A cold that had been quietly knocking at the door fully arrived on a recent weekend, making Saturday and Sunday an enforced two-day birthday retreat. Lucky for me my good friend Tim came over with roses and a book I’d been wanting – and a profound gift it has been.
Tamar Adler’s “An Everlasting Meal, Cooking With Economy and Grace” is the most inspiring cookbook I have read in this century. M.F.K. Fisher is her inspiration, and now, Adler is mine and, I hope, will be yours as well. Her writing is poetic and honest. Her message to home cooks is essential if we are to revive the pleasures of and methods for eating well at home:
“There is a prevailing theory that we need to know much more than we do in order to feed ourselves well. It isn’t true. Most of us already have water, a pot to put it in, and a way to light a fire. This gives us boiling water, in which we can do more good cooking than we know.”
Her recipes are more blueprints for basic techniques for groups of foods and their simple, easy-to-remember embellishments. Adler writes,
“Cooking is best approached from wherever you find yourself when you are hungry…there should be serving, and also eating, and storing away what’s left; there should be looking at meals’ remainders with interest and imagining all the good things they will become.”
After reading this book, you have an easily digested game plan for delicious meals at all times.
Adler’s advice is so simple to understand that, after hours on the couch reading, sniffling and nodding off while sitting up, I rallied to the kitchen and pulled out all the aging foods in my fridge, on their way to their own sick bed, and took to roasting them — beets, sweet potatoes, a whole Red Kuri squash going soft in one spot, a head of cauliflower and a bunch of broccoli —using every inch of the oven, as Adler urges, for economy of heat use. I even washed and prepped the few leaves of kale and chard stems still edible. A couple of hours later, everything was stored and back in the fridge, ready to participate in a multitude of delicious meals. Like a good soldier, I had done an admirable day’s work for my fridge and myself.
Soft scrambled eggs with chard and kale
Sunday morning, feeling a little better, there I was sautéing the prepped kale and chard stems with soft-scrambled eggs, ala Adler’s suggestions: “ ‘Frying’ and ‘scrambling’ imply too much aggression. I soft-fry and I soft-scramble . . . scrambling should just be a series of persistent nudges.”
And on to a vegetable soup: the parsnips, red onions, celery, zucchini, and Napa cabbage soldiered on in olive oil, followed by the roasted turkey broth I had defrosted. My next-to-last Parmesan cheese rind went in to flavor the pot, along with a few dried summer tomatoes in olive oil, softly bubbling away for a few hours. I continued to feast on Adler’s good words. The soup would await the next day’s meals, though, as it improves with time spent in its new transformation.
Poached cod, roasted cauliflower and winter squash
Sunday lunch was leftovers: warmed up fish, roasted winter squash and cauliflower with some olives. In my cupboard, they were a can of olives in water, and at her suggestion, I placed them in some red wine vinegar, transforming them into a piquant addition to several dishes. Adler admires olives: “I challenge anyone to find me a situation a good olive can’t fix…they’re versatile, can be a dish’s anchor or its sail, and it takes only a precious few to do either.”
Grapefruit Balsamic Marinated Cod with Olives
My next meal was a fresh piece of cod marinated in grapefruit balsamic vinegar with the juice of half a grapefruit, and then cooked in the pan, topped with sautéed red onions, olives and capers. Try warming some green olives – they are delicious!
With chapters titled, “How to Teach an Egg to Fly,” “How to Stride Ahead,” ”How to Catch Your Tail,” and “How to Snatch Victory from the Jaws of Defeat,” Adler covers all the aspects of cooking well and simply with economy and taste. She offers historical and cultural contexts for techniques and dishes, and though she’s a youngster by my standard, her wise words ring true.
Tamar Adler’s book revived my heart and my fridge full of neglected produce, inspiring me to roast and simmer and nudge my food into delicious and delightful meals that honor the earth’s gifts to us, utilizing everything (did I mention the vegetable stock made with all the ends of things that flavored the soup?) I had on hand. I hope you relish it, too.
Chicken Soup from “An Everlasting Meal”
Yield 2-4 quarts
This is a template for making any kind of soup. Enjoy!
Roasted chicken is wonderful and produces great drippings, but chicken cooked in a pot of water leaves you with several dinners, lunches, and extra broth, and is an appropriate and honest way to do a lot with a little.
Buy a whole chicken at a farmers’ market if you can. They are much more expensive – up to three times as expensive – as chickens raised in factories, which most, even the ones labeled “free range,” are. The two are completely different animals. As soon as you boil a chicken that was raised outdoors, pecking at grubs, you’ll notice that its stock is thick, golden, and flavorful. When it cools, it will thicken. If you’re getting more meals out of your chicken, and more nutrition out of those meals, spending the extra money makes sense.
- Whole chicken, about 4 pounds, not factory farmed, locally raised if possible
- For the stock:
- Ends (not tops) of 3 carrots or 1 whole carrot, scrubbed and peeled
- ½ an onion
- 1 stalk celery
- Any leeks or scallions on hand
- 1 bunch of parsley stems
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 bay leaf
- 3-4 stems of thyme
- ½ to 1 whole star anise (optional)
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- Vegetables to cook later, in the broth, or if lacking time, to cook with the chicken:
- Big chunks of carrot, fennel and celery
- Potatoes, peeled and cut similarly to other vegetables, to add at end of cooking time
- Salt chicken a day ahead OR
- If you forget, salt the chicken more heavily and three hours ahead, and leave it sitting at room temperature, which will help the meat absorb the salt.
- If salted overnight, let the chicken come to room temperature before you cook it.
- Two ways to add vegetables for a boiled chicken meal:
- If you’ve got time for an extra step, for a four-pound chicken, put the ends — not the tops – of three carrots (or all of one), half an onion, a stalk of celery, any strange leek-looking thing you find, a bunch of parsley stems, a few whole stems of thyme, a bay leaf, and a whole clove of garlic in your pot underneath the chicken and cover it all by three inches of water.
- Optional: Place the chicken leg-side down, as legs take longer to cook. This makes it awkward to check for doneness, however. The carcass will hold them down, and you won’t have to knock them away when you skim the pot. Set aside whole vegetables to cook separately in the finished broth once the chicken is cooked.
- If you don’t have time for extra cooking, add big chunks of carrot, celery and fennel directly to your chicken pot. Cook them at the same time as the chicken, with the intention of serving them alongside. Potatoes, which will make the broth murky, can be added toward the end of the chicken’s cooking.
- Optional: Add a whole or half piece of star anise to cooking water. Add a stick of cinnamon for about five minutes. The combination adds a little extra richness to the broth that’s quite magical.
- Let the pot come to a boil, then lower it to a simmer. Skim the gray scum that rises to the top of the pot and collects around its sides.
- Cook the chicken at just below a simmer, starting to check for doneness after 30 minutes, and then retrieving each part as it’s cooked. The vegetables might be done before the chicken. If they are, remove them. If the chicken’s done first (wiggle a leg; when it begins to come loose, it is done), remove it.
- Remove the chicken. Taste the broth. If it doesn’t taste delicious, let it go on cooking.
- If you’re going to eat it immediately, let the broth settle, then use a ladle to skim any fat off the top of the liquid.
- If you can wait [after it has cooled*], put the broth in the refrigerator. Tomorrow there will be a thin layer of fat over the top of the broth, which you can skim off with a spoon and save for sautéing vegetables or spreading on toast.
- Generally, on whatever day I cook it, I serve my chicken, cut into pieces, and some of the vegetables I’ve cooked with it. If it’s winter, [in addition to the vegetables*], cook tiny pasta shells or heartier pasta, like tortellini, separately, and serve all together.
- — Excerpted from AN EVERLASTING MEAL: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Copyright © 2011 by Tamar Adler. Excerpted with permission by Scribner, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Courses Lunch, Dinner