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Photographs by Meadow Linn

Friday, November 19, 2010

Finding Joy at the Mall

I have just converted…to the Church of Retail Therapy. I’ve never been an avid shopper. Usually one or two stores are all I can handle and then I’m ready to go home, or at least stop for lunch. The idea of spending money to assuage emotional upheaval has always seemed…well, commercial. But I think I’ve finally seen the light. With a few swipes of my Visa, I’ve had a Revival style healing.

Lately I’ve been feeling down, which is understandable considering I’ve been sick for a month. I underwent two courses of antibiotics to stop the coughing, spent my 33rd birthday in bed, missed out on most of a family trip to Baja, and nearly had to cancel Thanksgiving plans due to a whooping cough scare. But I’m finally feeling better, both in body and mind. Medicine, of course, finally cured the infection, but it is the shopping that helped to heal the sadness and frustration.

Mauviel copper sauté pan
Last night I returned from town as the proud owner of a 12-inch copper core All-Clad frying pan, a 10-inch Mauviel copper sauté pan, and a 5 1/2 quart Le Creuset dutch oven (in my favorite color!). I don’t need any of these pans, but they are a luxury I’ve lusted after for years. They are the best of the best, and when I saw them at TJMaxx for half-price, it was as though the Gods of Retail Therapy were looking down on me and smiling.

Le Creuset Dutch oven
All-Clad frying pan with copper-core
Knowing that this was not exactly a foolish purchase, I was still freaked about the massive amount of money I was forking over (even at half-price, this was an extravagant purchase). The pans will last a lifetime and these kinds of pans just don’t show up at discount stores every day (or ever!), I repeated to myself over and over like a mantra. But then out of nowhere, I received Testimony from my newfound gods. To justify the expense, I would have to make use of the pans in a way that would bring more joy and happiness into my life. I needed to find a way to kick the blues to the curb.

Hosting dinner parties is one of my very favorite activities, but since I moved to a small town where I hardly know anyone, pretty much the only people who have come to dinner are my parents and even that has been infrequent. So…to justify the purchase of these gorgeous new pans, I’ve decided I have to start making friends by inviting neighbors and acquaintances to my home for meals (prepared using the pans, of course). Hopefully, I will eventually create a local community of food-loving friends and confidants. Since I have just announced this in a public forum, I’ll have to follow through…a little scary, but worth it. With love and gratitude, I bow down before the Gods of Retail Therapy.


Rustic French Chicken Stew  
Poulet au Vin Blanc
 Serves 4-6

This is my favorite creation of the past few weeks. It’s a great dish for a dinner party because it tastes like something you’d find in a family-run inn the French countryside but is simple to prepare even when you’re short on time. While the stew bakes in the oven, you’ll be free to mingle with your guests. I created this dish using my new Le Creuset Dutch oven, but any Dutch oven or well-covered oven-safe pot will work.

• 1/4 cup flour (I use white rice flour when I have gluten-free guests)
• 3 lbs bone-in chicken pieces with skin removed (I use a free-range thigh-leg combo from my local butcher)
• 2-3 tbs olive oil
• 2 cups chicken broth (since the majority of the flavor in this dish comes from the broth, use homemade* when you can)
• 1 cup dry white wine
• 16 oz (1 lb) fingerling potatoes
• 8 oz (1/2 lb) white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
• 8 oz (1/2 lb) frozen pearl onions (about a cup and a half)
•5 garlic cloves, cut into chunks
• a few fresh thyme sprigs
• sea salt and cracked pepper


This is a rustic dish. Use these quantities as a guide, but don’t feel as though you need to be exact.

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Evenly cover the chicken with a light coating of flour. To do this, put the flour on a plate and dredge the chicken in it. Tap off excess flour. On the stovetop, heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. When the oil is hot, brown the chicken a few minutes on each side. You may need to do this in batches. When all the chicken has a nice golden exterior, it’s time to make the stew. If you’ve browned the chicken in batches, put all the chicken in the pot, and add the broth, white wine, potatoes, mushrooms, pearl onions, garlic, thyme, and salt and pepper. Stir. Cover. Put the pot in the oven on the middle rack and bake for one hour. Serve with crusty French bread and garnish with a bit of chopped Italian parsley if you so choose. Bon appétit!

 *Recipes that call for homemade stock usually seem like a pain to me, but I’m making an exception for this one. It will make a big difference. I try to keep homemade stock in the freezer, but that doesn’t always happen. When I can, I make my own by saving the carcass from a roast chicken. I simmer the bones and any uneaten meat in a large stockpot with water, celery, carrots, onions, and garlic until I have an aromatic broth that I can freeze in plastic containers. Obviously, not everyone has time to do this, but if you can, it’s worth the effort.