Tag Archives: Family

Confidence Gravy

“Do we have any gravy?”

That’s the sort of question you might dread, if the roast turned out to be more well-done than you’d intended.  But that wasn’t the case.  It was 10 PM on a Tuesday and she was in the shower.

“No,” I called back, “but I’m sure I can make some.”

“Right,” she said.  “Because you’re the kind of guy who makes gravy.”

Well, how else would one get gravy?  There are jarred versions sold in stores, I suppose. She had a jar in the City House kitchen for a long while, but I don’t remember what happened to it.

I’m sure I can make some.

I wasn’t sure at all, in fact.  After Sunday’s Chicken Debacle, I wasn’t at all confident about my ability to make toast, much less gravy.  It got me thinking. Gravy was routinely on the dinner table when I was growing up. But somewhere along the line tastes changed, or at least styles of eating did. We have sushi, ratatouille, and sandwiches-on-the-go, but gravy doesn’t happen all the time.  My grandmother and mother could have made gravy without thinking twice about it, but we get it from the supermarket.

Or not.

While Sunday’s chicken was in the oven, I’d cooked the neck and giblets into a saucepan with a cup or two of water, discarded the neck, chopped the giblets and put them aside. I wasn’t sure what to do with them, but it had seemed like the right thing to do.  Once the chicken finally came out of the oven, I reserved and de-fatted the drippings from the roasting pan.  I didn’t dare try to use them at the time; I was happy enough to have food on the table without the possibility of botching a condiment. But it meant that, on Tuesday night, I had in the fridge a ramekin of rich chicken bits and a container of homemade stock. I was most of the way to gravy.

I just had to look up what to do with it.  Something thickens gravy–a roux?  A–what’s that word–a slurry?  Right, that’s it.  (The internet was faster than a cookbook.)

I sautéed some chopped mushrooms in a little olive oil (because: why not?), added the diced giblets to reheat, added most of the stock and brought it to boil. I barely warmed the last quarter-cup of stock and put it into a Mason jar with a tablespoon of all-purpose flour, lidded the jar, and shook it ’til there were no lumps. I added the slurry to the saucepan and whisked.  And magic occurred.  Well, not magic, but gravy. Silky-looking chicken gravy.

In pajamas after her shower, she came to the kitchen to scramble the eggs that would accompany the grits she wanted for her late supper.

“You made gravy!”

I might have grinned a little. “Where would you like it?”

“Oh,” she said. “I was thinking over some of the roasted vegetables for lunch tomorrow.”

Well, of course.  Who puts gravy on scrambled eggs?

Actually, that sounded kind of wonderful.

I put a little egg-and-grits in a tiny bowl, spooned a little gravy over it, and took a taste. It wasn’t the umami-bomb of store-bought, but gentler—not too salty, studded with bits of mushroom and giblets and flecked with a little black pepper. It tasted like home.

I’ll probably screw up dinner again at some point, probably badly enough that we end up ordering pizza.  But tonight, there was gravy.  I’d like to think Mom and Grandma would be proud.  Or maybe they’d just shake their heads and say, “He had to look that up?”


Epilogue: “I don’t need anything for lunch,” she said this morning. “I’ve got things in the office fridge from yesterday.”

Crunch Time

Her sister’s sons–adorable little boys–are picky eaters, so it was big excitement for sis to include some paprika in the cracker-crumb breading for the chicken nuggets she made them last night.

“Crackers?” I said.  “She wants the boys to eat homemade nuggets, they should be covered in crushed pretzels.”

“You’ve done this?” she asked.

“No, but it would work.” I was just trying to think of a crunchy snack the boys would like–and that she would actually serve them.  Cool Ranch Doritos-covered chicken, probably not so much.

We started thinking about some terrific beer-battered fish we’d made one night in early Spring, and that we could do something very similar with the chicken I was defrosting.

Two chicken breasts, deboned, yielded six good-sized chicken strips, with the bones added to a bag in the freezer; that stock will become, when the bag is full, stock.

The strips got a quick dredge in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, and lots of sweet Hungarian paprika, a dunk in batter made with a Rolling Rock I keep on hand for such purposes, a roll in multigrain cracker crumbs, and three minutes a side in half an inch of 350ºF canola oil.  The cooked ones kept warm on a draining rig in the oven until all were finished, and were served with CSA-fresh corn and sliced tomatoes. The crust was crisp, the chicken perfectly moist. I envied the little boys their broccoli, but she tells me they probably didn’t eat that.

After dinner, I dashed to the basement and returned with a cardboard paint bucket to store the leftovers. They’re not a bit oily, but the porous container will keep the crust from getting mushy.

When we try Cool Ranch Doritos-covered chicken, it’ll probably have to be baked rather than fried, but I suspect we won’t need a bucket to store leftovers.

The bucket says "wet," but the chicken is not.

The bucket says “wet,” but the chicken is not.

Very French, or Nearly So

There was no dinner at the country house last night; we’d gone over the river and through the woods to have lunch with her beloved Nana, and to deliver furniture to a refinishing shop. We stopped for gas on the way home at a dairy store where she worked during college breaks. Dinner, such as it was, was a double-scoop cone for each of us. 

Brunch today, however, was another matter. Open-faced tomato and mozzarella sandwiches on really good bread, sliced hard-cooked eggs over lettuce with a mustard vinaigrette, and an apple-cider donut, sliced and grilled. She had a wide-brimmed mug of sweet, light tea; I had coffee. I discovered that a beach umbrella fit perfectly into the table on the deck and provided just enough shade.  It might not seemed authentic to a Parisian, but brunch on this late August Saturday felt very much like I remember simple meals at homes in the south of France on a trip long ago.

She broke off a big piece of romaine, wrapped half a of a mustardy hard-boiled egg in it, and mmmmmmdd contentedly after taking a bite. “When you serve meals like this, I don’t want them to end,” she said. “I can’t decide what I want the last bite to be.”

That’s compliment enough for any cook.

Some days you grab a bagel on the way out the door. When there's time for a proper breakfast, you take it.

Some days you barely grab a bagel on the way out the door. When there’s time for a proper breakfast, you take it.