Did I ever tell you that I meal plan every week? I do. I usually look at the coming weeks weather forecast and plan meals according to how cold or blustery and or how sunny and warm it's supposed to be and come up with meals according to that. Warm=Salads, grilled fish, etc. Cold=soups, stews, roasts and cozy sides like leeks vinaigrette. It's cold this week.
I meal plan because there is an art to cooking, and that's why I so adore it. Thought goes into which member of the family likes what, to planning time to cook, and yes, looking at the weather to make sure what I serve is going to be appropriate. Call me crazy but I don't want chili when it's 55 degrees and sunny (55 degrees in Steamboat during the winter is like summer time). So I meal plan. Sometimes shopping for a full weeks worth of food is daunting, especially if I have 3 little kids to haul to the store, so I break it up into two shorter trips for those times. I'll shop on Monday for groceries through Thursday and then go again at the end of the week.
I like to be thoughtful about food because the pace of life today is so quick, and we often feel so rushed and disconnected from one another, that it's easy to forget how powerful the ritual of eating together can be. To be able to sit at the table, passing food, sharing stories of the day, with the sense that for an hour or so, the outside world can be set aside, is a gift to embrace. Some days life is sweet, other days life can be hard, but the one thing we can always strive to do, is to partake of the comfort and pleasure of sharing a meal with those we hold dear. Thank you to the great Thomas Keller, for helping me define that in my life.
Dinner to me is almost like a love letter to my family. I'm fortunate enough to enjoy the preparation of such meals. There are other areas of my life (ahem...laundry) that are not as pleasurable for me, but I do it anyway for the same reason. It is an honor for me to be the wife of a husband I respect and adore and the mother to children I am honored enough to be around. I love them and take care of them. Of course there are nights when I don't take delight in the precision of my cutting skills while chopping vegetables. I'm tired. I'm done. I don't want to make dinner EVERY night. And I don't. But when I need to, I dig down deep and remember why I do this. That it is my great privilege to serve my family in this way. And sometimes, that includes meticulously cleaning leeks.
Leeks might not be a familiar side dish to us Americans, but to the French, it's about as everyday as it can gets. You boil trimmed leeks in very salty water until soft and toss them with homemade vinaigrette and because of the method in which you cook them, they transform from leeks with vinaigrette to something finer, to leeksandvinaigrette, rich and saucy, or so Molly over at Orangette likes to say. She got this recipe when she lived in France for college. Her host mother, Corentine, would make these weekly. I imagine she had been making them her whole life and that they amounted to nothing special in her mind...just some cooked leeks tossed in vinegar and oil. Those French just don't know how very chic they can be sometimes. Actually, I take that back. They probably most definitely do.
adapted from the blog, "Orangette" by Molly Weisenberg
2 to 3 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 to 2 tsp. Dijon mustard
¼ tsp. salt, or more to taste
6 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small to medium shallot, minced
2 lb. small leeks (about 7 or 8)
Finely chopped bacon
Finely chopped hard-boiled egg
In a small bowl, whisk together 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon mustard, and salt. Gradually whisk in the olive oil, mixing until emulsified. Taste. This dressing should be fairly bright, and the mustard flavor should come through, but not too powerfully. Adjust as needed with vinegar, mustard, and/or salt. When you’re happy with it, add the shallots, whisking to blend. Set aside. Be sure to taste it again later, just before tossing it with the leeks, so that if necessary, you can adjust it according to their flavor.
Lay a clean kitchen towel on the counter near the stove. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and salt it well. It should taste like sea water.
While the water comes to a boil, prepare the leeks. Trim away the hair-like roots, but take care not too cut in too far; you want the leek to stay intact. Cut off and discard the dark green leafy parts, leaving just the white and pale green stalk. Starting about 1 inch from the root end, so as to keep the white part intact, cut lengthwise down the middle of the leek. (If you were to splay the cut leek open, it should look like a stubby Y.) Wash the leeks well under running water, flushing any dirt from between the layers. Boil until they are very, very tender and yield easily to a knife. Their color will become muted, and they may be falling apart a little. That’s okay. To be sure they’re done, taste one: it should taste sweet, with no trace of raw flavor. The amount of time that this will take depends on their size, but it will probably take longer than you think. Ten minutes is a good bet.
Draining the leeks as well as you can, transfer them to the kitchen towel on the counter. Blot and press them dry. (Don’t burn yourself!) While they’re still hot, put them in a bowl, and toss them with a generous amount of the dressing. Allow to cool at least slightly before serving.
These leeks are slightly sweet and oniony. They would be perfect as a side to a steak dinner, but really, anything works with these guys. We had an all veggie night where we just prepared a lot of vegetables different ways, got out a loaf of fantastic bread made by a local bakery and called it dinner. It was delicious.