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Almost Homemade | KERRI EIKER

Almost Homemade

My stories about my home cooking typically feature culinary creations which are delicious successes. The truth is 80% of the time my cooking and baking result in cleaned plates and requests for an encore, 20% of the time I salvage what I can to feed to the dog and order a pizza.
Often my biggest culinary failures are exhausting processes of making items that could just as easily be purchased.  Many years ago, while catering an elegant dinner party for 75, my labor intensive homemade eggroll dough disintegrated in the vat of boiling oil. I was left with a bowl full of eggroll filling and no edible vessel.
At home some of my humanly inedible creations included a batch of vegan cookies with a cashew “cream” filling that tasted like sawdust and paste which ended up as dog treats.  My mushy pickles unpleasantly puckered the lips and dried the mouth, then ended up in the compost pile.  My soggy sweet potato fries often wind up as a dog food ingredient.
There is a healthy sense of accomplishment that comes from creating challenging recipes, like my buttery, flakey, delicate croissant rolls that even Julia Child would applaud.  But attempting to create dinner’s every detail from scratch on a daily basis, is often a hassle and generates tension.
On a busy midweek workday I was craving Indian food and decided to make Butter Chicken.  I measured and prepared the ingredients early that morning and dusted a layer of flour off my “breads of the world” cook book.  The nann recipe page was splattered with grease stains from ghee that landed on the page when I threw my spatula down into the skillet in frustration and defeat at my last attempt.
“Why does it smell like garlic so early in the morning?”  My daughter asked as she sleepily shuffled through the kitchen towards the coffee pot.
She examined the chopped ginger and sniffed the green cardamom pods.  “Indian for dinner?”  She asked hopefully.
“Yes! And I’m making nann.”  I said and turned the dough out onto the counter to knead.
“Oh…last time I almost broke a tooth on one of those. And I remember you weren’t in a very good mood.” She said and backed away from the counter as if I were kneading a plastic explosive.
“I remember last time.”  I huffed and placed the dough in an oiled bowl.  “You can help me make them tonight.”
“Ha! You never allow us in the kitchen when you’re making bread.” My daughter said then imitated my “get out of the kitchen” mantra complete with a theatrical performance of my hand gestures that reminded me of when we used to herd cattle at the farm.
“I could swing by the clay oven and pick up an order of nann.”  My daughter wisely offered but I was stubbornly determined that the entire dinner be homemade.
My last meeting of the day was informal and held in my colleague’s kitchen where her husband was busy preparing a bounty of homemade dishes. Three of us pulled stools up to the Kitchen Island with our work books and tablets.
“I hope we won’t be in your way.”  I offered an apology, knowing how distracted I am by “intruders” while cooking.
“Not at all, in fact I could use some taste testers.”  We were treated to a fresh and spicy quinoa mixture. When I asked for the ingredients I was disappointed to learn that it was made with a “purchased” Asian sauce and black beans from a can.
Next we were served tempura vegetables.  “mmmm I want the recipe for this tempura batter.”  I said.  The “chef” placed a box of tempura mix in front of me. This working kitchen was laid back and friendly, my own kitchen sometimes resembles the set of an angry-chef reality show.
In my friends warm and social kitchen all the complicated measuring, sifting, kneading and soaking details came in a nice little premade package. No one at that house was afraid of the chef. I took the exit to clay oven on my drive home.
“Hi Kerri!  Where have you been?”  AJ, the owner of the restaurant asked.
AJ gave an understanding nod when I described my new busy schedule that often has me packing lunch rather than dining at his restaurant.
“No entrée?”  AJ asked when all I ordered was garlic nann.
“I’m making the entrée tonight, Butter chicken.”  I said proudly.
“Tell me how you plan to make it.”  AJ asked then rested his chin on his hand waiting for my story.
I prattled on about my complicated recipe.  When I had finished AJ lifted his head.
“Would you like to know how to really make butter chicken?” He asked and winked.  I nodded then placed my chin on my hand.
“You know how to make ghee?”  He asked.
I nodded.
“It’s simple”, he said.
I agreed.
“Heat the ghee in a large cast iron skillet. Sautee minced shallot and onion then add minced garlic and ginger, a spoon of gram Marsala, cumin powder, salt pepper and a bay leaf, and throw in some cardamom pods.  Then add your chopped tomatoes and season it with salt and lots of pepper. Let that simmer for a few minutes”
AJ suggested bone in chicken thighs even though his western diners prefer boneless white meat. Where my recipe called for several complicated steps, AJ’s recipe was a one pot prep.  He said, “Keep it simple, simple tastes better.”
The warm buttery scent of ghee, the comforting smell of warm yeast, and the nutty savory scent from the garlic nann made my mouth water on my drive home.  Suddenly any guilt I had about not making the bread myself vanished.
“Clear out of the kitchen! Mom’s home.”  My daughter announced as I walked through the door. My son and two cats quickly vacated the work zone
“Come back in here.  I want you to help me cook.” I said.  The kids timidly entered the sacred kitchen space.
As the sauce began to bubble my son fished out the cardamom pods and bay leaf then used the immersion blender until the sauce was light orange in color and had a silky texture.  My daughter measured ingredients for the basmati rice and made the vegetable.  I threw my nann dough into the freezer, poured myself a glass of wine.
The chicken thighs had been simmering in the sauce for about 45 minutes when my husband walked in the door.
“Are we eating takeout tonight?”  He assumed as the rushed element typical during the week was absent in the kitchen.
When the chicken was tender I finished the sauce with some whole milk plain yogurt and swirled in a couple of tablespoons of ghee.  The simple flavors combined to create an exquisite taste, the simplicity of the meal and the evening were a welcome change of pace.  AJ was right, simple, at least on busy work days does taste better.

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