My mom’s food was always ugly, but almost always tasted great – and she was constitutionally unable to cook the same thing twice. Most great meals were the product of some divine flash of inspiration while stirring a soup or pondering the spice cupboard. But lightning never struck the same way twice.
In our way we talked a lot about food over the years, trading descriptions of good meals we’d stumbled into. I don’t think I ever asked her about the cooking she did in my growing up years. But as I get older, and more unavoidably adult with a job and a husband and cat to feed, I think I have a bit of insight into her methods.
When I lived with my mom, she worked til 5 or later, came home, stared at the wall for a bit and made dinner for us. Which sounds remarkably like the bulk of my evenings. What was lacking for her – and for me – was any kind of forethought or plan about meals. You cooked what you had. Because we were both rather random shoppers, we tended to have a lot, and a lot that needed to be eaten quickly. (Trouble with expiration dates is apparently genetic. who knew?)
I think about this now, because 4 nights out of 5 I spend my last 10 minutes at work picturing the contents of my fridge and wondering what the hell I can turn into a meal. I suspect my mom spent a lot of her last few minutes at work doing the same thing. While I’m not in her league, it’s also my saving grace as a cook. I can’t follow recipes, can’t measure things, have no particular techniques mastered – but I’m willing to get creative, and know that whatever mess comes out, Jesse will eat it.
Which brings me to Wednesday. I had two chicken legs and four sausages which all needed to be eaten, and not much else. The answer? Meatballs.
I’ve never made meatballs. In fact, as far as I can remember, I’ve never actually eaten meatballs other than the Swedish variety. But why should that stop me? I did some digging, and decided that this smitten kitchen recipe was probably as good as I was going to get as a base.
I de-boned my chicken and pulsed in the food processor with a bunch of cilantro and an egg. Then I tore up three pieces of bread and soaked them in milk. Next, I cut up a shallot and sauteed it in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. I put this in the bowl of the processor, along with chili garlic sausages, squeezed out of their casings. When the bread was good and mushy, I squeezed the milk out, dumped it in the bowl and processed the whole thing for a few seconds. When it was all mixed, I formed about 10 golf ball-sized meatballs, put them on a baking sheet, coated with a little tomato paste and oil and baked for about 30 minutes in a 400° oven.
Sauce, you ask? I’m glad you did. I thought sausages and mustard go well together, so I found a recipe for a creamy mustard sauce. Cream, whole grain mustard, shallot, garlic and white wine, courtesy of the BBC. Served with some pasta, it was a remarkably simple, very tasty and only slightly bizarre meal.