I’ve been taking a bit of a break from this blog, and from food writing in general. While it wasn’t entirely planned, it has been a much needed change.
In November, I started a new job, at New York Mouth, an on-line food retailer that sources the best small batch foods from around the country. The start-up is only about a year old, and this was its first holiday season.
In some ways, it wasn’t so different than the crush of Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah/New Years at the newspaper. Only this time, I was on the other side of things, sending e-mails to journalists hoping to be included in gift guides, rather than frantically putting together my own list.
In the spirit of keeping one’s options open, I plan to continue to blog, at least occasionally. I’d like to see what I choose to write about when I’m not motivated by deadlines, trends, or even paychecks.
I became a food writer, because my life was already immersed in mealtimes. But the second that cooking and eating dinner became a requirement of my job, rather than just a requirement of being human, the context changed. I wasn’t cooking and eating like a “regular person.” When I was testing recipes, I had to follow them meticulously, even if that meant trips to two or three different grocery stores. If I had a lot of recipe testing, I might spend all weekend cooking, or leave work several hours early.
Now, I work in a place where food is the focus, but my hours must be spent in the office, and there are weeks where I might never be home before 7:30 or 8 p.m.
Here’s what hasn’t changed: Most nights of the week, I come home and make dinner.
While my husband also loves to cook (and is very good at it), his longer commute means that weekday cooking usually falls to me. Typically, we limit meals out to twice a week – once on a weekday and once on a weekend – and we also try to bring our lunches from home most days.
We’ve mostly managed to make it work. There have been weeks when I’ve bought my lunch far more often than I’d like, nights where we’ve scrapped the plan and gone out to dinner, or where dinner didn’t make it on to the table until 9:30 p.m.
There have also been victories. Newly discovered recipes that are truly, stupendously fast without compromising taste, health or interest. I’ve become neater and faster, a reminder that the pressures of eating at a reasonable hour are not so different from the ticking clock that used to govern culinary school exams.
Over the last two months, I think I’ve learned more about real-life cooking and eating than I learned in five years as a full-time food writer.
In the next few months, I’ll write more about what we’ve learned. For now, I’ll just leave you with a great recipe that is certain to be repeated in our house many times in the future.
Paella with squid for two
Squid is healthy, cheap and cooks quickly. It’s also delicious and one of my favorite weeknight dinner proteins. But, if you’re not a fan you could easily substitute shrimp or bay scallops. Just be careful not to overcook them on that first saute.
2 cups seafood stock
Pinch crumbled saffron
½ teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
¾ lb cleaned, sliced squid (either just body or body and tentacles)
freshly ground black pepper
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
4 scallions thinly sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2/3 cup Bomba rice (or other short grain rice)
10-12 grape tomatoes, halved
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit.
Combine the seafood stock, saffron and pimenton in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, then turn down to low and cover.
Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a 10-inch skillet (cast iron is ideal) over medium-high heat. Saute the squid, seasoning with salt and pepper, just until the squid become opaque. Transfer the squid to a plate and set aside.
Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to the cast iron skillet. Once it shimmers, add the scallions, garlic and red pepper flakes. Saute for a couple of minutes until the scallions are nicely wilted, turning down the heat if they begin to brown or dry up. Add the rice and mix thoroughly, continuing to saute for another minute or two. Pour the hot seafood broth into the rice and turn up the heat.
Once the broth comes up to a boil, turn the heat down and let it simmer until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, about 10 to 15 minutes, occasionally giving it a stir.
Add the tomatoes and squid, stir to combine and carefully move the pan to the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, until the rice is just al dente. Remove the pan from the oven and cover with a lid. Cover the handle with something so you remember it’s hot. Let it sit for five minutes.
If you like, you can return it to the stove over medium heat and cook for another 2 to 5 minutes, to crisp up the bottom of the pan. If you’re starving, however, go ahead and skip that step. Serve with roasted broccoli or a lightly dressed spinach salad.
Adapted from “Serve Yourself: Nightly Adventures in Cooking for One” by Joe Yonan