Friday, August 13, 2010

Feasting Friday the 13th

Thanks to

I’ve never been particularly superstitious.

Black cats don’t make me cringe. I pretty much think they are cute.

U will luff me or sufr konseekwences.

I have wantonly stepped on cracks with no ill effects to my mother. I avoid walking under ladders not because I worry about bad luck but because I worry about large men dropping tools on my head. I have opened umbrellas inside, and broken the occasional mirror and not lost any sleep.

Eleven years working in professional theater does mean that I say The Scottish Play, and Lord and Lady M instead of allowing M*A*C*B*E*T*H to pass my lips, even when I am not physically in a theater, but more for the comfort of others than for my own mental health.

Production directed by my pal Susan for Citylit Chicago!  Cool poster.  Eerie....ooooo.

But when it comes to kitchen superstitions, I do tend to err on the side of caution.


I throw spilled salt over my left shoulder with my right hand, to ward off bad luck. If I give a knife as a gift I include a penny that the recipient can give back to me to “buy” the knife, since giving a knife as a present is said to sever the relationship. I never cut both ends of a loaf of bread, and often toss the last slice to the birds or squirrels. Despite deep desire to do so, I refrain from poking around anyone’s stove or prep unless invited. When friends move into a new home, I will often gift them a broom, a packet of salt and a loaf of bread to bring them luck.

A Wiccan friend once called me a Kitchen Witch. ( I thought he called me a Kitchen Bitch at first and was somewhat put out, but then he explained that he said WITCH, and it was a compliment.) Apparently in the Pagan traditions, a kitchen witch was someone who creates magic through what she cooks, by making her meals with loving intent, bringing both physical sustenance but also good luck, natural protective spells and herbal remedies. I thought about the number of times I have made chicken soup for a sick pal, or sweet baked goods for celebrations or thank you gifts, comfort foods for the bereaved or heartbroken. I kind of liked it.

It is SO much better than Kitchen Bitch, which is what my wasband used to call me, probably because of my Kitchen Double Standard. Not familiar? Here is how it works:

1. If I cook for you, I have toiled for your pleasure, and you should clean up and do all the dishes.

2. If you cook, you have dirtied up the kitchen and should clean up after yourself.

In his defense, it was a leeeetle bit bitchy, and is certainly not remotely the way I am with my Charming Suitor.

In my defense, he was an asshat. ‘Nough said.

At any rate, today is Friday the 13th, which can be a tricky day for those of you who do hold to some superstitious beliefs.

So your Polymathematical Kitchen Witch is here at the ready with recipes that are really hard to mess up. The kind of forgiving foods that survive even serious bad juju.

Some Friday the 13th kitchen advice:

This is a good day to rely on pre-prepped items, even if they are slightly more expensive…bags of pre-washed greens, pre-chopped onions or veggies, proteins already broken into their necessary usable parts. No reason to risk potential bloodletting with fancy knife work.

If you do order in, order from a usual place and don’t try anything you haven’t tried before…that way you won’t be unpleasantly surprised.

Make something with inherent “good luck”. Long noodles are said to bring long life, lentils and rice bring bounty and abundance, cabbage and other leafy greens are said to bring prosperity, seafood brings the reminder of the cleansing nature of water and the ocean, and sweet things like honey, baked goods and dried fruits like dates bring sweetness to life. (Oh, and of course, I happen to think chocolate, champagne and whipped cream bring good luck. I did not say good health, I just said good luck!)

Here are some “good luck” easy recipes for your Friday the 13th…hope you have a fantastic weekend! (And don’t forget to enter the contest for lunch with me and Jen Lancaster in your hometown!)

French Lentils With Shallots And Thyme

2 shallots, peeled and halved
1 carrot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 rib celery, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups French Du Puy lentils
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3 bay leaves
1 tablespoon kosher salt or 1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
6 c chicken stock or water

In a food processor, combine shallot, celery and carrot. Process until finely chopped.

Place a large saucepan over medium heat, and add oil. When hot, add chopped vegetables, and sauté until softened, 5 to 10 minutes. Add 6 cups water or chicken stock, lentils, thyme, bay leaves and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a fast simmer.

Simmer until lentils are tender and have absorbed most of the water or stock, for 20 to 25 minutes. If necessary, drain any excess liquid after lentils have cooked. Serve immediately, or allow them to cool and reheat later. Serve with sausages below…


Roasted Sausages with Red Grapes

4 mild chicken or pork Italian sausages, about 5-6 ounces each
1 lb red seedless grapes, preferably organic
4 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar, or to taste

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees.

Heat a heavy skillet, preferably cast-iron, over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Lay the sausages in the skillet, and cook them, turning once, until nicely browned, about 8 minutes total.

While the sausages are cooking, remove the grapes from their stems, rinse them under cool water, drain them, and place them in a bowl. Add the olive oil, and toss.

When the sausages are browned, place them in an 8-inch square glass or ceramic baking dish, and dump the grapes on top of and around them. Slide the dish into the oven, and bake for 25 minutes, turning the sausages once after about 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven, and move the sausages to a platter or individual plates. Pour the grapes and their juices into a small saucepan, season with a pinch of salt, and place the saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring, until the grapes bubble and sizzle and their juices are syrupy. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vinegar, and pour the grapes over the sausages. Serve.

Thanks BBCGoodFood

Linguine With Tuna

1 pound linguine
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 small shallot, minced
½ t chili flakes, or to taste
1/2 cup pitted oil-cured black olives, sliced
1/4 cup small nonpareil capers
1/2 cup canned cannellini beans
12 ounces imported canned tuna in olive oil, drained
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup coarse, lightly toasted bread crumbs

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until al dente.

Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a very large skillet. Add garlic and shallots. Sauté until soft. Add chili flakes, olives, capers and beans and cook another minute or so. Break up tuna in flakes and add. Cook until ingredients are warm. Remove from heat.

Drain pasta, reserving about a cup of water. Add pasta, parsley and mint to skillet. Return to low heat and toss well. Add remaining olive oil and pasta water to moisten ingredients. Season with salt, black pepper and more chili flakes if desired. Transfer to a serving bowl, top with bread crumbs and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

Greens Braised In Red Wine

1 1/2 pounds collards, kale or other greens, washed and trimmed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup dry red wine

Tear or chop greens into bite-size pieces. Place olive oil in a large skillet, and turn heat to medium-high. Add shallots and, when they soften, the greens. Toss frequently, and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium, and add chicken stock, salt and pepper. Cover, and cook for 5 minutes.

Remove cover, and add wine. Cook, uncovered and stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until almost all of the liquid has evaporated and the greens are tender.

Thanks LLDesserts

Lemon Olive Oil Cake

3/4 fruity extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for the pan
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup Greek whole milk yogurt or sour cream
Finely grated zest of 3 lemons

Juice of 1 lemon
½ t vanilla extract
2 c confectioners’ sugar
pinch salt

Put oven rack in center position and heat oven to 325. Lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan or large loaf pan. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

With an electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in a large bowl on high speed for 5 minutes, or until pale and thick. Add yogurt, zest; beat to combine. With mixer on medium speed, add oil in a quick steady stream. Reduce speed to low and gradually add flour mixture just until blended. Whisk batter by hand to make sure that all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour batter into pan. Bake, rotating pan once, until cake is golden, center springs back to touch, and edges pull away from pan, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool for a minute or two on rack, then release from pan. Blend lemon juice, vanilla, salt and confectioners’ sugar into a glaze, and pour over cake when still warm but not hot, and then cool completely before slicing.

Yours in Good Taste, and Good Luck,
The Polymath


  1. Like you, while I don't consider myself superstitious overall, I am a spilled-salt-thrower from way back. HAVE to do it.

    That lemon-olive oil cake looks fantastic!

  2. I never thought I was superstitious, until the asshat I am married to decided to tease me by rocking an empty rocking chair. Good thing we have a no gun household. To be honest, I have an unhealthy fascination with knives & my 18 year old daughter threatens to change all my passwords if I fixate too much. I have had black cats all my life and am certain they are blessed with special healing powers. Our current incarnation is Dr. Mulder, Spooky Mulder and SHE is currently with kitten after a 2 day escape. She also left our yard while enjoying the great chase and a bellyful is not all she brought home. In the midst of 4 month eradication battle now. Anyway, the above picture could be of her. Love your column. Oh, and thinks to an UBER-superstitious mother, I have discovered she infected my brain with a plethora of these caveats. Of course, I reason out sound logic for most. Some I am sure are common, some less so. She also was queen of malapropisms. I have many strange and wonderful superstitions and sayings that are unique to my area, my upbringing and,yes, my amazing late Momma. I miss her. Love your blog, btw. Thanks and down with triskaidekaphobia!