December 26, 2012

The Maine Ingredient: After dinner, be a love and pitch in

By ANNE MAHLE

I know that the patriarch in a family won't change his stripes simply because I write a column. I also know that family dynamics can be complicated and nuanced, and sometimes it's better to NOT say something and instead to focus on the things that you DO enjoy about the individuals in your family. I get that. It doesn't mean that I won't try to work on it.

It's the moment I struggle with every holiday. I've done the planning, the shopping, the cleaning, the setting, the ironing AND the cooking. It's all been done with a light heart. I care about what the table looks like, and it makes me happy when the tablecloth is pressed and there are candles on the table.

So even if it doesn't matter to everyone, I do those things for myself (and my mom because she cares, too). That's cool. My choice. My choice also to do the cooking in the first place, although even if I didn't like cooking as much as I do, I'd still never pass up a chance to work side by side with my mom -- doing anything, really. Except after a long day of cooking when I'm ready to sit down and watch a Patriots game.

It's been a long day, and I felt truly blessed to have my family around to cook for. Now it's after dinner. There are a lot of dishes. One by one, the diners leave the table, clear their plates and saunter to the couch in search of the remote. At that moment, I have to work to feel blessed. And I do feel blessed ... that I have loved ones to feel frustrated with. Blessed to have myriad family dynamics and needs swirling.

But dang, people. Get off your posteriors and clean up. Give thanks to those who did all the stuff before you sat down and ate so much that now your belly is uncomfortable. I know you are logy from too much food, a warm room and maybe a little imbibing. BUT ... so are the people who stood in the kitchen all day making food for you.

Dear loved ones, don't make someone ask you to help. Pick up your heads for a second and look around. Be a part of the team that is your family. It doesn't do it to just clear your plate, although thank you very much for that.

The Patriots were playing that night. I had my personal 'game plan' all laid out by putting my time in at the beginning of the day, and the day before, etc. Now I'm on the couch and the game has started and Mom, Dad and my husband are up in the kitchen cleaning up.

There were 20 people sitting at the dinner table earlier. Mom has worked alongside me all day, and she is tired. Now I have two choices: Get up from one of my favorite hobbies to do more work or let my mom do it while I watch the game. I went to help my mom -- as I should and wanted to. But my heart was not free of resentment at that moment and it took some time before I could work myself around to a tone of voice that didn't have "tone."

Ultimately, the game wasn't that important, not as important as helping my mom (and dad and husband). Ultimately, it didn't take us that long to finish. Ultimately, I did get to watch the better part of the game . They are, after all, three hours long.

It was my choice to not say something. I see most of these loved ones once or twice a year. It wasn't worth it to me. But I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who has choices like this to make over the holidays.

For those of you who cook for loved ones, thank you. For those of you who don't cook, thank you for being part of the family team and contributing in other ways.

If you are like me and have been up to your eyeballs in cooking and baking, I created this brunch menu for you. It is easy, delicious and can be expanded to feed a crowd.

To those who have been the recipients of loving food, but have yet to be the giver, feel free to spread the load a little and give these recipes a try. If that ain't your thang, feel free to do the dishes.

HEALTHY VEGETABLE STRATA

12 slices of day old or dry French or Italian Bread, cut in 1/2-inch slices

1 clove garlic, slightly crushed

5 large eggs

2 cups milk

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1 cup loosely packed fresh chopped basil leaves

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 medium summer squash or zucchini, washed and cut into quarters lengthwise, then cut into pieces about 1/2 inch thick

2 tomatoes, seeded and roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly butter a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Rub the top of each slice of bread with the garlic clove. Lay the slices in the dish in one layer, cutting them into pieces when necessary. Season lightly with salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs, then whisk in the milk, half of the cheese and a generous amount of salt and pepper. Add the basil and stir gently. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until it softens and colors lightly, about 7 to 10 minutes. Stir the squash into the onion, spreading everything in a single layer, and let it sit undisturbed for 1 to 2 minutes to encourage browning. Turn and continue cooking another 1 to 2 minutes until browned. When the squash is lightly browned on both sides, stir in the tomatoes, stir to toss and remove from heat. Use a slotted spoon to drain off any excess liquid and spread the vegetables evenly over the bread. Give the milk and egg mixture a stir and gently pour it all into the dish. Top with the remaining cheese. Bake until the milk and egg mixture sets, about 40 to 45 minutes. Cool at least 5 minutes, cut into squares and serve.

Serves 8-12

PARMESAN POTATO GRATIN

2 teaspoons olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

11/2 cups thinly sliced onion; about 1 medium onion

1 pound thinly sliced Yukon Gold potatoes, unpeeled (about 4 to 6 potatoes)

1/2 cup chicken or vegetable broth

1/4 cup minced parsley

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Salt and freshly grated black pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add the garlic and onions, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions have softened, about 7 to 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and broth. Cover and continue cooking until the potatoes are soft enough to mash with the back of a spoon, about 20 minutes. Add more broth if necessary to prevent sticking. Preheat the broiler. Lightly grease an 8-inch gratin dish or baking dish. Mash the potatoes coarsely with the back of a spoon or fork, stir in the parsley and spoon it into the prepared gratin dish, spreading evenly. Sprinkle the potato mixture with the grated cheese. Broil until the top is golden brown, about 3 minutes.

Serves 4-6

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of "At Home, At Sea." She can be reached at:

chefannie@mainewindjammer.com

 

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