Tag Archives: Sunday

No-fault Pasta

Painted in Waterlogue

A friend of ours got married on Sunday.

Another friend didn’t.

You get the idea, I think: those two friends once expected to be married to each other, and that marriage did not come to pass. Their relationship is not the point of this story; what is the point is that the friend who wasn’t putting on a tux this weekend wanted to have other things to think about than the friend who was putting on a pretty dress. We picked him up near relatives we were visiting and brought him home with us.

It was a perfect Sunday for a road trip: not too hot, not too humid, and lots of traffic. That might not seem like a good thing, but it gave my navigator an excuse to show her skills. We spent most of the day on back roads and small state routes that avoided the blockages and gave us much prettier scenery.

We stopped for lunch at a terrific—and uncrowded—place in a town I didn’t know anything about, and enjoyed grinders, salads, fish and chips and clam chowder, with a little Food Network in the background on the bar TV. We stopped at an outlet mall and did a little shopping, amusing ourselves greatly at the gender-stereotype-busting of the girl buying far less than the guys. Unfortunately, the stereo speakers I’d been looking for were out of stock. (Side note: Honey, I just ordered them from Amazon.)

By the time we got home and met the hungry cats, we were hungry, too, but not for anything big and heavy. And, remember, it was Sunday night—a veg box will arrive Tuesday morning, and there were still plenty of things in the crisper. While she made up the guest room, I chatted with our guest and made dinner. I wasn’t sure what it would be, but there was no question that it would contain plenty of vegetables. Sometimes you just have to start cooking and figure it out along the way.

No-Fault Pasta

Clearing out the crisper, discover:
1/2 lb. green beans
1/3 lb. asparagus
4 small cucumbers
half a bag of baby carrots brought home from someone’s lunch
4 oz. Baby Bella mushrooms
half a bunch of celery
1 celtuce
1 or 2 garlic scapes (Note that there are more, but that common decency suggests their judicious use–and that they still look plenty sturdy. Plan to regret this decision if next week’s box contains more.)

Elsewhere in the fridge, find:
A jar of chive vinegar
4 oz. chive-and-spinach pesto
a big hunk of parmesan cheese
a container of bite-sized mozzarella balls.

From the freezer, retrieve
4 oz. bulk Italian sausage

On the counter, catch sight of:
half a tub of week-old grape tomatoes, their skin just starting to wrinkle
the bottle of rosemary simple syrup used to sweeten the iced tea you took upstairs to the room-straightener.

From the pantry, retrieve:
A box of fettuccini

Note also the bounty of dill and oregano in the herb-garden-basket hung by the kitchen window.

Set a pot of salted water to boil.

Slice the cucumbers into a bowl, tossing with a couple teaspoons of the vinegar, a splash of rosemary simple syrup, and a couple of sprigs of dill from the kitchen garden.

Open a bottle of red wine; pour each of you a glass. Toast to friends, and to happiness. 

Rinse and trim the asparagus and green beans; cut them into bite-size pieces and toss in a big bowl. Don’t bother to dry them; instead, put a paper towel over the bowl; microwave 90 seconds to just-barely-steam the vegetables. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet over medium heat, brown the sausage; drain and remove.

Peel the celtuce as you would a broccoli stem; slice into coins about 1/4 inch thick. Taste raw, noting that it really does have a little celery flavor, but is much denser–almost like a water chestnut. Set aside.

When the water boils, add the fettuccini, stirring occasionally. (The clock is now ticking: finish everything else by the time the pasta cooks).

Dice an onion, which you’ve dispatched your guest to retrieve from the pantry-in-the-garage. Sauté it and a couple stalks of celery in a little olive oil until the onion is barely translucent. Finely slice the garlic scape and add it, along with the beans and asparagus; since they’re mostly cooked, the point is just to get everything combined without browning too much. Slice the baby carrots and add them; they’ll still be mostly crunchy when you’re done. Deglaze the pan with a splash of the wine. Clean and slice the mushrooms, but if your guest isn’t a fan of them, sauté them alone in a small skillet. (This is why stoves have several heating elements.)

Hand a hunk of cheese, the grater, and a collecting bowl to your guest.

Halve the grape tomatoes. When the sautéed vegetables are almost tender, add them to the skillet, along with the celtuce coins and the sausage. Toss to combine, then reduce the heat to low. Add 3 or 4 tbsp of the pesto to the center of the pan, but just let it sit on top to warm gently.

Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and divide into serving bowls.

Add a splash of the pasta water to the skillet; give everything a gentle toss to combine; taste and adjust seasoning, then spoon the seriously veggie sauce over the pasta. Add mushrooms or not. Sprinkle some fresh oregano on top, then let each diner add cheese to taste. Serve with the quick-pickled cucumbers.

Serves 3, who will be happy enough that everyone will forget about dessert.

If you’ve read more than one Dinner at the Country House post, you know perfectly well that this is not so much a recipe as a story about an adventure shared with others. If there had been chicken instead of sausage, I would have happily used that; if there had been no pesto, I might have used soy sauce and made rice instead of noodles. If any of a great many things had been different, I might have written about a wedding feast a couple years ago, rather than a not-wedding dinner last night, or served four instead of three, or gone to the movies by myself. It’s nobody’s fault. This is what happened. This is how we made the best of it. This is how we spent the day. This is how life goes on.

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Don’t Fritter, Don’t Waffle, and Definitely Don’t Disappoint

Painted in Waterlogue

I used to joke that if I wanted to change careers, I could become an interior decorator for extremely patient clients. I could look at every towel rack in a three-county area before choosing one. Sometimes I have a problem being decisive.

I love lasagne. But I hardly ever order it in a restaurant, because I’m always disappointed. It never comes out of the kitchen the way I think it ought to. I’m looking for thick, sturdy layers of noodles and fillings and cheese—the important word being sturdy. I expect it to have the structural integrity of a slice of cake, not a messy plate of pasta.

Similarly, I love apple fritters. Or, at least, I love the idea of apple fritters. Chopped apples, held together by a little dough, fried and lightly glazed. On those rare occasions I go to the donut shop, I choose one, thinking, this will be great! And better than just a donut. What do I get? A pile of glaze-covered dough, in which you’d need a geiger counter to find the apples. Or, if I’m lucky, a gloppy spoonful of canned apple pie filling.

I have no problem with a nice glazed donut. I like apple pie (though I’d prefer the filling not come from a can). But that’s not what I’m looking for.

This, however, is.

Apple Decisive
(no waffling, no frittering)

Pre-heat a waffle iron and coat lightly with non-stick spray.
Set a cooling rack over a section of the newspaper you weren’t going to read anyway.

Combine in a large bowl:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine in a small bowl:
1 cup milk

1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla

Make a well in the dry ingredients and stir in the wet, mixing just enough to combine, then fold in
3 cups chopped apples
(That seems like a lot, but apple is the star; pastry is the supporting player.)

Spoon the mixture, which will be thick and chunky, into the waffle iron and bake until golden brown and immensely fragrant. Remove each Decisive to the rack.

Mix in a small bowl:
4 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons apple cider (a few drops more, as needed)

If you want the glaze to set up, beautiful and shiny, wait ’til the Decisives are cool to apply it. We chose not to wait that long.

It is possible that the lasagne I’ve been getting in restaurants is exactly as it is meant to be, and the stuff I make is the casserole of a Philistine. It is possible that a Fritter is supposed to be a fried lump of dough faintly smelling of apple. I don’t care.

It might take a while for me to pick a towel rack, but when it comes to Sunday breakfast, I’m being decisive.

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Just Enough

Painted in Waterlogue

The show I’m music-directing has finally opened. It feels artistically satisfying to those of us on- and backstage, and it’s pleasing the audiences enough that the producers have already announced an extension. I’d like to think our production would please the creators of the show, though it might not: although our rehearsal materials include the “Definitive” score, our budget doesn’t allow for the “definitive” 18-piece orchestra. I’ve got seven players (including myself, not-quite-ideally conducting from the keyboard). Rather than a large theatre orchestra with a strong rhythm section, I have thought of us as a rock band with strings and horns. It’s enough; and thinking of the band this way gives me a way to make a virtue of what some might consider a deficiency.

After nine performances or run-throughs in a week, it was time for dinner at home. I sent her an iMessage as I was getting into the car:

Please set the oven to 400 and take the pizza dough out of the refrigerator (unless you’d rather have something else for dinner).

She replied that she had done—and as for the possibility of something else,

Nope! 🙂

She went back to her chores and I continued driving home, thinking about the pizza-to-be. I knew we had a package of turkey pepperoni and an a open jar of sauce. We’d had some mozzarella, cheese but I wasn’t sure if there were any left; if not, I was confident there’d be some other variety. I didn’t know about vegetables, but was determined not to stop at the market. This week had been exhausting; I didn’t want dinner to be ready at bedtime.  Whatever was there would be fine.

The dough had rested nicely on the counter and rolled out beautifully thin. I slid it onto a cornmeal-dusted pizza peel and spooned on a little sauce–just a little. There were olives and onions and a yellow bell pepper; I thinly sliced just a little of each. There was just enough mozzarella to dot the top of the pie. It slid perfectly smoothly onto the waiting pizza stone. I set the oven timer and made a little salad: romaine lettuce, a few halved grape tomatoes, and a little pickled cauliflower. I added a bit of guacamole to some good bottled salad dressing and whisked it into creamy togetherness.

Painted in Waterlogue

A composition teacher of mine says, “When something is good, you must ask yourself, ‘Should there be more?’” Often, the answer is yes. But not always. I’ve disappointed myself with plenty of soggy-crust pizzas laden with piles of cheese, puddles of of sauce, and piles of toppings. Not this time. A little restraint, and there was a pretty perfect pizza and a simple salad.

Over dinner, we enjoyed an episode of Tea Leone Maintains World Peace While Wearing Great ClothesWe watched a second. We considered a third, and then thought better of it; on Sunday night at the end of a long week that was leading into another quite like it, it was bedtime.

There are pot-roast Sundays and take-out Sundays and bowls of cereal Sundays; there are big family dinners and cheese and crackers eaten alone; and there are some in between. A little cooking, a little conversation, a little entertainment. Just enough.

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When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Pasta

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It had been a whirlwind week, followed by a busy weekend leading into another week that’ll be more of the same. Major events are kicking up in her organization, and rehearsals and performances fill my evenings. Dinners together will be the exception rather than the rule. It’s easy to get focused on what has to be done at work and then discover a load of clothes put in the washer on Tuesday hasn’t been moved to the dryer until Friday. Or that we’ve driven past the market while holding the shopping list.

We remembered lunch, though. She had it nearly ready by the time I got home. All that was left was to grate the cheese I’d just brought–after I remembered where I was going and circled back for it. Pasta was bubbling. Cream simmered in a saucepan, flecked with perky strands of lemon zest and dark green rosemary. I squeezed the lemons for her before she realized that the recipe called for zest but not juice. That’s okay; I’ll make lemon soda sometime soon. She stirred in the cheese, steamed some asparagus to add, and brought everything together. The sauce was beautifully balanced between tart citrus, rich cream, and salty-sharp parmesan. A sprinkle of cayenne and a few grinds of black pepper contributed a little warmth, and the asparagus brought its unique earthiness. Nothing overwhelmed another–which is good, since we were both a little overwhelmed by life.

The recipe she was following didn’t include the asparagus, but I’m glad we did. Vegetables are always welcome. I’m sure we’ll try this again someday, perhaps with a little less cream and many more vegetables, as a pasta primavera. It’s time for that sort of thing, even if the thermometer doesn’t quite agree and there’s still snow on the ground. It might even be pleasant enough to linger over lunch on the deck. Not today, though, but that’s just as well; we had only enough time to clean up after lunch before going our separate ways for evening events.

The time it takes to make a simple meal is always well-spent, and most certainly healthier than speaking into an intercom and having someone hand a sack of burgers to us through a window. Even when the meal is a bowl of pasta and cheese.

Taking Turns

She’d been reading The Long Winter for comfort in the wake of the ice-dam damage, then turned to her other favorite we-can-make-it-through-hard-times book for dinner inspiration: “Mom’s Version of Great Grandmother Matilde’s Baked Pork Chops with Sauerkraut.” Savory, sweet, sour, earthy and very sustaining.

Potatoes would go nicely with with pork, but we’ve had them a lot lately. She suggested a salad, and I agreed readily. (I always say yes to a pile of vegetables.) She’d done the marketing and presented the best bagged salad I’ve ever encountered: romaine, cabbage, kale, and shredded carrot, topped with sunflower seeds, a little crumbled bacon, and a citrus vinaigrette. We finished our shared bowl, and I asked if she’d like more.  Her eyes widened, and the Girl Who Doesn’t Like Vegetables Much said, “There’s more? That’s the best news all day!”

She didn’t, in fact, want more salad at dinnertime, but was delighted to know that we could have it again sometime soon. I’d send the rest with her for lunch, but she tends to eat salad only if she thinks she’s stealing it off my plate. That wouldn’t work at the office.

This was very much a taking-turns weekend.  We were seldom in the kitchen together, and we didn’t do a lot of elaborate cooking–as befits a weekend full of work and unexpected household setbacks–but we ate well, and will continue to do so all week: toasted muffins and fruit; pasta al limone; scrambled eggs with asparagus and tomatoes; soup and toast; pork chops and many vegetables. Leftovers and sandwich fixings are in the fridge; granola and banana bread are cooling on the counter. We’ll be fine.

I brought dessert to our guest-room campsite: tiny sundaes served in small wine glasses, a riff on profiteroles using donut holes as a substitute for cream puffs. She giggled at the sight of dessert in wine glasses.  That was precisely the desired effect.

Sometimes I cook, sometimes she cooks, sometimes we cook together. Sometimes someone else entirely does the cooking. That’ll be the case tonight, before we attend a Big Fancy Theatre Event. I’ll meet her at the office, and we’ll figure it out from there.  Pancakes from a diner, Thai take-out, a slice of pizza as we walk to the theatre–who knows?  We need food as fuel, to be sure, but it’s the company that really matters.

A small, sweet ending to a busy weekend before a stressful week.

A small, sweet ending to a busy weekend before a stressful week.

How Firm a Foundation

A slushy, messy snowstorm began just as it was time to head out for Sunday afternoon errands. March was arriving like a very frosty lion. Still, we made all the stops we needed: groceries, pet supplies, and a new sink for the powder room were acquired without incident. In fact, our trusty Prius fared better than many all-wheel drive vehicles we saw sliding around.

Home and safe, unloaded, we set to work.

She stirred together a marinade of soy, Worcestershire, garlic, and spices in which a small London Broil was bathed.

I chopped aromatics while she browned some sausage; then the vegetables sautéed in the drippings. She added beef stock, water, and a simple-and-tasty red wine, red lentils, shaved carrots, and probably a spice or four.  The whole lot simmered, then chopped kale was added. Half an hour later, she asked how it looked.  I fought off the urge to stop what I was doing and eat the entire pot.

I’m not sure which spices or herbs she’d added to the soup, because I had moved onto my next project.  Strawberries had been on sale, but in a larger container than we usually buy. “Well, you could make shortcake for dessert,” she said. She may have been kidding, but I thought it was a good idea.  Besides, there was a little cream left in the fridge, and there is a new immersion blender. Whipping the cream was a snap. I added a little powdered sugar and a drop of vanilla to the whole batch, served a bit of it sprinkled with cocoa powder as a treat for her, and stowed the rest in the fridge.

I made a batch of biscuit dough, dividing it in half and adding a little sugar to one portion. I was improvising, here, because I had forgotten that the actual shortcake recipe is slightly different than the one for biscuits. I patted out each section of dough and used different sized cutters to differentiate the ones for shortcake from the unsweetened biscuits. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to make a breakfast sandwich on a sweetened biscuit, but the first bite might be a little strange. Both sets came out well, though a little darker than I’d intended, due to an oven-timer-setting error.

She scrubbed and roughly chopped some potatoes and set them to boil. When they were tender, she drained the pot, added butter and sour creme, and “smashed” them with a potato masher.

“Should I do the lamb now?” she asked.

Ground lamb, cooked in a tiny amount of oil and spiced heavily with cinnamon, cumin, coriander, black pepper, and paprika, will be topped with toasted pine nuts and accompany a batch of hummus made from the chick peas that spent hours in slow cooker. Scooped with bits of pita or crackers or really good toast, it’s one of our favorite Middle Eastern dishes.

I said she should go ahead. The kitchen was so fragrant by this point that one more batch of something wouldn’t make me any more likely to swoon than I already was.  Besides, I was pretty sure that once we cooked the steak, the day’s cooking events would be all over. Better to delay gratification a little and finish our homework.

She cooked and drained the lamb, and set it aside to cool, but we decided to make the hummus another day. She went off to fold a load of laundry while I turned my attention to tonight’s dinner.

I heated the cast-iron skillet, adjusted the temperature of the still-warm oven to 325F, and removed the steak from its marinade. It wasn’t a huge steak, but it was too long to fit in the skillet.  She cut it in half using the chef’s knife she was still holding after washing; she washed the knife again–probably the sixth or seventh time it had been washed during the afternoon–then dried it and finally put it away. I seared the steak on both sides, then slid the skillet into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. And checked to be sure I had set it correctly.

While she folded a load of laundry, I got the chef’s knife again to trim a bunch of asparagus–then washed and dried it and put it away again again. The asparagus was wrapped, burrito-style, in a moist paper towel, and microwaved for a minute. We reserved a quarter-cup of the marinade when putting the steak in the rest of it; this reserved portion went into a skillet to reduce and be fortified with a bit of butter. While the sauce-to-be did its thing, I washed, hulled, and sliced some strawberries–using a paring knife for a change–and sprinkled them with a little sugar and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.

Halving the steak had a side benefit: I could cook the halves to different temperatures.  The rare side came out and was tented with foil to rest while the rest stayed in the oven for another few minutes. When the second half came out and began its rest, I stirred the pan juices from the steak into the sauce, wiped the skillet and used it to slightly brown the par-cooked asparagus.

It was, at long last, dinner time, and the first time either of us sat down in many hours. We had juicy, spicy sliced steak, a mound of smashed potatoes, a lineup of intensely green asparagus spears. And the makings for lunches and quick dinners for days to come.

We enjoyed a little Sunday evening television, pausing during what would have been a commercial break save that we watched streaming video rather than broadcast TV for dessert assembly and kitchen tidying.

Late nights of work and rehearsal, takeout food, and exhaustion had left us a little dietarily grumpy last week. We had resolved that this week would be better, and Sunday was the foundation on which that resolution would stand. We didn’t end up listening to the audiobook she’d suggested. I’m sure there are plenty of things we didn’t get done, but we also didn’t cook so much food that anything is likely to go to waste. Even if we weren’t completely ready to face every challenge the week might present, we were well-fed, and we had spent the day in each other’s company. The snow might have stopped falling by this point.  We didn’t look.

All the Things

All the things: (Back row) Sausage and kale soup, chickpeas, spiced lamb, shortbread and biscuits. (Front) London Broil (rare and well-done), steak sauce, smashed potatoes, pan-grilled asparagus, whipped cream, macerated strawberries.

Every night does not warrant a fancy dessert. All things in moderation. Especially moderation.

Every night does not warrant a fancy dessert.
All things in moderation. Especially moderation.

Including Moderation

Her new phone functioned perfectly on Thursday’s overnight.  Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the rest of the technology her team uses–nor, even more unfortunately, of one of the subcontractors they employ.  She woke from a nap on Friday afternoon to news of an epic failure that might have meant another sleepless night or two.  She was understandably furious.  And maybe a little comically so, but I knew better than to point that out.  Eventually she calmed enough to speak in complete sentences, and reassure us both that we would not incur the expenses of a new laptop computer and additional repairs to the newly painted wall at which she wanted to chuck the old one.  She made herself a mug of tea. A cat settled at her feet, and I left them for a while.

After I returned from a run and showered, I started to bake a batch of brownies.  I wasn’t sure what dinner might be, but thought that after a long night and a terrible afternoon, a little sweetness would be welcome.

While the brownies baked, I started to assemble the last piece of furniture for our office, a cute little rolling cart with many drawers that would hold office supplies and various doodads. She finished her work for the day and came to join me–possibly attracted by the chocolaty goodness wafting from the kitchen.  We worked together happily on the cart (again proving that we pass the Ikea Relationship Test). By the time every Tab A was fitted into every Slot B, every screw was accounted for, and the cart carried to its appointed place in the office, the brownies were ready to cut.

We aren’t doctors or nurses.  We aren’t dieticians. We know perfectly well that brownies are not an appropriate dinner. Except when they are.  We didn’t eat the entire batch, any more than we’d eat the entire Thanksgiving turkey in one sitting. Just one lovely, rich, still-barely-warm brownie each.

Sunday’s dinner, after her very productive knitting class, my many masses played, and our shared garage clearing, was far more balanced and moderate. She marinated chicken breasts in lemon and olive oil, and served them with sautéed asparagus and rice. Very different from a brownie, but also delicious.

Sometimes there’s a brownie for dinner.  Sometimes there’s a bowl of popcorn. All things in moderation.  Including moderation.

Baked chicken, sautéed asparagus, rice. Nothing immoderate about that.

Baked chicken, sautéed asparagus, rice. Nothing immoderate about that.