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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: Pasta

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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The pasta I made last night could not rightly be called carbonara because it had cream and because I browned the bacon and onions together for so long, that when I added the cream to the pan the sauce turned brown and looked more like stroganoff.

Every time I make this I tell myself I shouldn’t brown the bacon and onions at the same time because I can’t control the rate they cook at but then every time I just go ahead and put them in the same pan anyway to save myself the trouble of washing two pans. I can’t seem to break the habit. But since I got a rare complaint (read helpful suggestion) from my husband that next time I should brown the onions less (so they’d be less sweet) maybe I’ll finally change my ways.

I never really considered that the longer you sauté onions, the sweeter they get. I just always thought of browner as better. But sweet is not the right flavor for every dish. Once again, my cooking life seems to parallel my writing life. My husband gave me a neat little lesson in constructive criticism. Because he explained the relationship between cooking time and flavor I can use the information to improve my cooking instead of taking it personally. Cause that would just be silly.

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Well, it was going to be another night off but everyone came home hungry from their long drive home so we had to improvise. We being me with a lot of help from my beloved. We had porcini ravioli in the freezer and some cherry tomatoes at the end of their life in the fridge. So I melted butter & olive oil, threw in the halved cherry tomatoes, and when they softened, added three huge minced cloves of garlic (it was the order of garlic/tomatoes I needed help with). I added salt, pepper and crushed red pepper and served with grated parmesan; it was quite satisfying. Thanks to being forced to write it down for the damned blog, I may even remember how to do it again.

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It’s hard to let go. I’ve been resisting posting Sunday’s meal because I don’t want to say goodbye to Porkfest.

I planned a light meal for Sunday night knowing Porkfest would leave us slightly stupefied. We slept at my sister’s house on Saturday and the next morning the inevitable conversation, ‘What are we having for dinner tonight?’ took place. My brother-in-law announced his plans: chili. My sister groaned. It’s the traditional Super Bowl meal, he countered. Super Bowl? I had no idea it was Super Bowl Sunday. I also had no idea the Giants were in the Super Bowl. I’m a New Yorker. This may put me in the company of about six other people who did not have this information. It did explain why the entire center aisle of my supermarket was dedicated to a Giant’s display. And the Giant’s win last night may explain the noticeably charitable mood on the subway this morning – at the crowded Dekalb stop the masses parted like the waves of the Red Sea to let the passengers off the train.

But dinner. It was a pasta recipe from Real Simple, Orecchiette with Roasted Broccoli and Walnuts. The Real Simple recipe as it exists doesn’t quite live up to expectations. The first time I made it according to the recipe the broccoli wasn’t cooked enough and it didn’t have enough garlic. So I futzed with it. This time I doubled the amount of walnuts, doubled the broccoli and blanched it first for one minute. I also added at least twice the garlic. It still wasn’t enough garlic. Next time I’m going to try and go back to just roasting the broccoli (less work, more intense flavor) but roast for longer. It ain’t a touchdown yet, but I’ve got faith in the play.

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Couchiflower Pasta. This is the name we gave the pasta dish I made up the day after we got our new couch. It has cauliflower in it and cauliflower became couchiflower and it took. We were very excited about our new couch at the time.

This was a great food for teaching the kids to mix flavors. The ingredients: pasta, olive oil, roasted cauliflower, sausage, sauteed onions, toasted pine nuts and parmesan are all prepared separately and thrown together. When they were younger we all mixed and matched as we pleased. Over time everyone has come to like everything and it’s become a one dish dinner. The recipe hasn’t changed at all through the years and I wish I could say the same for the couch; it’s covered in stains now, but we still love it.

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My daughter doesn’t accept the idea that I am an unnatural cook. She keeps trying to prove me wrong. When she is a teenager this desire to prove me wrong will be very annoying, but right now it is incredibly sweet. She refuses to allow me to speak ill of my talents and she thinks “unnatural” is an insult. Yesterday, she gave me a challenge: make dinner from what was in the house. At first I refused. No way. It made me incredibly nervous. Then she gave my husband a challenge – he should make a meal plan! He balked too! I realized how much I’d love it if he did make a meal plan and so I reconsidered the challenge. Why not?

Turns out that making dinner from what’s in the house is a great way to clear out the fridge. Duh. I know lots of people do this I’m just not those people. I made pasta with pink sauce. It should have been pinker than it was but one of the creams wandering around in the fridge turned out to be rock solid. I used bacon, leftover shallot, parsley and 1/2 a red onion, sun dried tomatoes (which must have been at least a year old), garlic, chicken stock, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. It tasted good and was on the table fast.

So I have a confession: I think it might be more relaxing to cook without a recipe. Now what am I supposed to do? I didn’t start this thing so I could change my habits. I started it to…well, I don’t know why the hell I started it. I certainly did not mean give up my recipe following ways. But what did I expect? The blog is a way to make the daily habit of cooking into a creative endeavor. A decent artist allows herself to be changed by the process of art making, doesn’t she? Otherwise, what’s the point?

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