“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 7 – “Kielbasa City, here we come!”)

Our quest to knock down the inventory of our pantry, fridge and freezer has been a big one, and Chef Les has given me one final basket to conquer before the big kitchen remodel begins. I have to hurry this up, because our contractor, Matt, is on his way over with his crew, ready to start tearing out our existing cabinets (I’m not kidding, he really is)!

Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (we do).

I made myself a dry martini to take the edge off, because Les was wearing a mischievous grin when he assembled my seventh mystery basket. Here we go!

We’re going to need a bigger bar.

Yes, I was cringing on that last ingredient. Les and I have joked about that massive package of frozen kielbasa ever since this challenge began, but neither of us had dared put it in the other’s basket until now. We love smoked sausage of any kind, so that wasn’t a problem for either of us. The issue is that this was a 3pound package, and that’s a lot of kielbasa for two people to consume in a short period of time.

After this meal was finished and judged, it occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t kielbasa at all; a closer look at the package revealed it as “mesquite smoked sausage,” but I was lured by the brand name, Kiolbossa, which is apparently the name of the family that owns the company. This had both of us quite perplexed (especially my ex-journalist husband, for whom facts still matter), so I did a quick search to see if we were correct in calling this sausage “kielbasa.” Based on this article on The Spruce Eats, kielbasa is the same as sausage, as least in the Polish language. As luck (or genes) would have it, Les is half Polish, so we are calling this one correct. Whew!


I bought the kielbasa at Costco in March 2020, on the same visit as the 7-pound bag of quinoa, three towers of canned tuna, that huge bag of mixed lentils, two cases of chicken and veggie broth, and umpteen cans of black beans. If we had a COVID apocalypse, at least we would not starve. In the heat of the moment, I did not have the presence of mind to downsize the sausage haul into smaller packages; I just popped the whole thing into the freezer. Later, when it became apparent that we would not perish in a pandemic version of The Hunger Games, we lamented the stockpiling, and the sausage became a bit of a punchline at our house. There are plenty of ways to cook and enjoy smoked sausage; my main concern is how to use so much of it, and I knew immediately that I would have to make multiple dishes to accomplish that.

Only one of the dishes I had in mind would use all four of the basket ingredients, and that’s what I’ll be presenting to Les for judging. To challenge myself further, I decided that I would try to prepare said dish without using our stove (might as well get used to it, given that our kitchen remodel will be underway any minute now). Our slow cooker, which Les purchased a few years before we met, is a serious workhorse —way better than my old Crock Pot—and the only reason we don’t use it more often is that I work from home, and I find cooking in the background is usually easy to manage during the day. Besides the usual high-low-warm functions of any other slow cooker, this one also has a roasting option and a setting to brown food, and I expect that it will come in super handy as we navigate the fall cooking season without a stove or oven.


Under normal circumstances, the slow cooker has lived on a utility rack in the garage, right next to the “downstairs” fridge (check out my post for baby back ribs with root beer bbq glaze to understand that inside joke). After several months without use, it needed some attention. As I was washing the accumulated dust from the slow cooker, it occurred to me how similar this scene was to some of the miserable, cringe-worthy dating experiences I’d had before things got serious with Les:

 “Hey there, Gorgeous! I know it’s been a long time—since, when? –Super Bowl two years ago, I guess. Wow, we’ve had some good times, haven’t we? By the way, you look great! So anyway, my circumstances have changed and I’m gonna be without a kitchen for a bit and I wondered if you’re free for, oh, maybe the next six weeks or so? I was thinking we could get together and make some new memories. I’ll make it up to you when the kitchen is done. Look, I’m putting in a tall pantry cabinet so you won’t have to live in the garage anymore. You up for some fun? Aw, you’re the best!”

Thankfully, appliances don’t have feelings.


Let’s review these mystery basket ingredients again. First of all, there were (count ‘em) 10 fat links of kielbasa in that package, and there’s no way all of them can go into one dish. I wanted to find creative ways to use the kielbasa in multiple applications, and for this meal, I used three of the links—two were processed with the large shredder blade of my food processor, and the third was cut into chunks to be added to the final dish.

The mushrooms and lasagna noodles were easy, because I planned to make a variation of a stroganoff, and the lasagna only needed to be cut into smaller pieces.

The jar of maple-bourbon braising sauce has been in the back of a cabinet for a couple of years, and I always imagined it might be useful for doing some kind of roast in the slow cooker, but it didn’t have much flavor on its own (neither maple nor bourbon). With mostly salt and vinegar flavors to its credit, I decided to “beef” it up (so to speak) with some shredded kielbasa. This would add much-needed flavor to the sauce and also allow me to use the sausage in more than one way.

I’ll let the pictures tell the rest of the story. It would be most unexpected for you to find yourself in possession of these exact ingredients, so I didn’t keep up with how much of every ingredient I used. But I hope you enjoy the story.


I used the “brown” setting to render the residual fat from about half of the shredded smoked kielbasa, and used the other side of the slow cooker to saute up the onions that would make their way into the meatball mixture with the other half of it. Along with those ingredients, I rounded up the usual suspects for any meatball mixture—a panko panade (paste made with milk), a large egg, a few shakes of dried oregano, black pepper and a small handful of chopped fresh parsley.


I did a quick browning on the sliced cremini mushrooms—again, right in the slow cooker. And then I added the maple-bourbon braising sauce with a few spoons of beef base and some brown sugar to amp up the flavor.

The kielbasa on its own had a pretty salty flavor, so I was reluctant to season the mixture as I normally would, and I couldn’t very well just taste the raw meat mixture to know how much salt was right. My solution was to cook two tiny meatballs and give them a taste. Definitely salty enough on their own.


I was kicking myself a little bit because I could have easily browned the meatballs right there in the slow cooker, but I had already dumped the jarred sauce into it. In the heat of the moment, I am not prone to make the best decisions (please refer to above-referenced purchase of the sausage, and the imagined conversation with slow cooker), so I forgave myself and pulled out a skillet. Thankfully, I did still have use of the gas range, at least for the moment. When the meatballs were browned, I sent them into the slow cooker to simmer on low until Les comes home at dinner time, and hopefully he will say, “the house smells great!”


I had planned to serve this meal in a “stroganoff” style, though I decided not to swirl in sour cream because it looked unappetizing. The partial box of lasagna noodles that Les had given me had eight noodles, which I boiled and cut into manageable strips for serving.

All the components are in there; the kielbasa, mushrooms, lasagna noodles and maple-bourbon braising sauce.
Fingers crossed!

Yeah, take a big ol’ bite, Babe!

As promised, I also found three other ways to use up the remaining smoked kielbasa.



“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 6 – “Mix and Match Cuisine”)

We are running slightly behind schedule on the Comfort du Jour “Chopped” Challenge, as our Chef Les decided to move a gigantic metal file cabinet by himself and smashed the dickens out of his little finger (ouch!). But, after a few days of wrapping it with ice and working to stay ahead of life in general, he is off the injured list and back into the kitchen action!

Here’s a quick recap of the rules Les and I established for our clear-out-the-inventory challenge:

  • Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  • The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  • Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  • Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  • Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (we do).

Here we go, with Episode No. 6!

We can always count on Nilla to “nose in” on the action!

The basket Terrie provided me for this challenge was unique in that the only protein was bacon. Now don’t get me wrong. I love bacon. God knows, I love bacon. I mean, I could never keep kosher because I love bacon so much. I like to believe it’s a forgivable sin for a Jew.

But I didn’t think I could create a good challenge meal with bacon as the star of the show. Oh, wait; that’s a different Food Network show.

My point, and I do have one, is that with bacon, polenta, chile morita seasoning (a blend we picked up from a vendor at our local farmer’s market that includes dried chile morita, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, olive oil and garlic) and a spicy, robust red blend wine, I felt I needed to add some ingredients to make a coherent meal.

So here’s what I did: I combined the concept of Italian and Mexican flavors into a red-sauce-over-polenta meal featuring chicken sausages.


Let’s talk about the red sauce first, because that was my idea from the start; I’m in my wheelhouse with sauces, especially those with an Italian feel. I sauteed onions, red bell pepper and mushrooms and threw in some diced garlic. I then transferred it all to a deep stainless pot and added a fat can of San Marzano tomatoes as well as a can of diced tomatoes. Seasonings thrown in (besides the salt and pepper that seasoned every layer of vegetables) were red pepper flakes, garlic powder, Italian seasoning blend, garlic pepper, bay leaves and about a teaspoon worth of the very smoky, flavorful chile morita. I also added two staples of my typical red sauce: about half a cup of our parm-romano blend and a pinch (well, two, actually, but they were small pinches) of sugar.

There’s a story behind one of the pictures with this post. It’s the image of me below with a very goofy smile, and if you look closely, you’ll see that in my right hand I’ve plucked a bay leaf out of the “Mexitalian” sauce. The reason I’m smiling is that Terrie and I were reliving one of the funny newspaper “headlines” I saved years ago from my former life as a journalist. It was in my then newspaper’s food section, where whoever designed the page left a very long space for a headline on a story about bay leaves. “Bay Leaves Not At All Dangerous Unless You Choke on Them.” One of the great “no s…, Sherlock” headlines of all time. I still have that headline clip in my file of crazy things that made it into print, a collection I started a couple of decades before Jay Leno ever had a late-night show.

Oh, about the sausages. You remember how we set this whole challenge series up to help us rid our refrigerators, freezers and pantry of ingredients as we prepare for our kitchen to be completely renovated? Well, one of the items I happened to find in the freezer was a package of chicken sausages flavored with sundried tomatoes. Score another one gone from the freezer!


I simmered the sauce for 90 minutes to cook it down, and about halfway through started working on the polenta. Earlier, I had cooked up some of the bacon, which I knew I’d add to the polenta. I mean, bacon goes with polenta like (fill in the metaphor of your choice). For the polenta, I followed a recipe of my favorite chef. I think you can all figure that one out. Terrie’s polenta recipe on the website goes with cajun shrimp & garlicky cheesy grits. So I had to adapt to my ingredients, and that was pretty straightforward. Out went the shredded cheddar and Frank’s RedHot Original sauce; in came parm-romano blend and chile morita seasoning. One of the things I’ve learned from my favorite cook and the too-much time we spend watching Food Network is that it helps to do things “two ways” because having flavor profiles in different parts of the same meal is pleasing to the palate.

Judge’s note: Yes, this is called “flavor echoing,” and it is a great way to achieve a composed dish. The judge (meaning Terrie) loves that Les employed this easy technique!


And that’s about it. It came together very well, as Terrie will attest in the video you can watch below.

Yes, I should have used the spoon!

Winner, winner! Mexitalian dinner!

This was another fun experience, watching Les flex his culinary muscles and put a tasty meal on the table. The flavors in his dish worked very well together, and I was pretty impressed to see how well he executed the polenta! We had leftovers from this meal and, as is always the case with tomato-based dishes, the flavors were even better the second time!



“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 5 – “A pinsa this, a pinsa that”)

With a few weeks to go before our kitchen shuts down for renovation, my husband, Les, and I are scrambling to use up all the random ingredients in our pantry, fridge and freezer. We decided to turn our adventures into a fun challenge, and it’s time for another episode.

Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (we do).

OK, let’s do this! Please press play on the video to see what kind if ingredients I had to work with for my third challenge!


It seems pretty obvious that I should make some kind of flatbread appetizer from these basket ingredients, right? And perhaps on another day, that’s what I would do. Les said himself that he might have made it too easy for me, and I tend to agree. Pizzas are such a regular entry for me, and I want to push myself out of my comfort zone, and that means—no pizza here today!

Artichoke and crab have become well-acquainted in other dishes I’ve made here on Comfort du Jour, including this creamy artichoke and crab appetizer dip and these crab and artichoke cakes that found their way to the top of a cobb salad. If you love these flavors together, please circle back to check out these recipes.


I wanted to try something different with these complementary flavors, and I had never paired them in a soup, nor had I even tasted them together in a soup. I was certain it would be delicious.

I think this is the beginning of a beautiful soup!

So that’s what I’ll be making from my mystery basket—soup! It was a tossup whether to take it in a smooth and creamy direction (think bisque) or rustic and chunky (as a chowder). Either would be tasty, and I decided to let the ingredients show me along the way which version would be best. The Kalamata olives don’t fit (at least not yet), so I set them aside. And then there was the matter of the pinsa dough, which is an interesting type of flatbread that is gaining some traction in the modern restaurant world. I like to think I am on the front of the curve with fun “new” foods, but I had only heard of pinsa very recently, so it has been a bit of a mystery to me. I will come back to that later.


To start, I rendered small cubes of bacon and set them aside to be a crispy topper for the soup, which would be delicious, regardless of whether I went creamy or chowder-y. Next, I sauteed a couple of leeks that were sliced thin, and that picked up all the delicious browned-on bacon goodness from the bottom of my pan. Diced baby red potatoes went in next, and it occurred to me that tossing them in there may have limited me to the chowder category, given that I’d have to puree the mixture to make it a bisque. I already had my doubts about pureeing the soup, because of the fibrous nature of the leaf part of the artichoke hearts. And now, potato skins, too? Hmm.


I cut up the artichoke hearts, reserving the tender “bottom” part of several, and tossing the rest into the pot, along with seafood stock, dry white wine and a bay leaf. After a good simmering, I would decide between bisque and chowder. I still had decisions to make about the Kalamatas and the pinsa.

The Kalamatas and artichoke hearts can play nice together, but the sweet lump crab has such a delicate flavor that I didn’t want the bold Kalamatas mingling with it in the same dish. Frankly, I was surprised that Les put the Kalamatas in the basket because he doesn’t really like their flavor. To balance them, I added in a couple of my favorite martini olives, which are a brighter flavor, soaked in vermouth and stuffed with preserved lemon peel. The result was a tapenade, an appetizer dip I had learned to make during my time in the catering kitchen. This version was delicious, but I was skeptical about whether Les would like it, so I added one more thing, a small handful of sweet sun-dried tomatoes, and that was perfect. I could serve this on the side of the artichoke-crab soup, but how?


Ultimately, it was the Kalamata olives—what I considered to be the red herring of this basket—that pushed me to my decision on the pinsa. I was confident that Les would like the balance of the tapenade mixture, and the pinsa dough would have to carry it. It helped to know a bit more about this interesting “new” bread product, so I’ll share what my research taught me.

Pinsa Romana dough

What is pinsa dough, anyway?

Imagine the result if focaccia and a cloud had a baby. That’s pinsa, puffy and airy and very different from pizza dough. Pinsa dough has a high water content, which makes it a little fussier to work with, but gives it those lovely air pockets. The dough has a cold-and-slow fermentation method that guarantees terrific flavor. And pinsa is traditionally made from a combination of flours, including typical wheat, but also soy and rice flours. This gives it higher protein, easier digestibility and supreme crispiness when baked. It is light, crispy and heavenly to bite into. And though it may seem like an innovative take on bread, a new discovery from some leading-edge chef, pinsa has been around for a very long time—some say back to ancient Roman days. Who knows where it has been hiding all this time, but as I have said here many times, all things old become new again, and pinsa is back in the game!

As Les pointed out during the unveiling of my mystery basket, this flatbread dough he pulled from our freezer for my basket was given to us by a friend in the restaurant business. Our buddy, Dave Hillman, is always on the lookout for interesting foods, and he has three local-to-us restaurants of his own to serve as testing grounds for the fun things he finds. One of them, Burke Street Pizza, has won the favor of my native New Yorker husband as a “real deal” version of N.Y. pizza, but that’s not where the pinsa came from. Another of his restaurants, West End Poke, offers a modern approach to healthy eating with poke, a native Hawaiian dish that has rightfully gained a lot of attention in the mainland U.S. in recent years. Dave’s third local restaurant, a casual tavern eatery called The Quiet Pint, could best be described as a gastropub, a term Dave says means they “serve up your favorite pub fare, but with interesting twists.” One of those recent twists is pinsa dough, the base for the Pint’s creative flatbread pizzas.

The pinsa dough is the most unusual ingredient in my basket, and I needed time to consider how to give it proper attention. My goal is to take full advantage of its crispy nature and also to make it the key that ties the creamy, silky soup with the chunky, savory tapenade. And though the dough was already par-baked, I still had options for transforming it to serve a new purpose with the other ingredients of my mystery basket meal. The pinsa would become breadsticks.

From that decision forward, it was all a bit of a blur. The potatoes and artichoke hearts had become very tender during the simmer, so I pulled out my trusty immersion blender and pureed it smooth. This was not a problem with either the fibrous artichokes or the red potato skins; it was quite lovely. I added heavy cream, another splash of wine and about a cup of the sweet lump crab and let it simmer to heat through.


The delicate pinsa was fully thawed by this time, and I used my kitchen shears to cut it into strips about 1 inch wide. I minced several cloves of fresh garlic and drowned them in melted butter, which I brushed onto one side of my pinsa sticks. A few minutes in the oven, then I turned them and brushed the other side. They emerged from the oven with an ethereally crispy, perfect texture.


I topped the creamy artichoke crab bisque with additional fresh crab, the crispy bacon and a broiled lemon slice. A quick smear of my artichoke and garlic hummus (a recipe I shared a few days ago here) went down on the plate, topped with the kalamata-artichoke heart tapenade, and accompanied by the pinsa breadsticks, which pretty much stole the show.

Who’s hungry?

I am super proud of the way I used these basket ingredients but, as always, the decision lies with our esteemed panel of culinary judges—Les. 😊

That crunch! 🙂


You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the brands and products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or merchandise in exchange for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀

Terrie


“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 4 – “Who you callin’ jerk?”)

As the start of our kitchen remodel gets closer, the competition gets tougher! Well, not really, because we are technically on the same team with shared desire for making the clear-out of cabinets and freezer less painful. This is our very own “Chopped” challenge. Thanks for playing along with us!

Before we started our challenge, we established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though we have way too many bags of kitty treats.

We’re tackling more pantry items and pushing each other out of our culinary comfort zones. Please use the play controls to reveal what Les is about to find inside his next mystery basket!

Nilla makes a cameo appearance during the basket reveal!

The basket ingredients in this second challenge gave me pause. After my first challenge, when I made a one-pan dish, I had potential to go casserole. Meaning another one-note dish. After more thought and a web browsing for ideas to use the sliced turkey Terrie gave me, I decided to go with two separate dishes: a jerk turkey wrap and a kugel dessert. Let me tackle the main dish first.

To start with, I love sauces. So when I think about how to use basket ingredients, I’m typically thinking about how to amp up the flavor, and turkey is perfect because it can go in so many different directions. The jerk seasoning rub in my basket was a natural. I added some peanut oil, chopped up the turkey slices and marinated for an hour before browning the previously cooked turkey in a cast-iron skillet.

A website called The Wanderlust Kitchen gave me a couple of cool ideas for dressing up my wrap. Its recipe called for a green cabbage slaw and an avocado aioli. I decided not to include a third suggested sauce, a mango chutney, because, to quote one of my mom’s favorite phrases (I love working her into these blog posts despite her cooking shortcomings), “it’s too much, Leslie.” And I ditched the ciabatta the Wanderlust site favored for a spinach wrap because I believed the bread of a ciabatta (or sub roll or similar) would absorb the flavors of the accoutrements. The green cabbage slaw included scallions, another of my basket ingredients, as well as cilantro, which gave a nice bite to the jerk turkey. The avocado aioli, meanwhile, added a tang thanks to its mayo and lime juice. I kept the recipe’s idea of a slice of gouda cheese, but to be honest, the wrap would have worked fine without it.

This was a relatively easy, healthy dinner, and I was proud to serve it up.

Jamaican Jerk Turkey Wrap with Green Cabbage Scallion Slaw and Avocado Aioli


The crunchy scallion cabbage slaw is the final touch on these easy wraps.

Once I made the decision not to try to force my basket’s egg noodles into the main dish, my heart and Jewish heritage led me to an easy choice. Kugel is a noodle dish popular on Jewish holidays, and although I didn’t exactly grow up having it frequently (if at all; did I mention my mom was most definitely not an adventurer in the kitchen?) I’ve had it enough to know how tasty it is when made well.

I decided to use Terrie’s go-to chef for Jewish foods—Tori Avey. Tori’s kugel recipe is a classic, using egg noodles (my final basket ingredient), six eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, cream cheese, butter, sugar, cinnamon and raisins. I had a couple of add-ins for this dish because in one case I messed up and in another, I decided to empty our pantry of another item.

The dessert is not actually difficult to put together; you just need patience in gathering everything together and you also need to not boil the egg noodles too long; you want them softened but not fully cooked because of the hour they’ll spend in the oven becoming kugel. While adding my wet ingredients to the mixer, I realized I only had about half the sour cream called for in the recipe. And we were out of plain Greek yogurt, my first go-to as a substitute. But what’s this I found deep in the refrigerator? Why, it’s a Siggi individual Greek yogurt, coconut flavor. What a great complement for this dish!

Judge’s note: Technically, Siggi’s is skyr, which is not the same as yogurt but definitely has a texture worthy of this substitution. I am impressed with Les’s quick thinking on this!

In it goes (after first tasting it to make sure the “use by June 6” stamp hadn’t rendered it foul). The raisins, which first get a warm water bath before being added to the final mix of noodles and wet ingredients, emptied our pantry of another item. As I went to put the casserole in the oven, I had another brainstorm. We’ve had the dregs of a bag of brownie brittle from Costco on our counter for a couple of months; the recipe suggested possible toppings, and although brownie brittle wasn’t one of them, it did suggest anything crunchy (like corn flakes, which we don’t keep in our house). So I crushed what was left of the brownie brittle and sprinkled it on top, along with another dash of sugar and cinnamon. Into the oven went the kugel.

Classic Jewish Kugel


A couple of minutes later, I was disturbed by a “ding” sound. Turns out I’d warmed the butter in the microwave and forgotten to take it out and add to the wet ingredients. But not to worry. I opened the oven, poured the butter on top and used a fork to make little trenches and allow the butter to seep through. Problem solved!

This challenge overall made me happy because I used Terrie’s frequent advice to trust my instinct and feel free to substitute (as long as you are not changing ratios in recipes, especially liquid ratios). I also solved problems on the fly during the cooking process, like when I started our KitchenAid mixer and a chunk of product flew out and onto the counter, the floor and me. It wasn’t as bad as I feared, fortunately. And, most important, it didn’t affect the final product. Kugelicious!

This smelled amazing from the oven.

And now, the moment of truth; time for Terrie to judge my effort on this Chopped challenge basket!


Judge’s note: This kugel reminds me of a bread pudding, but with egg noodles rather than bread cubes. It is so delicious, I want to eat it again for breakfast!



“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 3 – “Holy Mole”)

Things are steaming up around here, as my husband, Les, and I count down the weeks til the kickoff of our kitchen remodel. We are doing our best to trim the pantry and freezer inventory before we get there, to help ease the pain that comes naturally with home renovation. I will admit that I have been nervous, not only for turning my own mystery basket into something special, but also for preparing baskets for Les. I don’t want to stump him, but I also don’t want to hand him a victory on a silver platter. As this challenge continues, we are certain to face weirder combinations of ingredients than either of us imagined.

Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  1. Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer.
  2. The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  3. Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  4. Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  5. Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats.

It’s time for my second basket of mystery ingredients in our homegrown “Chopped” challenge, and I can hardly stand still.

Holy Mole.

My first reaction for this whole chicken is disappointment because I was planning to make soup with it, and now that plan is shot. But this also reveals one of my own personal shortcomings—I have wanted to make soup with the chicken since last August, and I still haven’t. My procrastination is part of the reason we have so much stuff! Les did us a big favor by putting that thing in my Chopped basket.

This was my chance to do something cool with the chicken, even more special than soup, and my first step would be brining it in a mixture that would include the Wicked Whiskey honey. After 11 months in the freezer, it probably needs a flavor boost and some assurance of retained moisture. I got that started and sent it to the fridge for five hours.


Let’s talk about this jalapeno sauce for a moment. This awful, one-note, ugly-to-look-at, disgusting jalapeno sauce. I’m usually all about the novel condiments at Trader Joe’s, but this product has been letting me down since Les first brought it home a few months ago. All I taste in it is jalapeno and heat. There’s no balance of acid or sweetness or even salt. It has a weird creamy texture, and I am suspicious of any product that tastes creamy without a speck of cream on the ingredients list. And that color—ugh.  


I’m going to bury the sauce by blending it into the broth used to make brown rice, and I’ll add my own complementary flavors, in the form of fresh jalapenos, scallions and grilled fresh pineapple brushed with more of the Wicked Whiskey honey. Basically, I’m trying to play up the jalapeno flavor while simultaneously hiding the sauce. Is that gonna work? We’ll see.


That leaves the mole, and although it seems like a random ingredient, it is something I was quite proud of when I first made it. Mole is a traditional, labor-of-love sauce, signature to the Mexican region of Puebla, where they love blending chiles with fruit and onions and nuts and seeds and (wait for it) dark chocolate! My guess about the origin of this mole was on point; I looked through my iPhone and found the photos I took while making this sauce for Cinco de Mayo—in 2019! My favorite part was melting in the dark chocolate. 😊


Despite having been in the deep freezer for two years, the mole still had exquisite layers of flavor. I blended it with a bit of olive oil and a touch of Wicked Whiskey honey, and I rubbed it all over the brined chicken, which I roasted over root vegetables on the convection setting of our oven for I have no idea how long, and lo and behold, it turned out beautiful!


The mole-rubbed chicken looks great, but how does it taste, and what about that rice made with disgusting jalapeno sauce? It’s time for judging.

Les is a very generous judge. In my own opinion, the jalapeno sauce-infused rice was decidedly not a winner, and not only because the sauce is gross. I overcooked it because I miscalculated the amount of liquid when I blended in the jalapeno sauce. It was edible, but not delicious.

But that chicken!


Thank you, dear reader, for joining us on this crazy culinary journey! The next basket is for Les. I’ll spring it on him tomorrow—stay tuned! 🙂


“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 2 – “One-dish Wonder”)

So here I am, doing my first “Chopped”-like challenge for Terrie’s blog as she and I continue emptying our pantry and refrigerator in advance of kitchen remodeling and who do I wind up stealing an idea from, of all people, on my first basket? My late mom.

Now, I loved my mom dearly, but her cooking was, shall I say, ummmm, well, it fed me. Mom’s favorite dish, and she was happy to share with anyone how “good” it was, was stuffed cabbage. I endured that dish twice a year for years. Bland ground beef balls with white rice (yuck, says 10-year-old me, in recollection) inside steamed (boiled?) cabbage and mom’s secret ingredient, which I’ll share more of later because, quite frankly, I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s slow down and go back to the beginning of this challenge.

Press play on the video below to see what ingredients Les had to work with.

Chef Les seems a little hesitant about his basket ingredients.

The four mandatory ingredients in my basket (thanks, love!) were: hot Italian turkey sausages, dried cranberries, two sweet potatoes and cocktail onions. Now I have to tell you all that I am a decent cook, and I like being creative. But I’m most definitely not Terrie. Creative for me is putting things together in a way that allows me leftovers for lunch during the week.

With these ingredients, my first thought was to pair the cranberries and sweet potatoes in a sweet concoction (think Thanksgiving side or dessert), and then figure out a plan for the sausage and cocktail onions. But the morning of my day to cook, I was struck by one of the signature aspects of “Chopped.” You’re supposed to create a unified dish with the ingredients. Hot Italian sausage and a sweet side or dessert didn’t speak “unified” to me. And I’m both competitive and a stickler for detail; I wanted to get my first basket right.


Judge’s note:

Les is straying from the format a bit here, given that the previously agreed-upon rules for this Comfort du Jour challenge permitted multiple dishes made from the basket ingredients. Let’s review:

  • Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer. No sought-out, wacky ingredients for the purpose of stumping each other.
  • The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  • Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  • Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  • Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (and we do).

Is Les a bit of an overachiever? Let’s find out, as he digs into his challenge.


Like Terrie, who often studies Pinterest for ideas, I turned to an outside source—Google. I plugged in sweet potatoes and Italian sausage and came up with quite a few recipes. I settled on one that, with some creativity and tweaking, just might work. Plus, it would incorporate all four basket ingredients and even clean out a couple of extra pantry ingredients. And, extra bonus, a one-pan dish! Now that’s my kind of meal: simple.

I peeled, diced and boiled the sweet potatoes (OK, technically, I guess I used a pot and one pan). I removed the sausage from the casings and browned it, setting it aside, and then using the fat left behind to sauté the cocktail onions, some leftover sweet onion (to counterbalance the sour in those cocktail onions), red and orange bell pepper, mushrooms and garlic.


Once the veggies were done, I added back the sausage and sweet potatoes, as well as the last jar of my canned homemade salsa (the recipe called for salsa, which was convenient because it rid our pantry of another item) as well as a can of diced tomatoes (not in the recipe, but that was my intuition, and it worked well). Along the way I seasoned every layer (thanks, love, for that simple cooking instruction that I follow religiously now, thanks to you)* * , also adding cumin. The meal came together in less than an hour.

**Is it me, or does it seem that Les is flirting with the judge for bonus points?


Ah, but I left something out, didn’t I? And I don’t mean the cocktail onions, which I almost omitted (cause for being chopped in the real “Chopped”) except that Terrie reminded me when she saw the jar still in the fridge after I’d started prepping (thanks, love!). Yep, he is definitely flirting. No, the part I left out is the completion of the story about my mom. It turns out the “secret” ingredient in mom’s stuffed cabbage was raisins, which she added to the pot as her dish cooked for hours. I despised those raisins. For me, raisins were meant to be as they came out of the little boxes, not as bloated, warm, soft “things.”


By now, I imagine I’ve done enough foreshadowing that you know I rehydrated the dried cranberries from the basket and as the final touch in my one-pan dish, added them to the sausage, sweet potatoes and vegetables.


The bloated, warm, soft cranberry “things” gave the dish a fine, sweet complement to the spice of the sausage and salsa. I may still have unfortunate memories of her stuffed cabbage, but I’m not embarrassed to say, “thanks, mom.”

Even the cranberries worked their way into Les’s dish!

Press play on the video below to see how Chef Les finished in his Comfort du Jour “Chopped” challenge.



“Hot Italian Sausage-Sweet Potato Slop”

The one-dish slop was not a flop, and that means we are two-for-two!
As the kitchen remodel gets closer, the basket ingredients are bound to get weirder.
Stay tuned for more frolicking fun, and another “Chopped” challenge!


“Chopped” Challenge (Episode No. 1 – “Mystery Meat”)

Planning and living through a kitchen remodel can be stressful business, and my husband, Les, and I are looking for fun ways to distract ourselves from the chaos that will undoubtedly ensue when our remodel begins at the end of summer. We both want to whittle down some of the excess pantry and freezer inventory in our kitchen (and the overflow in the laundry room and the garage) so that we don’t carry it over into our redesigned space. I will admit that I am a bit of a pack rat when it comes to foodstuffs—I cannot seem to resist purchasing unusual ingredients when I see them on a market run. I mean, one never knows when it might be handy to have an extra package of raw cacao on reserve. Or three. Yes, we have a lot of stuff.


Les and I are avid fans of “Chopped” on Food Network, and we play along vicariously, suggesting (OK, sometimes shouting) to the chef competitors how they might use the ingredients in their mystery baskets. We cringe when we see them do something that never ends well, such as putting cooked potatoes in a food processor (instant glue, coming right up!) or repeatedly opening the oven door to see if their dessert still isn’t baking fast enough. We feel the anxiety of the judges in the final seconds, and we often join their chorus, urging the competitors to “just get it on the plate!”

When I casually mentioned to a friend last week that I needed to get creative about using up our own kitchen surplus, she joked that she could imagine me doing my own version of a “Chopped” challenge and scratching ingredients off the inventory list as the weeks wear on for our kitchen work to begin. It was a brilliant idea, and we are off and running with our first episode!

Les and I will not be competing against each other, because we are on the same team. Also, we don’t have multiple cooking stations, ovens and deep fryers, and we certainly do not have a blast chiller or an anti-griddle or a salamander (professional grade broiler oven), as they do on the set of “Chopped.” We do not plan to enforce a time limit on completing the challenge, as our goal is simply to use up our stuff and, of course, eat and enjoy the meals we create through this experience. We are not going to record every moment (you’re welcome), but we will let you in on the fun of the challenge with the unveiling of the mystery baskets we prepare for each other. And, of course, the outcomes.


Before we started our challenge, Les and I established and agreed upon the following rules for setting up each other’s baskets:

  • Each basket must hold four mystery ingredients, found in our cabinets, fridge or freezer. No sought-out, wacky ingredients for the purpose of stumping each other.
  • The goal of the challenge is to use up our surplus food, with as little waste as possible. We will not be using some small portion of an ingredient and throwing the rest in the trash.
  • Basket ingredients can be used in any course of the meal or broken into separate courses of a single meal, i.e.: cocktail, appetizer, salad, entrée, dessert. Cook’s choice.
  • Basket ingredients must be transformed in the meal, not merely served as is.
  • Pet foods may not be submitted as basket ingredients, even though Les says we have way too many bags of kitty treats (and we do).

The first challenge was mine. Press “play” on the video to witness the unveiling of my mystery basket. Here we go!!!

I did not expect to feel so nervous!

The mystery meat was easy to identify, once I was able to stop laughing and remove the cover. It was leftover barbacoa, which I made back in February, and five months in the freezer did not do it any favors. It still had plenty of spicy flavor, but the texture was somewhat mushy. To transform it, I would need to combine it with something else, or put it inside something else to make the unpleasant texture less noticeable.

The brownie brittle is a crispy, chocolatey dessert snack that I picked up at Costco. It’s very tasty but in true Costco fashion, there’s just too darn much of it. We have tendency to buy products like this one, and we get bored with it about halfway through. As far as I’m concerned, the brownie brittle is the red herring in this basket. There’s no obvious way to use it, so I’ll set it aside for now.

The butternut squash, as Les pointed out, genuinely has been wearing out its welcome in our kitchen. I bought it near the end of winter, but then I got excited about cooking things for spring and I just kept putting it off. For better or worse, winter squash has a long shelf life. The biggest challenge with the squash is that it’s big, and so there’s a lot of it. My plan to use it up will be to incorporate it into our meal in multiple ways, and I might also try to slip a few pieces to my kitchen assistant, Nilla, who is always on standby and happy to help.


Finally, the poor, sad little apples that have been buried in the fruit drawer for a least a month. They aren’t even the same variety—one Granny Smith and one honeycrisp, although there’s nothing crisp about either of these tired fruits. They won’t mix with the barbacoa, so I will transform them into a dessert, and I’ll use some of the squash in it, too. This is the easiest part of the basket for me. Might as well map this one out; I pulled a box of puff pastry from the freezer (heaven only knows how long it’s been buried in there), and some simple dessert spices.

Add a few spices, some butter and sugar, and this can be dessert.

I cubed the other neck piece and tossed it into the oven to roast, with oil and a little salt and pepper. I love roasted squash, so the hardest thing for me will be not snacking on it while I figure out the rest of the basket. The remaining squash went into a saucepan to simmer until tender, and that’s when the rest of the dish came into focus for me.

Some of the tender squash could be worked into a pasta dough, and it would be a nice color as well as flavor! The barbacoa could be used as a filling for ravioli, but what about my red herring, the sweet brownie brittle? And that’s when it hit me that chocolate is used in mole, and Les always puts a little cocoa powder in a pot of his chili. There it was, I would crush up the brownie brittle and add those dark, chocolaty crumbs to the meat filling! This made sense to me, and when Les took a taste of the barbacoa-brownie brittle mixture, he confirmed it was working. He could taste the chocolate, and said it was good.

The ravioli plan had taken so much attention, I had put the squash and apple tart on the back burner. I thawed a sheet of puff pastry from our freezer, rolled it out to smooth the wrinkles, sprinkled brown sugar and cinnamon over it, then alternated rows of squash and the two kinds of apple, and another sprinkle of cinnamon. Then I folded up the edges, as if making a galette, brushed them with egg white and into the oven.


I also needed a quick sauce to drizzle on the baked squash-apple tart, because it was rather dry and plain from the oven. I melted butter with maple sugar, tossed a small handful of chopped walnuts into it, then more maple sugar and a splash of maple-infused balsamic vinegar. A little bit of tartness is usually exactly what any dish needs to feel and taste “finished,” and both Les and I were sampling this sauce beyond what was necessary. I wish I had made more because it would be great over ice cream. The squash and apple tart turned out tasty, even as leftovers the next evening.

Butternut squash and apple puff pastry tart, with a maple walnut dessert glaze. Winner!

Rolling the pasta didn’t take long (I have been practicing lately and will share more about that soon), and I was thankful to have my ravioli mold to make quick work of finishing that part of the meal. I made an easy “sauce” for my ravioli, using up a half onion from the crisper drawer, the last dregs of a bag of frozen roasted corn, some veggie broth and half and half, and some kind of seasonings but I honestly can’t remember! The finished dish seemed a little boring in color, and everything had a soft texture, so I chopped a handful of toasted pumpkin seeds and scattered them on top. And this one is done.


“Chef Les, I have prepared for you a spiced butternut squash ravioli with barbacoa-brownie brittle filling.
It is topped with a simple roasted corn sauce and caramelized butternut squash, and accented with toasted pumpkin seeds for a little crunch.”



“And that means, Chef Terrie, you have conquered the basket ingredients and chopped your way to victory in the first challenge!”

Will Les have what it takes to do the same? Find out next week, when we unveil his mystery basket ingredients!


Oh, and just for fun, I combined the final 1/2 cup of cooked butternut squash with some rolled oats, brown rice flour, a touch of cinnamon and the rest of the pasta egg mixture. Processed it, scooped it out and baked it up as cookies for my kitchen helper. 🙂 ❤


Cut Like a Pro: Knife Care 101

I get very excited about Thanksgiving, which has long been my favorite holiday. And though it’s a little early to start on the favorite (and new) dishes we will enjoy this year, it definitely is not too early to plan! I can drive myself a little batty with ideas for the table, and even if I set the menu today, the odds are good that I’ll change my mind a dozen times in a dozen days. So today, rather than continuing to wrestle myself over the food, I’m turning my attention to the other things in my kitchen that need some prep. That begins with my knives.

Of all these knives, I have two favorites, but it’s great to have all of them spiffed up for the holidays!

There’s something therapeutic for me in having my favorite knives professionally sharpened. It makes me feel—how shall I say it—like a real adult. It took me a while to get serious about choosing quality knives, so treating them as an investment feels like the right thing. Today, I’m pleased to introduce you to the guy who’s been helping me (or at least my knives) stay sharp in the kitchen, and he offers a simple tip about the importance of good knife care.

Your knives are your tools. Take care of them and respect them. You wouldn’t run your car 20,000 miles without oil changes or service, so why expect your knives to keep working well without regular care?

Chef Larry McFadden,
owner of Chef Sharp Mobile Sharpening

Larry McFadden knows his stuff. He spent more than two decades in service to our country, and after he left the U.S. Air Force, he followed his heart to pursue a passion for cooking, attending culinary school on the GI bill and then working in professional kitchens by way of Marriott International.

By the time he moved his family to North Carolina, Larry had come to recognize a demand for a knife sharpening service that wasn’t aimed only toward institutions and big restaurant chains, but for independent food businesses and home cooks.

Today, he runs a mobile sharpening service and was kind to let me interview him enough to shed light on what it takes to keep your edge in the kitchen. If you have noticed your own knives are smashing or crushing food more than slicing through them, you probably want to know what Larry has to say.



My grandma taught me early on that a dull knife is the most dangerous item in the kitchen. Would you say that’s true?

I think it is, because you have to put so much more pressure on whatever you’re cutting. If the blade is dull, it’s easier to have it slip off whatever you’re cutting. That puts you at greater risk of cutting yourself, and if do, it isn’t going to be a clean cut, so you’ll do more damage and you could really get hurt.

How do our knives get so dull in the first place?

When your knife is sharp, the blade edge has a bevel that comes to a perfect apex or peak, and it’s perfectly straight. With regular use over time, that edge starts to curl over in spots. The edge may feel dull, but it may just be that it is no longer straight.  

What can we do at home to keep our knives in shape?

I don’t recommend the pull-through type of sharpener. They can do more harm than good. But you can use a “steel” to help keep the blade straight every time you use your knife. Some people are intimidated by the steel, but if you learn how to use it, you can double the time between sharpening visits and extend the life of your knives.

These have been lurking in the back of a drawer for as long as I can remember. I never understood how they were supposed to work anyway!

Moment of truth: I’m one of those people intimidated by the steel, which is the long pointy thing that probably came with your knife set. But I learned a cool trick during my chat with Larry. Check the base of the steel, to see if it has a flat side with a slight angle. The angle is meant to help you position your knife properly for re-aligning your blade edge. Confused? Have a look:

My apologies for the low audio. Larry and I were outside amid some parking lot noise, but his demonstration tells the real story.

Do our cutting boards make a difference in the care of our knives?

Yes, and as a general rule, if the surface is too hard to cut, it’s too hard on your knives. Glass cutting boards are a definite no-no. Very hard plastics are also not good for your knives. Natural wood cutting boards are good, but bamboo is very hard and can be a little tough on knives.

End grain cutting boards are usually in a higher price range, and they are very good.

I guess I’ll be replacing my bamboo cutting board, too. I’ve wanted an end grain cutting board for a long time. They tend to be expensive, but they last a long time, and now that I know what’s better for my knives, I have good excuse to take the plunge!

Speaking of price range, we know that knives run the gamut in terms of quality and price point, and you should invest in the best quality you can afford, then take care of them with regular use of a steel and periodic professional sharpening. As for routine care, Chef Larry says you should wash your good knives in warm soapy water, then rinse and dry immediately before storing in a knife block or drawer insert. The dishwasher is not friendly to good knives.


It won’t be easy for some of my blog followers to catch up with you personally. What advice would you offer faraway friends for choosing a knife sharpening professional?

Try to find a provider who uses a whetstone rather than a belt grinder, and be sure you’re choosing someone who is established in their service. Look at their online reviews, and ask questions to find out how they learned what they’re doing, so you feel confident that they’re well-qualified.

Larry’s whetstone is made of aluminum oxide, the same material used to make sandpaper. That’s the surface he uses to sharpen the knives. Then he straightens and smooths the blades on a hard leather wheel. It’s mesmerizing to watch him work!

Larry sharpens both sides of the blade before checking for burrs.

The hard leather wheel smooths tiny burrs or nicks, even if you can’t see them.

Any wisdom to share on the importance of getting knives sharpened before the holidays?

There’s nothing worse at the holidays than not being able to carve your turkey into nice thin slices.

‘Nuff said. I’m glad to have this part of Thanksgiving prep in the “done” column! For more info about Larry, or to check out his local sharpening schedule, visit his website, ChefSharpTriad.com. Please let me know in the comments section if you learned anything new about good knife care, and also what steps you’re taking to get ready for the holidays. Thanksgiving will be here before we know it! Next week, I’ll be cooking up a storm, so get ready for a stack of fun, new ideas. 🙂


Oh, and…

You may be wondering if I’m a paid endorser for the products I spotlight on Comfort du Jour, and the answer is “no.” I do not receive money or products for my recommendations, and what that means for you is that you can count on me to give an honest opinion. If something changes, I will update my disclosures. Either way, you can still count on me to be honest in my recommendations, as I will only stand behind services and products I believe in. Fair enough? 😀


Early Lessons on Leftovers

Like many children, I loved time spent in my grandmother’s kitchen. After school, and especially in the summer, we were always cooking up something—cookies, cakes, applesauce, rhubarb jam. She was a “hands-on” kind of grandma, willing to let slide any mess made by a young helper in the midst of learning important lessons at the stove.

One of the mysteries I regularly pondered during those formative years was the frequency of suppers she described as “leftovers.” I thought having leftovers meant you warmed up the remains of some previous meal and slopped it out again and again until it was gone. But somehow, many of her leftover meals weren’t familiar to me. One evening, I asked about that:

“Gram,” I said, “This can’t be leftovers. I’ve been here for supper every night since Tuesday. When did we have this the first time?”

 “I’m not as dumb as I look,” she casually replied.

Which was a very typical comeback for her. She went on to explain that when she served something as leftovers, she always tried to transform it from the original. The potato salad we had for Saturday lunch might have been the boiled potatoes she served at Thursday’s dinner; the dessert we had Sunday may have been built on the scraps of bread and rolls she saved from earlier in the month (seriously, she made the best bread pudding, but that will be a recipe for another day).

We lost Gram last summer at 97. One of my regrets is that I didn’t ask her more questions about her perspective on life, and how she was shaped by the events over which she had no control. But perhaps I didn’t have to. Her perspective was on display in every meal she made, every piece of clothing she mended, every garden she grew, and every jar of home-canned tomatoes, green beans and pickles stashed in her pantry. God, I wish I had that pantry today.

People who rode out the Great Depression had a special way of making masterpieces from scraps, and it makes me wonder what we will learn, and pass down, from our experience with this pandemic. Will the grandchildren of our generation one day say, “I learned this from a relative who survived COVID-19?” Or, when this is all over, will we simply return to our business-as-usual consumerism? The headlines are spattered with stories of protesters demanding that we return to the “normal” way of living. But maybe the uptick in searches for articles on “making sourdough bread” and “homesteading basics” will bring a new and lasting normal. Time will tell, I suppose, and so will our attitudes.

Last night for dinner, in the style of my grandmother, I whipped up a random Mexican-themed meal (a last-minute effort to observe Cinco de Mayo) from a leftover fried chicken breast we had on Saturday night, some fabulously spicy green salsa that accompanied a take-out taco order we had last Wednesday, and one of the many cans of black beans I stockpiled when we went into quarantine. A little frozen corn, a little cheese. It wasn’t fancy, but it was delicious—exactly the kind of meal Gram would’ve made in times like these, and she’d be proud. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to making our protective face masks. Because, of course, she also taught me to use a sewing machine.