Tag Archives: Wine

Why-Not Pizza

Mixer Closeup

I knew I’d be alone for dinner last night, as she was having a dinner meeting with some people on the committee for her big summer event. The cats would be home, too, of course, but I’d be cooking only for myself. When I’m going to be home alone–which isn’t all that often–I try to make something I like that she doesn’t. Brussels sprouts were an obvious choice, but they’re not in season.

By the time I finished a rehearsal at which my kids were frustratingly unfocused, I considered just having a bottle of wine for dinner. But I knew that wouldn’t happen, not least because I wanted to be able to drive to meet her late-arriving train–and I had work I wanted to do for which clear-headedness was a good idea. So not wine, or at least not just wine.

We’ve been trying to eat from our pantry as much as possible. She reminded me the other day of a couple of tins on the top shelf, so I decided to use those. They were smoked oysters, which I had on a pizza a long time ago and really enjoyed. I’ve made that pizza many times over the years, and if it was never quite as wonderful as that first time, it was always pretty good.  I knew it was something she wouldn’t want to share, so it was the perfect choice. I knew I had an open jar of marinara sauce and plenty of cheese.

I stopped at the market on the way home to pick up pre-made pizza dough. I could have made dough from scratch, but I was trying to speed things along; if the oven was internet-equpped I would have sent it a “preheat” command. While my off-line oven warmed, I gathered cheese and sauce (and mushrooms, for good measure) from the fridge, and cleaned some broccoli to steam as a side. (Yes, pizza and broccoli. I wanted something green, and remember that the object was a dinner she wouldn’t want to share.) I pulled down the cans from the top shelf and opened them into a strainer.

The tins weren’t smoked oysters after all.  They were octopus and squid. (Well, at least now I had a dinner she really wouldn’t want to eat.) As for why I had tinned octopus and squid in the house, it probably had to do with thinking, “Well, I like oysters, so why not?” I like smoked oyster pizza, so why not try octopus and squid?

The dough stretched into a beautiful thin round. I topped it and slid it onto the hot pizza stone. I set the timer, fed the cats, and headed to the office. In almost no time I’d recorded a pretty good vocal part for the demo I was working on–but then I realized a measure of accompaniment I’d wanted to cut was still in the track. It didn’t take long to get rid of it and stitch back together the vocal part to make the transition seamless. By the time I finished, I figured the timer was about to go off, so I happily saved my work and went upstairs.

That’s when I realized I’d set the timer on the microwave oven, which isn’t nearly loud or insistent enough to get my attention. It had beeped and then went silent, not being smart enough to alert me again. If I had an internet-equipped microwave, maybe it would have sent me a text message: Your pizza is ready. Oh, and by the way, it’s in the OVEN, not in the microwave.

It was overdone, but not too far gone. The outer crust was too crisp, but the rest of the pie wasn’t destroyed. I let it rest on the counter for a couple of minutes while the broccoli steamed in the microwave, then sliced and plated pizza and green thing.

Octopus and squid can get terribly tough if it isn’t cooked properly. The tinned varieties are already cooked, so I was really only reheating them. I didn’t do much damage. Perhaps if I’d gotten the pie out of the oven sooner, it would have been a little less chewy, but it was far from awful.

As for my “why-not” pizza, the real question is, “why bother?” I’ll have the leftovers for lunch today, and then I won’t make it again. There are lots of things I prefer to put on pizza–and lots of pizza toppings she enjoys sharing. If I go to the tinned-fish section of the market again, it’ll be for tuna. Cooking for one–even eccentrically and somewhat experimentally–is fine, but cooking for us both is better.

This waveform is not of me saying, "Damn! I burned the pizza!"--though that would have been clever.

This waveform is not of me saying, “Damn! I burned the pizza!”–though that would have been clever.

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.

Picture This

“Drunken Chicken Marsala?” she asked, showing me a photo on Pinterest.

The photo was beautiful.  Chicken, tomatoes, mushrooms, and a silky-looking brown sauce.  “We could have it with polenta,” she said, “and green beans.” I thought the recipe sounded good, but she had said the magic words.  (As far as I’m concerned, the recommended daily serving of green beans is How many are there?) We added the few items we’d need to our shopping list and headed off to do errands.

First stop: the Big Box Home Improvement Store. Clamps and glue to repair a dining chair were easy to find. Tile was a little harder. We need to replace flooring in the entryway, powder room, and laundry closet, and to create a  kitchen backsplash. I’m getting more at home in home improvement stores–I no longer get the sense the greeter wants to take me by the arm and say, “Here, sir, let me help you so you don’t hurt yourself with the sharp things”–but I seldom really feel like I know what I’m doing.  Being faced with the myriad choices of the tile aisle only makes things worse. (Don’t even get me started on the cabinet door pull options. It’s good to know that I’m not alone in this difficulty; there’s a lot of science suggesting that more choices makes things harder rather than easier. But she’s gently helpful, and very decisive, and in far less time than I would have taken alone, I had a handful of samples and we were headed for the checkout.

There’s a wine shop across the road from the Big Box Home Improvement Store. I don’t have any particular store loyalty, so we went there for a bottle of marsala. We should probably develop a relationship with a wine seller, someone who knows our tastes and can make useful suggestions. (Come to think of it, maybe the wine seller would have tile recommendations, too.) Fortunately, the wine devotes more shelf space to flavored vodkas than dessert wines, so I wasn’t paralyzed with indecision. We checked the recipe to make sure we were looking for a dry marsala rather than a sweet one, and picked a half-bottle in the middle of the price range.

Our final errand was a trip to the supermarket, where I felt thankfully and entirely at home.

This was her recipe, so she took the lead; I chopped vegetables and pounded chicken breasts and then made a salad and stayed out of her way. It wasn’t going well. There was much concern that the chicken wasn’t browning properly, that the wine was being absorbed too quickly, that dinner was going to be a mess and we would die of salmonella poisoning. (Actually, she wasn’t concerned that we would die; only that would. I think this means she was afraid of killing me with a single bite, but it might mean that she would know enough not to take a second taste.)

I did my best to assure her. I know that chicken breast at this thinness takes a very short while to cook completely. If the pan looks dry, she could add more wine. The tomatoes would provide even more moisture. Most importantly, I hoped to remind her that food stylists make every dish look more beautiful than we can.

The rounds of polenta had lovely crisp bits on the outside and soft centers. The green beans were crunchy and healthy and altogether wonderful.  And the chicken marsala?  Not only did it not kill us, but it was savory and a little sweet, earthy and hearty and warm. And, for a couple of home cooks, picture perfect.

Marsala is, apparently, a dessert wine. Does it pair well with chocolate chip cookies?

Most definitely not a food stylist’s plate.

Just a Sip

We are neither of us tee-totalers; we just don’t drink very much. She hasn’t yet found a wine she’s enthusiastic about. I like a humble glass of red with dinner once in a while, but I’m often just as happy without. I found a recipe for a grapefruit soda-and-gin cocktail that became all the rage at her mom’s surprise birthday party last June, but as the summer wore on I usually drank mine without the gin, and eventually I switched to grapefruit juice and seltzer: less sugar, almost as flavorful, and I could drive after drinking one.

She’ll have a Manhattan once in a while–she, not her mom.  (Her mom might like them, too, but that’s another matter.) Because she likes sweet beverages, I’ve learned to make a Manhattan so untraditionally fruit-filled that it’s nearly a new drink–maybe it should be called the Suburban. And I have learned to make it small: I usually make a single drink and split between us. Even then our glasses usually end up half-full, and not merely because we are optimists.

And so I giggled when I opened a Christmas gift that arrived from some old friends: the Teeny Weeny Martini Set: thimble-sized glasses, a miniature cocktail shaker, and an ice tray that makes positively Lilliputian cubes. I’m sure they thought they were being silly–or maybe they recall that I’m not much of a drinker.

We stayed in Friday night–no theatre, no movies, no restaurants, no takeout, just us–and as the chicken marinated for the recipe we planned, it seemed like the perfect time to try our new barware.  I mixed a few drops of dry vermouth with a half-a-jigger of gin, chilled it with an ice-fragment, shook-not-stirred-even-though-that-meant-a-slightly-watery-cocktail-the-way-Bond-likes-it, and poured the result into our micro-glasses.

As for garnish: just a drop of pickle brine in each. I would have tried a twist of lemon peel, but we were out.

She took a sip, and made a face. It was nowhere near sweet enough for her liking. Fortunately, a sip is all there was. As for me, I had twoTwo whole martinis. Well, G. I. Joe-sized ones. I might even do it again sometime. Maybe with a different garnish.  Wonder where I can find a very small olive…

Just right for Cocktail Minute

Just right for Cocktail Minute

My Semi-Debauched Life

It had been cold in the office on Tuesday–but my “office” in this sense is a corner of a very large multi-purpose parish center with 16-foot-high ceilings, so it’s hard to control the heating.  If I could move my desk onto a 10-foot-tall platform, I might benefit from the rising of warm air, but that seems more trouble than it would be worth, since the “desk” I use most often is a grand piano. But the “office” was quiet, and I got plenty of work done, albeit done while wearing a scarf and wishing I’d brought my fingerless gloves.

I thought about dinner on my drive home.  She’d had a ham-and-swiss sandwich with caramelized onions for lunch. I had planned to have one, too, but ended up in a lunch meeting with a collaborator–rotisserie chicken over salad greens.  The sandwich seemed like a great idea, and I’d be at home to eat it which meant I could toast the kaiser roll, heat the ham, and melt the cheese.

What would go great with that, I thought, is a nice glass of red wine. 

I arrived home, picked up the mail, found her for a kiss hello, petted the cats, and set about gathering sandwich fixings.

A nice glass of red wine.

I trimmed some green beans and tossed them in a sauté pan with a few carrot coins and a couple slices of potato from the pot roast. I toasted the roll. I set the vegetables on a plate to keep warm in the oven while I finished making the sandwich.  I went back to the fridge for a little mayo, still thinking, a nice glass of red wine would go great with this.

And then I saw a half-full bottle of Vitamin Water.

…or that would be just as good.

I poured half the bottle into a glass, topped it with tap water, put the glass and my dinner on a tray, and carried it up to join her.

Richard Rodgers was, from many reports, a heavy drinker.  Alan Jay Lerner was addicted to amphetamines.  Stephen Sondheim smoked a lot of pot.

And for me?

A glass of watered-down Vitamin Water. Zero.  Not even the full-sugar stuff! Half a glass of nutrient-enhanced kool-aid, watered down because it’s too sweet when I drink it straight.

I’m no Rodgers.  No Lerner.  No Sondheim.  No Eugene O’Neill.  No Tennessee Williams.

I ate a sandwich with a plate of vegetables, I drank a theoretically healthy beverage. I carried the tray back to the kitchen and put the plate and glass in the dishwasher. Apparently I’m no good at the whole tortured-artist thing.

No Tonys, no Emmys, no Grammys, no Oscars.  No rehab. No cirrhosis. Such is my semi-debauched life.

I guess I can live with that.