The kids asked me the other day to name my favorite food, and I totally blanked. I had about ten different options swimming around my head, all foods that I don’t make at home–tom yum soup, risotto, even a really good slice of cheese pizza …
I know at this very moment you’re quite concerned about your “summer body” (whatever that is), and vowing to give up all pasta and doughnuts and everything else delicious in life for the next month just so you can fit into your swimsuit without being …
Rachael Ray and her show 30-Minute Meals was my jumping-off point to learning how to cook: she just made it look so easy, especially for someone like me who would proudly make herself mac-n’-cheese out of a box, throw in some microwaved spinach, and call it a well-rounded meal (can you blame me? Carbs, protein and a vegetable, right? Wasn’t that supposed to be wholesome?).
My dad tried to teach me how to cook when I was in high school, but that didn’t go so well, because a) I had a bit of a “Why are you teaching ME to cook and not my brother, huh? Is it because I’m a GIRL?” attitude we couldn’t quite move past, and b) my father and I didn’t exactly jive in teacher-student situations, partly because he really enjoyed giving direction and partly because I kind of despised being the one directed.
I was a fun teenager.
Once I got to college, I didn’t have to learn how to cook, because college came with such things as a cafeteria, Amore Pizza and ramen noodles. I was set.
I wanted to learn how to cook, though, as I moved into my 20s, and eventually into an apartment without roommates or a bug infestation (looking at you, Philly suburbs, circa 1998-2000) and Rachael Ray seemed to know that, like she was a telepathic genius wielding a chef’s knife. Once David and I settled into our life together, cooking became something fun, standing in the bright kitchen of our first house talking and playing music, without a worry at all except making sure I didn’t set the oven on fire again.
But we’re in a different stage of life now. Sometimes, yes, there are the evenings I pour a glass of wine and put on some music and enjoy the actual dinner-making process again (though my company now is a bunch of kids doing homework at the kitchen table.). Other nights, our dinner arrives courtesy of Chipotle take-out. But I’m trying to get better about making sure we eat more at home. It’s a bit of a struggle: for one thing, the kids will say that all the “healthy food” has ruined my tastebuds because McDonald’s would make for a perfectly delicious dinner, too. And I’ve abandoned a lot of my old–preferred–vegetarian ways out of pure frustration at trying to accommodate the four meat-and-potatoes lovers with whom I live. So some days it’s not fun. But a recipe like this one comes to the rescue: because it’s easy. And it’s basically wholesome. And because–sorry, kids–it most definitely did not come from McDonald’s.
This is one of the first recipes I tried of Rachael Ray’s, mainly because it was–like now–the middle of January and I needed a ray of sunshine in food form–and it’s been a staple since. The jerk fish takes no time at all to cook, and it basically just involves a sprinkling of salt and jerk seasoning and throwing it in a pan (no: don’t throw it in the pan. I know from personal experience that this will cause a fire that will melt the microwave that hangs above your stove). I’ve tried different pieces of white fish with this, and while the more expensive halibut tastes the best, a more wallet-friendly cod will work, too. The coconut rice provides the perfect tropical-vibe accompaniment, and the pineapple will keep the kids happy, so long as you leave some raw pieces to the side because your children get super picky when it looks “burnt” ( and yelling “IT’S JUST SEASONED EAT THE PINEAPPLE!” doesn’t usually help matters). I usually steam some broccoli or snap peas to go along with it, because David and the kids pick the peas out of the rice and now you see what I have to deal with.
(Also: if you have young children and decide to make this for dinner one night you will, at least three times that evening, remind them that you are not CALLING ANYBODY A JERK FOR CRYING OUT LOUD IT’S WHAT THE SEASONING IS CALLED. See? Cooking is a breeze).
Caribbean Jerk Fish with Pineapple-Coconut Rice
(from Rachael Ray: Every Day), serves 4 adults or a family of 6
- 1/2 cup jasmine rice, rinsed
- 1/2 cup plus 3 Tbs unsweetened coconut milk
- 2 Tbs unsalted butter
- 4 6-ounce pieces halibut fillet
- 1 – 2 tsp Jamaican jerk seasoning
- 1 pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into rings or semi-circle chunks
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1 cup frozen baby peas, thawed
- 1 lime, cut into wedges
Bring the rice, coconut milk, butter and 1 cup cold water to boil in a small, heavy saucepan. Cover, lower the heat and simmer about 15 minutes. Take the cooked rice off the heat and fluff with a fork. Stir in the thawed peas and cover again to keep warm.
While the rice simmers, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season the fish on both sides with salt and the jerk seasoning. Add the olive oil to the pan, making sure the entire surface is coated, and add the fish. Cook until golden, about 3-5 minutes on both sides. Remove the fish from the pan, then add the pineapple, cooking about 2-3 minutes on both sides until softened and browned.
Chop 2 pineapple rings into small cubes and stir into the rice along with the peas. Season with salt and pepper. Arrange a pineapple slice, a fish fillet and rice on each plate. (Ignore the children who ask if they really have to eat the peas.) Garnish with lime wedges.
We were at our local brew pub, grabbing a quick dinner because four of us were sick with colds and one of us couldn’t face the idea of the kitchen, and even though I’d just looked over our budget and we’d just had a we-really-need-to-stop-eating-out-so-often talk, there …
We’re in the car (again, always), heading home from school. Saoirse asks me what we’re having for dinner.“Quesadillas,” I say. “Tomatoes. Avocados.” They don’t need to know that I’m going to gourmet the shit out of those quesadillas. Or that those beautiful red and orange …
With two trips to Connecticut and a weekend out in Indiana for this past weekend’s Notre Dame-USC game (IRISH!), David had been away for the better part of two weeks. It’s good to have him home, even if it means there’s a couple extra pairs of shoes by the back door we get to trip over (he has big feet, so, you know. Big shoes). I don’t know if other parents feel like this when their spouses travel, but when he’s gone, I feel like I’m holding my breath for much of the day, just trying to keep everything–the kids, the chores, the pets, the errands–under some vague sense of control until bedtime. When he travels, by the end of the day, every cell in my body is sore–it’s the kind of tired that lets you know you’ve earned your keep on the planet that day. But it’s also the kind of tired that sometimes condones you serving the kids eggs and toast for dinner AGAIN, and possibly not showering until the day David arrives back home.
And because it’s impossible to stay on top of everything–especially when you have young kids, because seriously, these days you do the laundry just to wash the laundry. You cook the meal just to cook again in a couple hours. You clean off the table just to…well, you get the idea. Parenthood is Groundhog Day, the movie. I hated that movie. What was I saying? (See? I’m so used to repetition I find difficulty completing a linear thought anymore). I was saying that by the end of those two weeks, when David was tailgating in South Bend, I was, well, done. Finished. Crusty and needing a shower and a little traumatized because if one baby’s not up at night, another three-year-old is, and oh my gosh if I don’t get some sleep soon I will no longer be trusted to operate simple mechanical devices. I tried to turn on the coffee maker the other day and wondered why the food processor started moving. So, you know. It’s been a journey.
Friday night, the children were playing outside. We’d just finished Mod Podging some glitter all over a bunch of baby pumpkins (my house now looks like a Halloween-themed Pride parade and you can see the purple sparkles on our deck from space, but whatever. We OWNED that glitter project). It was 4:30, I walked inside, couldn’t find the countertops or the table for all the crap on top of them, walked back out of the house, and told the kids we were going out for dinner. I can’t remember if I was even wearing a proper enough bra to be out in public, but we were there, me and the three little ones, all tucked into a four-top eating our sandwiches and having comfortable, polite conversation like the most civilized of British gents at high tea, if British gents often discuss over their biscuits what Timmy did at recess.
I take a certain ownership over the food I give my family. I’ve slowly gone organic nutso (is that the technical term?) over our groceries ever since I found out that even Ritz crackers contain GMOs. The poor kids think Newman’s Own chocolate-creme cookies are Oreos. I gave them “real” Cocoa Krispies the other day and Saoirse was so excited to discover that “they taste like cookies.” I actually like to cook–chopping vegetables can be relaxing, and not just because there’s often a large glass of Malbec sitting on the counter nearby. But you can also use that as a sort of barometer for how my week is going. If I’m making you pumpkin chili (I STILL haven’t made that recipe, even though the eight-pound beast of a long-necked squash is still on my counter, mocking me every time I dig out a take-out menu), that probably means the kitchen is clean enough to prepare food in. It probably means my children are sitting at a tidy table, working on a craft while their brother plays on a dog hair-free floor. You know, it means I have a little bit of control over my life. Keep this in mind when I tell you about our eating tendencies this past weekend while David was whooping it up in South Bend.
So, Friday night: Isaacs, a local restaurant/deli chain. This meal included fluorescent rainbow-colored bread, PB&J, and marshmallows for the girls. Oh, and ice cream. Almost forgot about the ice cream.
Saturday morning: I made porridge. That was my feat for the weekend, solely because it meant working at a stove for twenty minutes.
Saturday afternoon: apple cider doughnuts (DOUGHNUTS FROM HEAVEN) and mulled cider and pulled pork sandwiches at a local orchard. Had to wait in line for an hour for them, but I WAS NOT COOKING, so, wait we did. Over the course of two days I ate four doughnuts. I am not bragging, nor bemoaning, just stating.
Saturday evening: Buffalo Wild Wings, with a Chik-fil-A milkshake aperitif.
Sunday morning: Chocolate cereal.
Sunday afternoon: leftover wings and fried pickles.
Sunday evening: stromboli from a local pizza shop.
I know you’re not judging me (right?). I know you now understand that we were at the end of a long couple of weeks. There were children who were awfully sick, children who refuse to sleep at night (see a) sickness, b) fear of the dark, c) wet sheets, and d) just want to hang out with Mom at 3:30 a.m. even though Mom refuses to open her eyes all the way and may actually be weeping). But David is home now, thank goodness, and I feel like finally we can start to settle back into our normal. I’ll take the pile of shoes by the back door if it means all the pieces of our family are back under one horribly messy roof.
As soon as I answer the door, I mean. The Pizza Hut delivery guy just pulled up.
We were at the dinner table. “Mom, look at the geese!” Saoirse suddenly exclaimed. She pointed out the window to a flock flying over our house, causing Quinn to gasp at all the excitement. “I love the birds.” She paused, forking another heaping mound of …