely chopped”.
  • 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into fine matchsticks Easier than you would think, since most of the cutting goes with the grain of the ginger.
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 long or 1 short stick cinnamon, broken into shards

    Leafy celery stems. Easy to find if you know where to look!
  • 2-3 leafy stems at the top of 1 celery stalk, stems cut into short lengths, leaves roughly chopped The preface to the recipe explains that this is a geographically necessary substitute for Chinese celery. Buy leafier celery from the grocery and pull off the little branches with leaves on them, or use the leafy stalks near the heart.
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce I assume this is the same thing as Tamari. It’s what I used with dark soy sauce nowhere to be found (and by nowhere, I mean the one grocery I checked)
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper Normally, I would be a snob about this and insist it be freshly ground, but Nigella herself says to use the pre-ground stuff as that’s what the original chef used. Who am I to argue with authenticity?
  • 7 tablespoons cold water If you’re doubling, it’s 7 ounces.
  • 1 teaspoon chicken broth concentrate
  • 1 tablespoon ketjap manis, or 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce mixed with 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar I confess I didn’t even try to find ketjap manis. There is one grocery store in this county that even has a chance of carrying it, and it was just too far out of the way today. If you have an Asian market near you (lucky!), you’ll probably be able to get it. That said, if this is the only thing you’ll in which you’ll use it, why not use staple ingredients instead?
  • 10 raw shell-off jumbo shrimp, thawed if frozen I was at the warehouse store and the jumbo shrimp was farmed, the wild Gulf shrimp were large. I’m a source snob (sort of. I’ll happily shop at a big box store or the warehouse club but be picky about what I buy there) so I bought the wild shrimp and just weighed out a pound, which is four servings according to the package.
  • 3 ounces mung bean (glass) noodles or rice vermicelli, soaked and drained as per package instructions One package is 5.5 ounces and I learned my lesson on rice noodle quantity making the pho, so I used the slightly smaller amount.
  • fat pinch ground cinnamon I am guessing that two fat pinches is about 1/8 teaspoon.
  • fat pinch ground cloves Ditto.

On a high heat, heat the oil in a large wok. We do not own a wok. It’s a “would be nice to have” but having lived this long without one, I think we’ll continue to do so. We do have a deep, curve-sided saucepan that works well in a wok’s stead. You could use any skillet here, I think. Add the garlic, ginger, star anise, cinnamon, and the sliced leafy stems of celery, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Our “not a wok”

Stir in both soy sauces and leave to simmer for 30 seconds, then stir in the oyster sauce and ground pepper. I added the oyster sauce with the soy sauces because I got distracted. Mom problems. Still worked out.

Add the water, followed by the chicken broth concentrate and the ketjap manis (or the mixture of dark soy sauce with dark brown sugar), stir until everything’s well combined, and bring to a boil. It will boil almost instantly so have the shrimp ready.

Now add the shrimp, immersing them in the liquid. Simmer until the shrimp are cooked through. My shrimp being smaller, this didn’t take long at all. 4 minutes, maybe? 

Finally, add the drained noodles and stir well – I find a couple of pasta forks, one in each hand, best for this – so that everything is combined, and most of the dark liquid is absorbed. If we have pasta forks, we call them something else. I used a pair of tongs and they worked well for both stirring the noodles and serving the dish. Add the pinches of ground cinnamon and cloves, stir again, and if you’re not serving straight from the wok, decant into a serving bowl and sprinkle with the reserved chopped celery leaves. Save yourself (or in my case your spouse) some cleanup and serve it right from the pan. Also, if you’re serving children, pick out the bits of cinnamon and start anise left behind. It’s tree bark and not very tasty, and I’m not sure how well the body digests it. 

Cool leftovers, then cover and refrigerate within 2 hours of making. Will keep for up to 2 days. Delicious cold. I can’t verify how these taste cold but I have a hard time imagining them being anything short of delicious.


3/52 Sesame Noodles and Asian Meatballs


This was a great cooking week at our house. The three-day weekend provided plenty of extra time to experiment and create longer-cooking dishes. I was actually able to bank a recipe for another (less culinarily productive) week. This week will even have a BONUS RECIPE (in a separate post). You’re welcome.

6/8 thumbs up for this one. The grown-ups approve. Big brother loved it and gave it a “triple yum” rating. His scale for yums stars at one yum for something he likes and goes to thirteen yums for ice cream. The bonus recipe this week got eight yums.

Our youngest hive member did NOT share his brother’s enthusiasm. He thought it looked terrible, and therefore upon further inspection decided that it smelled terrible and was determined to prove that it also tasted terrible. (He’s really working his last month of being four.) He can also trigger his own gag reflex so in a world of macabre irony, he ended up eating a second serving of this terrible meal after a spell in his room. (Worst. Mom. EVER.) Also ironically (irony is a large part of what gets me through life), his nickname here is Meatball. It was a rough Tuesday evening for Meatball; mom made the worst dinner ever served to a family in the history of family dinners and he rediscovered that he is younger than his brother (with a 22-month age gap, he forgets this more often than you’d think). We spent quite a bit of our goodnight routine lamenting being born last, and the dog doesn’t count so he is the “last borned person” in the family and that makes him VERY sad. As I finally sat down to finish MY dinner, I decided next week’s recipe is going to be a cocktail. Maybe with a dessert. That dessert might be my famous “Chocolate Chips Straight Out of the Bag”.

Although this recipe is more involved than the previous two, I was able to split up the work so that all the chopping and mixing and forming meatballs was done during the school day, and all I had to do after coming home from Tae Kwon Do was cook and plate. I was also able to finally use up the straggling produce left over from week one’s Pressure Cooker Pho. Leftovers are delicious and the sauced noodles can stand on their own if you want a meatless option. I’d also like to try it with soba (buckwheat) noodles. Gluten free? This would be good with wide rice noodles, too.

The recipe is available online here. As usual, my annotated version is here:

Sesame Noodles and Asian Meatballs

In about an hour and a half, you can have this distinctive pasta dish on the table.

When you’re preparing the meatball mixture, be sure to knead it a bit before rolling it into balls. The more you knead it, the firmer it will become. This odd tidbit turned out to be very useful information. The mix seemed quite loose as I started mixing but sure enough, with some kneading it started to become stiff enough to scoop.


3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup coarsely chopped scallions (white and light-green parts) About 3 medium scallions
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce, or more as needed I used Frank’s. Thought about Sriracha but feared it would bring too much heat for the kids.
6 tablespoons creamy peanut butter (unsalted) I used store brand peanut butter. We eat crunchy so I keep a jar of the cheap stuff around for recipes. It wasn’t unsalted and I don’t think that made a bit of difference. I would not go out and buy a special jar of peanut butter for this.
Kosher salt Since I happened to use pre-salted peanut butter, I skipped this, and didn’t need to add any “to taste” at the end


1/4 cup minced scallions (white and light-green parts) Again, about 3 scallions
1 pound ground pork
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2/3 cup finely chopped cabbage, preferably napa cabbage My local market had 9 heads of cabbage that morning. Six were standard green cabbage and three were Savoy, and they all looked like half-deflated playground balls. I went with a smallish Savoy and tried to remove the most wilted of the leaves before paying. 
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro, mint or basil, plus extra, chopped, for garnish I recommend cilantro unless you’re unfortunate enough to have the genetic mutation that makes you hate cilantro.
1 1/2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons finely grated, peeled fresh ginger root
1 teaspoon minced garlic I used a microplane for both the ginger and the garlic. Only one tool to clean that way.
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more as needed I’m not sure how you would know if you need more here, since this goes into raw meatballs. I didn’t need any more so maybe just take my word for it and don’t eat raw pork. 
1 pound dried linguine Or any long pasta. I have a case of spaghetti in the basement so I used a pound of that.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth Used my magic concentrate (see recipe 2) here!


For the sauce: Combine the water, scallions, hoisin sauce, lemon juice, soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, the teaspoon of hot sauce and peanut butter in a blender or mini food processor; puree until smooth. Taste and add salt and/or more hot sauce, as needed. A mini food processor? As a passionate and long-time collector of kitchen gear, I am guessing that if I have never had one of these, most home cooks don’t either. A standard food processor works just fine. Or a blender. You may have to add some of the broth (it all goes together at the end anyway) to get it moving, depending on the size of your blender/food processor. My 14 cup processor had no problem with the small amounts here.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. I threw caution to the wind and went full high heat here because MY TIME IS PRECIOUS.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs and pasta: Combine the scallions, ground pork, egg, cabbage, the 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, toasted sesame oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a mixing bowl. Use your clean hands to mix and knead until well incorporated. Shape into 24 to 26 walnut-size meatballs. I did this a few hours in advance. I also wore disposable gloves for the mixing and rolling and used a two tablespoon disher to measure. I got 25 meatballs and kept them covered on a lined baking sheet in the fridge until I was ready to cook. 

Add enough salt to the boiling water so it tastes lightly salty (“Tastes lightly salty” HOLD UP. The saltiness of the water is not so critical that you need to melt your tongue tasting it. It’s boiling, DO NOT PUT IT IN YOUR MOUTH, just throw in a handful of salt. Save your taste buds for dinner!), then add the linguine to the boiling water; cook for about 6 minutes, or just slightly less than al dente. Drain, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the pasta cooking water.  Don’t rinse the pasta. The residual starch helps the sauce adhere. Or so I’ve read. 

Heat half the vegetable oil in a large skillet or saute pan over medium heat. LARGE skillet or saute pan. I missed that one word and ended up having to heat (and wash) a second larger pan. 

Once the oil shimmers, add half the meatballs, being careful not to crowd the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes, turning them as needed; they should be browned on all sides and give a little when pressed with a finger. They will not be quite cooked through. Transfer to a plate. After 4 minutes, my meatballs were still very visibly raw. Browning and cooking took closer to 7-8 minutes. Not much cooking happens after this step so get them to where you’d be comfortable eating them now.

Browned and ready for sauce and spaghetti.

Add the remaining vegetable oil; once it’s shimmering, cook the remaining meatballs the same way, and transfer to a plate. Reserve the skillet. Same as the first batch, cook longer.

The “browned bits”

While the pasta is cooking, add the broth and sesame peanut sauce to the skillet and cook for 2 minutes over medium heat, stirring with a spatula to dislodge any browned bits. Add the drained linguine; cook for 2 minutes, stirring and adding some of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin out the sauce, as needed. I didn’t need any additional liquid, but the way the timing worked out, my pasta hadn’t been out of the pot that long so it had a fair amount of surface liquid still clinging.

Return all the meatballs to the skillet and toss gently to coat. Cook for a few minutes, until heated through.


Divide among shallow bowls. Top each portion with chopped cilantro. Serve right away. Maybe in an alternate universe I have the wherewithal for an herbal finish. But not here, not this meal.


The article in the Post adds “Serve with spiced peas – frozen/defrosted, with sautéed caramelized onions that are spiked with mustard and cumin seeds – and, for a finishing touch, a refreshing salad of arugula, orange, and sliced radish.” I laughed out loud about this as I put grape tomatoes on one plastic plate and leftover broccoli on the other. Maybe when we arrive at the days of herbal finishes I’ll consider spiked sides and bitter greens.