Kitchen puttering and the gift of time

It's Saturday night on a holiday weekend. You have some potential upcoming projects brewing in the wings (how's that for a mixed metaphor?), but nothing super-urgent that needs to be handled RIGHT NOW. You have most of the leftovers of a Thanksgiving dinner: mashed potatoes, partially demolished turkey, various odds & ends of tastiness. And you have an absolute bounty of winter vegetables, leeks and beets and carrots and an utterly gorgeous organic butternut squash, all of which you picked up at the farmer's market thinking you were going to use them for Thanksgiving… but then a couple hours later your T-day plans changed and the veggies were left to languish.

So what do you do? You putter, of course. You start by cutting the greens and ends off the beets and tossing them into a 400-degree oven. Then you peel and cube the squash, consider the carrots, wander upstairs to mess about on the internet and discover that not only can you roast leeks, but that they're reputedly fabulous that way. So you return to the kitchen, wash the leeks well, and cut them into tempting little concentric rounds. Mixed with the squash, they're now plopped onto the baking sheet next to the beets… but you know they'll need a little boost of flavor, so you drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle them with salt and pepper and gently mix together with your beloved silicone spoon-ula.

On to the turkey. You discover that, far from being an onerous chore, cutting every conceivable scrap of meat off the bony carcass is actually sort of relaxing… sort of Zen. The rhythm of the knife against the cutting board is soothing. All is well.

It occurs to you that when you mix the vegetables and turkey together, the beets are immediately going to stain everything a lovely but frankly unappetizing sort of reddish-purple. You ponder this, and wonder if your children will turn up their noses at anything of such a hue. You decide this is likely.

A plan starts slowly, tentatively, to take root in your mind. You get a little excited, but try not to show it. Visible maternal excitement is often a cue for unwarranted filial misbehavior.

You dig through the freezer. There it is! A quart-sized zip-top bag, brimming with frozen chicken broth you made yourself on a previous leisurely cooking adventure. You pull it out, run hot water over the bag to loosen the icy goodness within, slide the yellowish mass into a saucepan and start reheating it gently on the stove.

You toss a chunk of butter into a large soup pot, let it start melting and pop the container of mashed potatoes into the microwave for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, you scatter flour over the butter and cook up a roux that, while delightfully aromatic, is probably not going to be enough to thicken the whole sauce. No problem. You measure out a little over a cup of half-and-half and whisk a couple tablespoons of cornstarch into it.

Now the broth goes into the roux; it all comes together in a bubbling golden whole. You top it off with the cream-and-cornstarch mix, bring it to a boil and let it simmer, thickening slowly. After a bit, you season with salt and pepper, then dip your spoon in for a taste.

Oh. My. That is good, isn't it? You call over a passing child and offer him a taste, too. He approves wholeheartedly–so much so that he's almost double-dipped his spoon into the sauce before you can stop him. Clean spoons only for tasters, buddy!

Time to check on the veggies. Ooh. They are just about perfect at this point, about 40 minutes after first going into the oven; your testing fork slides easily into one of the beets, releasing a gush of flavorful (and very red) juice. You pull the tray from the oven, set it aside to cool a little, then rub the beets with a paper towel until their skin comes off in chunks (in the process, staining your hands a brilliant but transitory purple). You decide to go with your gut feeling and serve the beets separately from everything else; it's the work of a minute to cube them, toss them in a bowl with salt and pepper, garnish them with a little balsamic vinegar. They'll rest, coming to an even-more-delectable room temperature, while you work. No telling how many beet morsels will end up popped into your mouth before dinner is ready, though.

Now you fold the turkey, squash and leeks into the sorta-velouté sauce. Let that simmer for a minute, just until the turkey is heated through. Then scoop it, bit by bit (because there was just a tad more sauce than you wanted) into a greased baking dish. Spoon the heated mashed potatoes delicately over the top, spreading them out just a little so that potato meets dish-edge all the way around.

Pop the whole thing into a 350-degree oven. Bake for twenty minutes; during this time you'll amaze yourself by summoning up the energy to clean up a startlingly messy kitchen. Then sprinkle the top with a handful of shredded cheese and a light dusting of paprika; return to the oven for a final five cheese-melting minutes; and prepare yourself and your dinner companions for a really astonishingly tasty meal.

Yes, they'll even eat the beets. And be disappointed that there aren't enough for seconds.

Serve with a glass of cold Portland tap water and a generous helping of Spirited Away.

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About Molly Newman

Writer, cook and trivia/spelling bee hostess, living it up in North Portland.
This entry was posted in Food and Drink, Recipes. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Kitchen puttering and the gift of time

  1. Helena says:

    I just ate and now you’ve got me hungry again!

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