CREATURES OF HABIT

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Posted by Jamie

COUNTRY CAPTAIN


Aren’t we all? Work, school, family. Out of bed at 7, breakfast the usual cafĂ© au lait with 2 pains au lait with just a dollop of cherry preserves each, a few minutes more in bed reading and chatting with hubby, then walkies for Marts. Strictly the same routine, over and over again, endlessly repeated. Mornings followed by work all day, dinner then a bit of tv, Marty hopping insolently from lap to lap deciding on which one of us shall be graced with his warm, furry company for the evening or if he’ll simply snort his discontent and slink back to his own cushion. Weekends cozy at home. Maybe a morning saunter to the market, basket in one hand, husband’s hand in the other, watching rugby (in season) or a run for Marty in the vineyards (in the other, sunnier season). Dinner out once a week, vacations spent at home.

There is something so comforting about routine, that old expected pattern, accustomed to what we will find each day. It all becomes second nature, a natural reflex, and we can concentrate on other things secure in the familiarity of knowing what will happen next, as comforting and familiar as our favorite worn-in pair of jeans or that old woolen blanket we wrap ourselves up in on chilly winter afternoons, our hands wrapped around a mug of steaming cocoa. We are all creatures of habit and as much as we love change and adventure, the excitement of the unexpected, the thrills and chills of risk and chance, we still prefer the ease and well-being of our little, everyday habits. In this mad, mad, mad world, what feels better than that?

Our eating suffers from force of habit as much as our daily routine. Don’t we always want the same cake every birthday? Don’t our holiday tables groan under the weight of the same bounty of goodies, the turkey and stuffing, mom’s this and grandma’s that, the same pies for dessert, the same cookies baked year after year to hand round to friends at Christmas? Maybe we call it tradition rather than habit, but habit by any other name is still a habit. Remember when we were kids? A bowl of cereal drowned in cold milk every morning before we biked off for school; Fruit Loops were grabbed every morning for maybe 6 months, then Cap’n Crunch, then Lucky Charms, but the basic routine never changed, nor did the current fad. The same sandwich and cookies were wrapped up and dropped into the brown paper sack for lunch, the same Ding Dongs or Little Debbies, always cream-filled chocolate whatevers, for the after-school snack. The same games played every afternoon with the same friends knowing that at 6:30 each evening we’d find ourselves scooting our chair – and always at the same place – up to the table for dinner. On the nose. We knew that one day a week dad threw steaks on the grill to go with baked potatoes and he would make pancakes for dinner regularly. Like a parent’s love, these daily habits made us feel safe and protected.


Why should my own little family now be any different than my family all those years ago? Breakfast, lunch and snacks are like clockwork and hands grab for the usual. Husband is happy when there is a warm lunch on the table at 1 but is ever so content with bread and cheese followed by a piece of fruit. Every day. Clem expects to find the same foods in the refrigerator each time he pulls open that door and complains loud and long if they aren’t sitting and waiting for him when expected. Persnickety son is the worst of the lot and the most stuck on habit. Obsessively stuck. He regularly hands me over his list of the foods he likes, the main courses he will eat, the desserts he will deign accept to taste. And always at the same time of day. A little too early and eyebrows raise and one asks “Why? What’s wrong?” They grab the same thing every morning for breakfast, the same thing every afternoon for snack. And going out “en famille” means the same, familiar pizzeria. The same cereal, brands of dried pasta and cookies grace our pantries, my hands automatically reach for the same flavor jelly and same bag of coffee at the grocery store, we are partial to the same chocolate cake, same snack quick bread and the same coffee cake and they are requested – and baked – over and over again.

When one is a food blogger, eating habits can get in the way. I try and feed my blog yet my family claims that they should come first! Make the same chocolate chip cookies again? But they are already posted on my blog, I need something new, something different, something unique! Arms are thrown up, eyes rolled, groans escape from lips and one or the other stomps off in anger and disbelief. I try something new, a gorgeous charlotte or a panna cotta or fruit instead of chocolate chips and all hell breaks loose! “But you know what we like! You know we want to eat the same things all the time!

And dinnertime as well. No wonder it’s called comfort food: the couscous in winter, the Asian salad in summer, hamburgers on a bun with that side of fries once a week and homemade pizza every Friday night followed the day after by hot-from-the-oven focaccia made with the leftover dough. They feel comforted getting what they expect, are happy in the thought that it tastes just the same week after week. In a world gone mad, long, tiring, stressful days, being pushed this way and that by colleagues’ whims or teachers’ sudden demands, one a little too tired with the ways of the working world, the others just learning the ropes, living each day with the unexpected, the reckless and the impulsive, isn’t it nice to be able to step over that threshold, close the door – and the world – behind you and be greeted by the familiar, the warmth of a cozy livingroom, the comforting smells wafting from the kitchen, a mother’s smile or a spouse’s embrace, the warm, wet nose of a dog thrilled to see you no matter what and pull a chair up to the table and sit down to a meal you know and love so well.


Ever since the first time I made this traditional Country Captain, it has become a family favorite and a regular on our kitchen table. Warm, comforting, flavorful without being spicy so it fits everyone’s bill, easy and quick to put together, it is the perfect family meal simply served over rice, pasta or, as I have done here, creamy polenta. This dish, whose earliest reference was found in the 1857 Miss Leslie’s New Cookery Book, has a somewhat long history, but it is thought to be an English dish brought originally to the table by Sepoys, the Indian officers serving Britain in East India, eventually making it’s way to the United States. But the East Indian influences are indeed there – the curry, the raisins and almonds. It is a soothing, warming chicken dish with a deep, rich tomato sauce spiked with curry powder and garlic and sweetened by tender golden raisins or currents, the almonds adding a nutty crunch into the bargain.


COUNTRY CAPTAIN
Slightly adapted from Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook

¼ cup (about 30 g) flour for dredging
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 broiler chicken (3 ½ to 4 lbs/1 ½ to 2 kg) or equivalent weight in favorite pieces, well-rinsed and patted dry, excess fat and skin trimmed and cut into pieces
4 Tbs (60 g) butter or margarine
1 medium to large onion, finely diced
1 green bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 red bell pepper, cleaned and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 ½ tsps curry powder
½ tsp dried thyme leaves
1 can (16 oz/450 g) stewed or crushed tomatoes
3 Tbs golden raisins (or currents if you prefer)
1/3 cup blanched, slivered almonds


Place the flour and salt in a wide bowl and add a very generous grinding of black pepper, at least ¼ tsp and toss to combine. Dredge the chicken pieces in the seasoned flour to coat completely, shake off the excess flour and place the pieces on a piece of waxed paper.

Melt the butter or margarine in a large, nonreactive, heavy bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chicken, just a few pieces at a time so as not to crowd, and cook until the chicken is browned all over, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken as it is browned to a clean plate while you continue browning the rest of the chicken.

Once all of the chicken has bee browned and removed from the pot, slightly lower the heat and add the onion, the peppers, the garlic, the curry powder and the thyme and toss until blended. Add the stewed tomatoes and stir, scraping up the brown bits sticking to the bottom of the pot from the chicken.

Return the chicken to the pot and push it down under the sauce. Add a bit of water just until the chicken is barely, but not quite, covered. Bring to the boil, lower the heat to low and allow the Country Captain to simmer (you can put a lid on the top but I usually keep it just slightly ajar) until the chicken is cooked through and beginning to fall off the bone – about 35 to 40 minutes more or less. Stir the sauce occasionally and add a bit of water if the sauce evaporates too much. You do want a thick sauce at the end.


5 minutes or so before the end of cooking, stir the raisins into the sauce. Serve the Country Captain over rice, pasta or polenta sprinkled with the slivered almonds.








This post was written by JAMIE



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2 comments:

Jamie....as always, you made me laugh and got me thinking! Our habits do make us feel secure and help things run smoothly. Thanks for the great article!

Bina said...
March 3, 2010 at 2:14:00 PM GMT+1  

Great post as usual, Jamie. Oh there's a lot to be said for routine and comfort.
Remember once complaining to my uncle that I was bored with routine, and he told me to be thankful for it as I might not be able to handle excitement! :)

I'm thinking once our families get used to us being confirmed food bloggers, they all complain about us feeding our blogs rather than them!! LOL

Aparna said...
March 4, 2010 at 2:29:00 AM GMT+1  

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