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Keeping it spicy

By SHANNON WATKINS

shannon@southwesttimes.com

 

If you have kids, especially very small ones, it’s possible you may have come to hate potatoes; your freezer has so many tater tots and crinkle-cut fries in it, it looks like a storage annex for Ore-Ida.

This is to say nothing of the bags of chicken nuggets in there, because you swore you wouldn’t raise a picky eater and then, after many valiant efforts to get your wee ones to try new and different foods, it’s processed bits of chicken and potatoes every day or they turn into the world’s smallest hunger strike leaders.

But you’re a good cook! It’s not like you try to stuff boiled rutabagas into them nonstop. Come to think of it, does anyone even eat those things? You never see anybody buying one but there they are in the produce section every time you go to the grocery store. Is there some mysterious rutabaga cartel enforcing their presence, perhaps based in an obscure Eastern European country? Rutabagavania, maybe?

Spend enough time chasing tiny people around the house in a vain attempt to get them to try a healthy vegetable once in a while and these will seem like rational thoughts. You need a break.

I’ve looked at a lot of married-lady magazines in the dentist’s waiting room, and all of them seem to have at least one feature entitled, “Romance Left When the Kids Came Along? Here’s 60 Sexy, SIZZLING TIPS to Put the SPICE Back in Your Marriage!”

That I’ve ever been able to tell, the 60 tips usually boils down to about three, the main one of which is having a regular date night. (The other pair involve one of you dressing up like a French maid and the other taking out the garbage more often without being asked. I always get called back for my cleaning before I can find out which is which, so I’ll let the two of you sort it out.)

You both realize at the same time that spending an evening together at a chain restaurant with faux antiques tacked to the wall, loud ’80s pop music, yet more French fries and everybody else’s shrieking offspring is more than either of your nerves can take. You offload the kids to a neighbor or friend or in-law, and plan for a quiet night in. You love the little darlings, you really do, but an evening sans boxed apple juice seems divine.

As soon as they’re gone, you can engage in the age-old couples’ bonding activity of clearing approximately 45,683 toys out of the living room so that it looks like adults live here, too. Frequent endearments should be uttered, along the lines of, “Why did your mother decide a drum set was a good birthday present for a four-year-old? Because that woman LIVES TO MAKE ME MISERABLE, that’s why.” You’ll work up an appetite in no time.

Well, now, what are you going to do for dinner? Pizza has sort of taken on the sheen of kiddie food, too, so delivery is out, and you’re so tired it’s hard to think of anything else. It takes a little work, but making dinner together is a pleasant way to slough off tension and quietly reconnect. (Though I’m aiming this at couples, these recipes would work well for a single parent entertaining a date or a friend, too.)

First up is a switch from regular beef hamburgers. These are nice grilled, but perfectly good fried in a skillet, too. The recipe is a hybrid of one from the BrokeAss Gourmet website and cookbook crossed with a similar recipe from Saveur magazine’s website.

BBQ Pork Burgers with Red Onion

1 lb. ground pork

½ cup breadcrumbs

1 minced garlic clove

1/3 cup minced red onion

4 Tbsps. bottled BBQ sauce

salt and pepper to taste

 

Combine everything gently but thoroughly in a bowl; then roll into 4 equal balls and flatten into patties. (If you have trouble making everything stick together, beat an egg and mix it in.) Grill as you like, or lightly oil a skillet and cook over medium-high heat until they reach desired doneness.

Meanwhile, whoever isn’t on meat detail can work on the side dish. Fries normally go with burgers, but if either of you has to look at another potato product, you’ll scream. That’s OK, though, because you’re not going to make regular fries. This half of your dinner comes courtesy of the Cheap Healthy Good food blog, with a minor adjustment.

Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

2 Tbsps. ground coriander

1 Tbsp. ground fennel

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

1 Tbsp. paprika

¼ tsp. cayenne pepper

2 Tbsps. kosher salt

 

Preheat oven to 425F. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and spray lightly with nonstick cooking spray. Mix spices together. Peel one sweet potato per person and cut into steak fries (or shoestring, if you prefer). Toss fries with some olive oil and as much spice mix as you like, roughly 1 Tbsp. olive oil and 2 tsps. mix. Spread out on sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes until tender inside and slightly browned in places on the outside, flipping occasionally with a spatula.

The burgers go well with some Dijon mustard, and the fries with a little of the leftover BBQ sauce, with maybe a mixed greens salad on the side. If the kids are staying over with your babysitter of choice, a good craft beer or glass of crisp wine would do the trick to wash it down, if you imbibe.

So you made each other dinner, just like you did when you were courting, without having to cater to young, finicky palates. It’s enough to put a sparkle in your eyes and, yes, maybe even spice back in your relationship again. After you load the dishwasher and clean up (the magazine was pretty clear that was part of the whole togetherness thing, too), you slip off to the living room. There you spend a mad, passionate evening picking Legos from between the couch cushions, watching anything but the Disney Channel and arguing about who has to wear the French maid’s outfit while taking out the trash.

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