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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: Salad

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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Meal Plan day; I delegated to the children. They came up with an all-mexican plan and I obliged because I am a firm believer that when you delegate you must also abdicate some fair measure of control or you’re not really delegating at all. So that explains why tonight’s Tortilla Soup will be followed later in the week by Chili Pizza (their idea), Chilaquiles and Burritos.

But the real beauty came when I brought them along for the shopping. They decided that they would come up with the “surprise” meal and went off in search of ingredients together. That gave me enough time to invent a salad to go with tonight’s soup: mixed greens, radishes, corn, cherry tomato, grilled red onion and avocado. It was a good combination (and I got the pleasure of using the mandolin successfully on the radishes) but I didn’t like the dressing I made. I’m not sure if it’s because I mixed lime and vinegar or because I shouldn’t have used lime at all. But I quibble; it was deeply satisfying to watch the kids (who didn’t eat any salad when I started the blog) eat a salad which contained that many vegetables.

Every time I begin to question whether or not the blog is a worthwhile endeavor, something always pushes me to continue. Today it was the kids; I can’t help thinking that if I wasn’t paying quite so much attention to how I cook and what I cook, they wouldn’t be quite so interested themselves.

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Saturday dinner was another family favorite of the Kaplans (and now mine) Chicken Marbella.

Chicken Marbella is a Silver Palate Recipe, those ladies who, in the eighties, made sun dried tomatoes and tarragon part of every day cooking. I never bought into the tarragon, but I was a sun dried tomato fiend and that particular ingredient has always marked, for me, a change in the American palate. The eighties were the decade when the tomato became the pomodoro and “macaroni” which my mother purchased from the fine people at Mueller’s, turned into “pasta” that retained its Italian name: penne or fusilli or, when we became more daring, orecchiette or orzo. “Gourmet food” became the signifier for “good food.” Regular home chefs started getting fancy; in our house, we breaded our chicken with a pecan crust and served it with mustard cream sauce.

Chicken Marbella is Roasted Chicken with green olives & prunes. Deb served it with quinoa (Kosher for Passover, who knew? It’s a grass not a grain!) and a salad of mixed greens, beets and avocado. I must invite myself more frequently to Vermont.

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Because I am a selfish woman, it was not enough that I should be cooked for on Passover, I also had a secret hope that over the weekend, I would also be served Deb’s famous Mediterranean Roast Chicken & Vegetable Salad. I was not disappointed. This is a huge crowd pleaser for a huge crowd. It can be made in advance and keeps well for snacking, noshing and sending home with greedy guests who keep asking for more.

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Ever since I came up with the pink sausage sauce for one of my surprise nights, we’ve been wanting to eat it again. It’s funny to have to look up your own recipe but I couldn’t quite remember what I’d done. The only thing I modified was that I added some red wine because we had just a splash left, and I added red pepper flakes to the sauce. Despite all my writing about not cooking bacon and onions together anymore, I went ahead, ignored my own advice and cooked them together which almost killed the onions. Next time I really, really must cook the sausage first!

 

 

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My previous success went to my head; I tried making pesto without a recipe. The problem was not really making pesto without a recipe. I mean how wrong can you go with six ingredients: basil, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt & parmesan cheese? The problem was that I got cocky about it and didn’t really pay attention to what I was doing. I just rushed around throwing things in the cuisinart.

One of the things the blog has taught me about my kitchen foibles is that I’m a rusher. In a frenzy to be over with the cooking I don’t pay attention, and food, like small children, requires a lot of attention. And like small children, food wants you to pay attention with all your senses. But in my blithe desire to prove I could go recipe-free I forgot this cardinal rule and payed absolutely no attention whatsoever. Which was why I poured an entire ball jar of walnuts into the cuisinart and pressed pulse without really considering if I wanted to use all the walnuts. They were just there and I poured them. It took copious amounts of parmesan cheese, salt and oil to bring the pesto back, I can tell you.

I guess the difference between the Unnatural Cook who started the blog and the Slightly- More-Natural Cook I’m becoming is that I won’t go back to the recipe next time, I’ll just go slower.

And the salad idea was nice, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes & olives. That was pretty Natural-Cooky of me.

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Last night I accidentally cooked Zatar Chicken Kebabs for a vegetarian, but luckily, I served it with greek salad so she did not go home hungry.

My salad eating friend was kind enough to trade food for babysitting and my husband and I went to the movies –  a documentary about Gerhardt Richter. I was curious to see the famous painter at work – something told me there would be a lesson for a writer in it. I was not disappointed.

Richter makes his paintings in stages. Working on two huge canvases at once he first uses a brush to cover them with large swaths of color. Then, the seventy-nine year old gentleman takes a squeegee as tall as he is and covers his creation from top to bottom, burying most of what lies underneath. He does this over and over, changing colors, changing directions, changing his pace, his angle, using his full body weight to obliterate and create, obliterate and create over and over again. It was like watching somebody dance a painting into existence.

Richter had the confidence to let each layer disappear, knowing it could never be recreated. Destruction is part of creation. Change an trust are essential components of art making. I will tack the postcard of his giant white canvas above my desk to remind myself not to be afraid to attack what I’ve already created until it can get no better.

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