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Fall is when the cooking urge starts to really hit around here. We have curvaceous squashes lounging atop our bookshelves, collards and kale sprouting from the crisper and a backlog of proteins in the fridge and freezer. Which is not to say that there’s any more time to cook than there was last week—just that there’s a will.
This week, our CSA peppers were so incredibly crisp and juicy that I remembered a tip I learned from chef Peter Berley and cooked down a meltingly soft tangle of peeled peppers to serve with polenta and a skirt steak. I spiced the pepper relish up with jalapeno and an (optional!) anchovy since I knew Leo wouldn’t touch it anyway, then served him a sliced red bell pepper, along with cucumbers from the salad.
Peeling peppers takes a minute—or ten—so I count it among the things to do ahead of time. With pepper relish ready to make things interesting for the adults, I was able to heat pre-cooked polenta, toss a green salad and broil a steak while assembling train tracks with Leo. And the final presentation—a mound of polenta topped with peppers and sliced steak—looked and tasted like a real dinner. Plus, extra pepper relish is incredible on a goat cheese and steak sandwich, in eggs, a pasta sauce…
I have to thank Leo for bringing me to this style of component cooking, which I have begun to think of as “hold the mustard” dining. Since a toddler takes things apart, often insists on plain, separate foods, and wants to eat the same thing as everyone else at the same time that they can be highly suspicious of anything saucy, spicy or…flavorful, I’ve started isolating our food items accordingly. The result is closer to shared meals that satisfy us all than we’ve come thus far, and the whole thing is very streamlined. Life always seems easier when we give in and let the kid dictate.
Zoe Singer is a freelance food writer and cookbook editor and co-author of The Flexitarian Table. Food Editor and blogger for The Faster Times, she tries not to eat for two now that her son is a toddler.