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The Unnatural Cook

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

Tag Archives: My Own Recipe

Lazarus was dead four whole days until Jesus brought him back. I only made it two.

It’s just that the pine nuts and tomatoes and mozzarella looked so pretty in the bowl I had to take a picture…And then it seemed a shame not to use the picture. And then it occurred to me that when I made up a new recipe I’d want to write it down. And then I though – why not just put it on the blog?

So here it is. Tonight’s dinner was Pasta w/Pesto, Cherry Tomatoes, Toasted Pine Nuts, Sauteed Red Onion and Mozzarella. It was actually inspired by an attempt to use up leftovers in the fridge (pesto & red onion) before they went bad. And it was so good I decided that in addition to leaving one night blank on the meal plan to be inspired while shopping, I was going to plan one meal around using up leftovers before I shop. Nifty, huh?

So I don’t know what this means. I’m going to try to avoid any more grand pronouncements since the last one went so poorly. Let’s just say I hope it ends better for me than it did for the guy who brought Lazarus back. Luckily I have a much smaller following.

 

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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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By Thursday I gave up and went out for Thai Food with the kids. I was three days behind on the dishes and it was a busy week; I was tired. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that the kids woke up twice at the ungodly hour of 5:50 in the morning because they important things to do, like get into Dutch settler costumes and make zucchini bread.

That’s how Thursday’s dinner, a spinach, leek & bacon frittata, turned into Friday’s lunch for the car ride to Vermont. I finally, finally managed to follow my own advice and cooked the bacon and the leeks in separate pans. Surprisingly it felt like less work.  Having to clean the extra pan took less time than negotiating the stress of putting two things  that cook at different rates in the same pan. (As I write that I have to admit I’m pretty sure it was my husband that cleaned the extra pan, but still….)

The frittata made a great on the road meal and I was quite pleased with my made up combination of spinach and leeks, inspired by the giant leeks found at the store.

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Making the beans tonight and thinking about the corn avocado and mango salsa I was going to make up myself, got me thinking about memorizing. I basically know how to make the beans because I’ve memorized the steps. Lately I’ve begun trying to memorize recipes because it dawned on me when I memorize a recipe it teaches me not only how to make that dish, but how to cook. Memorization is a form of internalizing knowledge so that it becomes part of you in a way that you don’t really realize until, say, you go to grad school and someone points it out.

Last week in my literature seminar, the instructor was horrified to learn how few of us (myself absolutely included) had any prose at all memorized. When forced, I could come up only with the opening lines to Dante’s Inferno, in italian, which I misquoted horribly. The correct lines would have been: Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita / mi ritrovai per una selva oscura, or, In the middle of the journey of our life / I found myself in a dark wood. We won’t go into what I actually said, we will settle for the fact that it was a fitting two lines of poetry for a middle-aged woman feeling out of her depth.

But my instructor was not appeased. “What will you do if you’re thrown in jail?” he inquired of us with genuine concern. He was right. What would I do? But more importantly, how could any self-respecting grad student such as myself not have made it a point to internalize the very best of the language I purported to write in? And so he set us the task of memorizing an entire page of prose which is much harder than it sounds. Easier, were the two lines of Edna St. Vincent Millay I’d wished I’d remembered in class: Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand / come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.

I am still working on the prose, the opening to Man in the Holocene, by Max Frisch. “It should be possible to build a pagoda of crispbread…” I am hooked now, on memorizing prose, hoping that it will do for me creatively on the page what memorizing recipes is doing for me creatively in the kitchen.

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Meal Planning is getting easier, which is funny, because the blog is a lot of work.

I do wonder what the hell I’m doing spending so much time photographing and writing about food, but the problem is, I keep learning stuff so I can’t stop. One of the things I’m learning is that as I wean myself from total dependence on recipes I plan much faster. I haven’t quite figured this out yet. Is it because there’s more information about food stored in my brain now? Is it because it’s easier to imagine a meal than find a meal in a notebook? Leaving one day blank to be inspired by ingredients at the store certainly helps.

Or perhaps, like tonight, it’s because I didn’t come up with the meal at all – my son did! He requested sausage and mushroom pizza which required no thought whatsoever on my part.

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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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I made up my own Thai Green Curry dish. Me. The Unnatural Cook.

It was inspired by the whole making Chicken Indienne is the same thing as making Tortilla Soup thing from last Tuesday. I really owe it to my daughter who convinced me a mere two months ago to challenge myself to make something up from what was in the pantry. Now there’s no stopping me.

The curry came out pretty well – it smelled fabulous but didn’t taste quite as good as it smelled. Not that the flavor wasn’t good, it was just weaker than I expected. I think next time I’ll add a third tablespoon of green curry paste. Here’s how I did it: I cut an eggplant into cubes and roasted it at 450° for one hour. Meanwhile, I browned 2 packages of boneless chicken thighs in olive oil. I removed them from the pot and sauteed one small diced onion. (Not too long, because I learned my lesson from Carbonara Night). Then I added 2 T. of green curry paste. I cooked the onion with the curry paste for one or two minutes and added chicken stock and coconut milk and returned the chicken to the pot. Then I simmered the chicken for about 40 minutes, uncovered. While the chicken was simmering I cut up one red pepper, one green pepper and trimmed a large bunch of string beans. I added them to the chicken for the last 10 minutes of cooking and put the lid on to steam them. Oh, and stirred in the roasted eggplant too. At the very end I tore up some fresh basil leaves and mixed them into the curry.

I think I cooked the chicken a bit too high because I was trying to get the sauce, which was very thin, to thicken. It never got any thicker, but the chicken did get a bit stringy which means it was overcooked. (Don’t think I knew this – it was my husband who explained it.) Next time I’ll simmer it lower, for less time & keep it covered like I do with the Indienne. I served it with Jasmine rice which, disappointingly, tasted exactly like regular rice. I expected something all fragrant and flowery. But that’s just quibbling. All in all it was an extraordinary success.

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