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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: Surprise Meal

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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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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Tonight was my second surprise meal – the one not pre-planned but inspired by ingredients at the store. This time I was wooed by a display of yellow plum tomatoes and some shiny poblano peppers.

I decided to cook a made-up version of chile rellenos, sans-frying, and use the tomatoes for a fresh salsa. Here’s how it went down: I made a pot of rice and pot of black beans. I sliced the peppers in half, seeded them, and broiled them six minutes to a side. Then I stuffed the halves with rice, jack cheese and corn and broiled them again to melt the cheese. I chopped the yellow tomatoes and added red cherry tomatoes, red onion, scallion, cilantro, olive oil, lime, salt, pepper, cumin and green tabasco. The sauce was already made, bless my husband, and frozen from long ago. I’ll have to get him to make another batch for the freezer because it’s definitely a meal we want again.

If altering the routine of the meal plan is going to continue to be this enjoyable I’m going to have to reconsider my instinctive and habitual fear of change.

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