Decadently preparing for winter. The salad spinner is finally getting less use than the Le Creuset baking dish & Dutch oven. No, this is not an ad for Le Creuset, but I’m really not sure what I would be doing if mom-in-law hadn’t handed these two crucial items down to us, years ago.

First there was tomato sauce:

I got 3 batches out of a 20 lb. crate of dry-farmed Early Girls. YTMV. (Your tomatoes may vary.) Hint: unless you want to have All Tomatoes All the Time for 2 days, spring for the grade A instead of the grade B tomatoes, which have bright red voices made especially for screaming, “WE’RE GONNA SPOIL & ROT & MOLD ANY SECOND SO YOU BETTER DO SOMETHING NOW!” I’ve learned my lesson & next year I’ll be listening to the cheerful voices of the A tomatoes murmuring “no problem, take your time, we’ll be fine all week.”

So. Wash, trim & halve those loud, loud tomatoes. Put them cut side up in the aforementioned Le Creuset 9×12 baking dish. Layer them on top of each other until the baking dish is almost full, with a bit of room at the top for bubbling liquid.

Sprinkle on top: minced garlic & capers, salt, pepper, & a generous back & forth of olive oil.

Roast in 325-350 degree oven for at least an hour. Say an hour & 15 minutes. When you take it out of the oven, there will be tons of liquid in there. Take a big spoon & press the tomatoes down so that relatively clear liquid spills into the spoon, & transfer as much liquid as you can into the aforementioned Dutch oven (or other wide, heavy-bottomed pot). Put that on the stove to simmer. Stir the tomatoes around in the baking dish, turning things so the garlic & capers get mixed in, & stick it back in the oven for another half hour or so.

“Forget” about the simmering liquid on the stove. “Remember” suddenly that you might be burning the pot! In a panic, race to the stove just in time to see that you have the most delicious sludgey tomato syrup, which is just starting to brown. If you had “remembered” just a few minutes later, you would have burned it. Heave a sigh of relief & thank the tomato gods for your sauce-making 6th sense & the awesome pot that can handle such treatment. (Really, I promise Le Creuset never heard of me!) Take the tomatoes from the oven (or probably you already did, it doesn’t actually matter that much) & stir them into the syrup/sludge.

Here’s what it looked like after I already took a big spoonful & put it on spaghetti for my dinner. Much reduced, totally concentrated tomato goodness:

Honestly, if I hadn’t been totally absorbed in a phone conversation with the Triathlete, I don’t think I would have had the patience to let the liquid simmer down that far. Yay for happy kitchen accidents!

But wait, there’s more! You get two blog posts in one!

About the same time, Donna had parallel desires for lasagna & roast chicken. She brought home fresh sheets of pasta & 8 thighs. It would have made sense to make one thing one night & the other thing another night, but sometimes the week just gets away from you. Such as when you get in over your head with a giant box of screaming tomatoes.

Seeing as how we only have one baking dish (you know the one) suitable for lasagna &/or roasting chicken, & seeing as how both the fresh pasta & the raw chicken were starting to grow some slightly-urgent little voices themselves, I said, hey, what if we do them both at once?

CHICKEN LASAGNA STROGANOFF SMASHUP (ever so vaguely based on a mushroom lasagna recipe by Deborah Madison)

8 chicken thighs, bone & skin on, not the really big ones
at least 3 fresh rectangles of pasta to fit your baking dish
bag o’ large brown button mushrooms
bag o’ baby spinach
1 yellow onion
dried porcini mushrooms (I had half a tiny bag. A whole bag would be better.)
1 stick butter
1/2 cup flour
1 box mushroom broth
few cloves garlic
bunch of fresh marjoram
olive oil
salt & pepper

Note: You really need two people to make this. Lasagna is 3 or 4 dishes pretending to be one dish. On the other hand, if your ass hasn’t already been kicked by a bunch of tomatoes, maybe you could do it alone. I wouldn’t.

First, put the porcini mushrooms to soak in a bit of hot water.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Then, make mushroom gravy: Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, & whisk in the flour. When the roux smells insanely good, pour in the mushroom broth. I think it’s best if you heat the broth first. I kinda arrived at this gravy in a, um, less than straightforward fashion. You could, unlike me, consult a real recipe & then actually follow it. Anyway: whisk whisk whisk, bring just barely to a boil so that it thickens, then turn down to super-low simmer & keep whisking.

Meanwhile, rinse off the thighs, trim excess fat, pat dry, & then mix them around in a bowl with salt & pepper.

Wash your mushrooms & spinach. Slice the mushrooms. Chop a few cloves of garlic & an onion.

Are the porcinis good & soft? Whisk the liquid (minus any grit) into the gravy & chop the porcinis. In a large pan, brown the onions with garlic & olive oil, then add the porcinis & the sliced mushrooms. They should give off some liquid & get a nice color to them. We did this in two batches (so as to saute rather than steam). Move all of that into a bowl & then wilt the spinach in the pan to remove most of the liquid.

Wash your marjoram & strip the leaves into the chicken bowl. Toss & rub around.

Now assemble the lasagna as follows:
Butter the pan.
Just a thin layer of gravy.
Sheet of pasta.
Gravy, thicker this time.
Onions & mushrooms.
Onions & mushrooms.
Chicken! Arrange the chicken to cover the lasagna evenly, skin side up.

Like so:

Heft that thing into the oven & let it go for 40 minutes, then check to see if the chicken is done & continue roasting (or not) accordingly. The lasagna will be done before the chicken.

When it was done, Donna looked at it & exclaimed, “Sick!” (She’s been hanging out with kids.)

I did warn you it was decadent. Yes, you are ingesting extra chicken fat with every bite of tender lasagna. Yes, you can rationalize it all you want by saying “well we didn’t use any cheese, & the gravy is made with mushroom broth instead of milk….” Yes, it’s not the prettiest piece of chicken you ever did see (& this isn’t the prettiest picture either), but it’s damn delicious.

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More love!

At the Women’s Building tonight, Sherman Alexie (looking spiffy in cufflinks) tried to explain to the young people in the room what they’re missing in their lives. Citing Joan Jett’s remark that there is no anticipation anymore, he delivered a long, evocative rumination on the beauty of not knowing what you were going to hear when you so carefully placed that fresh vinyl on the turntable for the first time.

Then he laughed at himself for sounding so old: “That’s how fast things are moving now… 43 is the new 80!”

Dude! How true is that?! I sometimes forget that part of what makes me love Sherman so much (aside from his obvious greatness) is that I totally lock in with his pop cultural perspective because he & I are the same age.

Folks who hang out with me, consider yourself warned. You can look forward to me saying “43 is the new 80” for some time to come. At least until I turn 44, heh.

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Gillian Welch & David Rawlings at the Fillmore: More than worth the backache from standing all night long. That hallowed room is really not for creaky old bodies, but 10 feet from the stage with the flawless crystal sound, Gil & Dave working their magic, breathing & creating as one organism, it’s so good, it feels like love.

Warren pears: Almost not of this world—but they are of this world, they come from the ground, they grow on trees & aren’t we lucky beyond belief? It seems like insanity to eat any other fruit right now. (I am insane, though, & cannot refuse the last of the melons & stone fruits.)

Gourmet magazine: A different kind of love, more material & mundane perhaps, but no less real. I grew up ogling those centerfolds every month, year after yummy year. I refuse to say RIP! Will someone come in & rescue it somehow? Am I in denial?

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