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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Category Archives: Pasta

The blog has really gotten away from me. I’m having trouble both finding time to write and figuring out what to write about.

It’s the middle and I hate the middle. One of my goals for grad school was to learn to get past the middle. I’m always excited at the beginning of a project. I can marshal fantastic energy to get something started. But then, when the dream of what I want to create runs into the reality of the faults with my creation, I have a horrible habit: I give up.

In order to prepare myself for my middle problem, I did something silly before grad school. I grew my hair out. It was about 2″ long and I wanted it to be almost to my elbows. When I was younger I had long, wild, curly hair. I thought maybe, for a woman starting over in middle age, it might be fun to recapture some of the spirit of my romantic youth. Growing my hair out required patience through long stretches of middle where I looked like – there is no other word for it – a soccer mom. Coming, as it did, in my mid-40’s it was painful. But I made it through, and now (with the help of some Clairol Natural Instincts #12) I have the hair of my youth.

But here’s what I’ve realized. Discipline is only 1/2 the battle. I have taught myself the discipline of sticking with a difficult project, of writing every day, of finishing a draft I’m struggling with. But creative discipline requires a flexibility to change the original idea to fit the reality of the outcome and I’m struggling with that in both my writing and the blog.

I’m afraid to stop posting every meal, every day, because I’m afraid if I give up on the original conception, I’ll lose the lesson of whatever it had to teach me. But I’m also afraid that if I’m unwilling to change the idea of the project I might be missing out in a different way.

I don’t know how to resolve the conflict. I also don’t know how to get this back to meatballs and spaghetti. Except to say that meatballs and spaghetti was one of the first meals that made me realize that I am more relaxed when I’m not using a recipe which was my first inkling that although I took pride in my Unnatural Cook status, it wasn’t necessarily serving me. I might, in fact, be happier as a Natural Cook. My suspicion is the thing that you don’t know you need to learn is more important than the thing you set out to learn. Which would mean that someday, I might have to be willing to be flexible and change my m.o. with the blog…..

 

 

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So far every meal for the last three days has been different than what’s on the meal plan. Sort of a sign that I made too complicated a plan for such a busy week. Oh well. Tonight I still couldn’t face up to my gazpacho and quesadillas so I made my favorite standby, Peperoncini Pasta. One of the few things I know how to make “from the pantry.”

It was just the kids and I so we ate dinner at my favorite hour: 5:30. Being someone who hates lunch and doesn’t know what to eat besides cereal, I’m starving by then. I have never outgrown this predilection for an early dinner and doubt I ever will. I can’t often indulge it but then if I could, I imagine it wouldn’t seem so pleasurable.

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This is not the best dish I’ve ever cooked but its one of the ones I’m most proud of. It sort of makes me realize how much my confidence as a cook has grown since I began this blog mishegas. For lack of a better name (and because I love my son and this is what he named it) I present to you Test Taking Pasta.

Test Taking Pasta is this weeks “surprise meal.” The one where I get inspired by ingredients at the store. It’s called Test Taking Pasta merely because this is the week of the state math tests. The inspiration was actually last Saturday’s meal of garlic broccolini and chicken kebabs: my daughter pointed out that it would make a good pasta dish. I thought the asparagus looked nice so I added that to the mix along with wine, shallots, garlic and leftover onion.

It’s really the technique I like that I came up with. I roasted the broccoli and asparagus together with tons of minced garlic. I overcooked the vegetables a bit because I started them too early but my family is a fan of blackened vegetables so no one was disappointed about that besides me – I’m the only one who saw them while they were still beautifully green. While the vegetables were roasting I cooked the chicken in very small very thin strips, high heat, salt & pepper. Then I took out the chicken & sauteed the shallots and onion. I added more minced garlic at the end then deglazed with white wine and returned the chicken to the pan. While the pasta water was boiling I kept the chicken and onions warming in the oven with the vegetables. When the pasta was cooked I threw it all together and added parmesan.

I think the Test Taking name should stay. Maintaining this blog has been a test of my resolve, writing when I’m not sure what the hell I’m doing has been a test of my character, making meals up has been a test of my willingness to fail. The state may not be testing the kids in the most meaningful way but it hasn’t quelled their love of learning and that’s the thing that counts.

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The freezer is almost empty of everything except ice cream and waffles. In the summer my mother would sometimes serve fruit salad and coffee ice cream for I think it’s time to do the same with my own kids.

I managed to cobble together a meal of arancini, onion soup and, because one kid doesn’t like onion soup, ravioli. It was obviously heavy on the starch, but no one complained. My husband hit on the genius idea of popping some of the ravioli in the oil that was frying and making some fried ravioli too. I will try to focus on the veggies when I make a meal plan on Sunday.

I’m happy I made it through the week relying totally on the freezer but I’m already starting to worry about how I’ll manage next fall when I have school and a TA job. I think things might fall apart – I’m going to have to become that person who “whips things up” in thirty minutes.  No idea how that will happen.

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Look closely at those peas. They are almost the only vegetables my family ate this week. The first thing to go when the meal plan goes is the vegetables. This is my sausage pink sauce from the freezer with pasta and peas. There should have been enough sauce for two meals but instead I ate all the sauce after I finished my pasta. Oops.

 

 

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All right, last night was a first. My 9 year old twins planned, cooked and cleaned up the entire meal!

Because they are on spring break they were forced to do the grocery shopping with me this week and when I asked if they had any ideas for the “surprise” meal, they volunteered to make it themselves. Here’s the menu they came up with: pasta with chicken apple sausage and garlic broccoli in red sauce & a salad with romaine, red peppers, sliced mushrooms & cherry tomatoes in a lemon vinaigrette.

Here’s what they have to say about making dinner:

Clem: “It was really fun, but it was hard to get the tomato paste out of the tomato can and Finn thought it was disgusting when he cleaned out the can.”

Finn: “I can’t believe you have to do that much work every night.”

The food was delicious and the Unnatural Cook is looking forward to many, many meals cooked (and dishes cleaned) by her very natural little cooks.

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Writing on Saturday about Tuesday’s meal is as far behind as I’ve managed to get since I began this endeavor.

It was that kind of week – a get through get it done kind of week. Nothing original happening in the kitchen, just falling back on tried and true, with perhaps a slight increase in confidence (and thus relaxation) while doing the actual cooking.

Tuesday was Pepperoncini Sauce from the freezer with a simple roasted Brussels Sprouts and onions side dish. Two standby favorites that required no thought on my part.

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