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The Unnatural Cook

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

I thought there’d be more leftover meatloaf to make this shepherd’s pie but we ate so much last Tuesday night that I actually had to buy beef to add to it which felt sort of silly. It reminds me of my mother-in-law who used to throw a fabulous open house after Christmas called “The Leftover Party.” But over the years the guest list became so large that she began to have to cook extra turkeys and hams for the “leftovers!”

Anyway, I did use up the extra meatloaf and I added mushrooms to the shepherd’s pie for the first time so that was a nice twist on the recipe.

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This is the dinner I didn’t make on Sunday. It’s our own version of the Jackson Diner without going to Queens. The Jackson Diner is an Indian Restaurant where the kids discovered the joy of Masala Dosa – a crepe like dish with a savory potato filling. The first time we tried to make this we attempted to make the crepe too which was a disaster of starch tragically glued to pan. So we gave up on the dosa and kept the masala. It has exotic (to us) ingredients like curry leaves and chana dal (toasted yellow split peas) and tumeric. It isn’t difficult to make and it’s delicious. We served it with Naan bread, roasted cauliflower and corriander sauce and it made for a filling vegetarian meal.

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We spent the whole day on the soccer fields because it was so beautiful on Sunday and then decided to stay outdoors for dinner too. Bought sausage at the local butchers and made some quick sausage sandwiches with grilled onions and peppers. The sausage was a bit strange – so ground the consistency was off – a bit sawdusty is the only word I can come up with to describe it. So this is a case where the photos are a bit deceiving – it didn’t taste as good as it looks!

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It was a family affair in the kitchen last night: my daughter made the salad and my husband helped me cook the tortilla. Fine Cooking’s Spanish Tortilla is one of those recipes that I associate with Pepperoncini Pasta: a staple of our repertoire from the early days of our marriage when we got Fine Cooking Magazine and he did all the cooking! The tortilla is an odd combination of no-fail and slightly involved. It seems to have a lot of separate steps where you have to be careful (slice potatoes 1/8 inch thin, cook them in oil, don’t let them brown,  repeat process with onions that also have to be very thin but not brown…)

We usually do everything in one pan but this time he did the potatoes and I did the onions at the same time. Later I commented how much more relaxed it seemed to be to make the tortilla together, but then I realized that after cooking the onions, I whisked the eggs and then left the kitchen where he and my daughter finished dinner. So I think maybe it was relaxing because he did most of the work!

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I finally made the gazpacho and quesadillas which is a good thing, the vegetables were doing their best to hold out for me, but they were straining.

I made the gazpacho during the day which is my favorite time to make dinner. I would have made a great European. I loved living in Italy during my junior year of college where, from 12 to 4 pm, school closed, shops closed everyone went home, ate a proper meal, slept and then went on with their day. I think those four hour blocks of time 8 – 12, 12 – 4, 4 – 8 made for a nice life. You gave the thing you were doing its due. The way we run things around here, run being the operative word, days are like marathons: if you stop you might not make it to the end. I like the Italian way better. Enjoy work for work and school for school and family for family and food for food; one thing at a time.

I try to make life as Florentine as possible here in Brooklyn. Appreciating the thing I’m doing or the people I’m with while I’m doing it or while I’m with them. I think, if, at the end of this year, I can enjoy making dinner as much at 6:00 as I do at 2:00 I will have accomplished something.

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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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