As I drove home last night — an hour or so drive on good nights — I began pondering the dinner plan. I don’t like not having a dinner plan. I’m one of those people who prefers to shop once a week and plan my menus ahead so I have what I want on hand. My chiropractor calls me a driver. I suppose he’s right. I prefer plans.
Anyway last weekend was not a normal weekend in our household. We lost the larger family patriarch, my husband’s father. If you want to read Rachel’s lovely ode to him, it’s here.) So organizing the week ahead was not really top of mind.
Which leads me to last night’s dinner. I had no real plan. Then as I was driving I remembered seeing a recipe somewhere about BLT pasta. Now BLT sandwiches have always been a favorite of mine. Since I don’t eat red meat and thus have become a bacon scavenger from other people’s plates in restaurants, I don’t ever make BLT sandwiches. I do, however, sometimes use turkey bacon in dishes and I remembered I had some bacon frozen in the freezer. And while I didn’t have any fresh tomatoes, I knew I had a can of diced in the pantry. A plan was forming.
The result was something tasty and — even better — took less than 30 minutes from the moment I took the turkey bacon out of the freezer to the time the plate arrived on the table. Brilliant and surprising addition from my son G, who likes to stir and tinker with food I’m cooking: cinnamon. I was nervous when he added it, but it brought a piquancy to this dish that is perfect. And, of course, you can use real bacon — and I will salivate pondering just how tasty that improvement will be.
I grew up in a family (and an era) when pasta pretty much meant spaghetti. My best friend across the street was Italian and her family was “exotic” because they had lasagne and jumbo shells and manicotti. I tried every chance I could to eat at their house for dinner when this wonderfulness was being served.
So it is no surprise that I was, oh, in my 50s when I learned about orzo — and immediately fell in love, determined to find as many recipes as I could to use this delightful mini-pasta. This casserole is a winner in my book. I’ve served it as a main dish and as a side. Your choice. Either way works.
We’ve got a finicky eater on our hand. By finicky I mean that someone in this household who is only about yay high has issued a moratorium on trying new things. And by new things I include hot chocolate. No matter the deliciousness, Miss M simply refuses to let anything new cross her lips. Thank god we’d gotten a few super nutrients over the threshold before the embargo settled in. The fact that she will eat interesting and strongly flavored foods (such as garlic and ginger), though, makes her refusal to continue adventuring all the more frustrating. John and I both offer her things to try with confidence that she’ll like them, only to find our spoons butting against her cheek instead of her open mouth.
So, for a few months now I’ve been doing something. I haven’t been talking about it, not wanting to jinx myself or proclaim commitment before it actually takes root. But, after surviving my first Bikram yoga class last night, I am here to announce that I have become an exerciser.
If you don’t know me, you’re probably unimpressed. If you do know me, though, then you know that I’ll take an elevator up one story. I like sweat, but only the kind that comes from lying in the sun for hours and definitely not the kind that comes with a pounding pulse and heavy breath. Or so was the case for my entire life before this summer.
I’m not sure what happened exactly. Maybe it was the structureless-ness of not being in school and not having a steady job. Maybe it was having a toddler and realizing how intensely frustrating that can be and how that frustration can just build and build and build inside until I want to explode. Or maybe it was an existential desire to reclaim my body after pregnancy and the first year of motherhood, a nearly two year period that is both deeply grounded in the physical and also deeply grounded in the body of a different being. Whatever it is, something happened and, after myriad invitations from my friends Thea and Cheyenne to join them at yoga class, I went.
And I’ve kept going. I thought I would need markers to keep myself plugging along, but after I met my first goal/reward (go for a month and then you can buy your own mat and stop renting one from the studio and then daydreaming about what sweaty beast was facedown on it before you), something clicked. Yoga started to become something I genuinely looked forward to. I started to crave that feeling of having inventoried my body, of having felt it and been deeply connected to it. And then, a few weeks ago, as I lay on my mat in the darkness of the closing Savasana, my body ringing gently along with the singing bowl, I felt myself do something I had never done before.
I thanked my body.
I thanked it for the years it carried me despite my best efforts to deter it. I thanked it for carrying Maxine and birthing her, for healing while summoning the strength to sustain her life. I thanked it for marking pleasure and pain, for scarring, for slowing me down and pushing me along. I thanked it for bringing me to class that night.
And I meant it, in that deep, deep way where gratitude spreads out in an unending expanse, settling into every molecule, gently touching the component parts while simultaneously recognizing a glorious whole.
That was my first transformative moment with yoga. The second happened last night after my first Bikram session.
Bikram is brutal. In 110 degree heat, for 90 minutes, my body and I went someplace I would have said we would never, ever go and CERTAINLY never go voluntarily. But there I was–there WE were–body and mind completely committed, working together, vibrating in the heat. I have never sweated so much in my entire life. NEVER.
When I got home from class, I was still soaked through. My hair and clothes were completely drenched and I couldn’t stop smiling. The breakthrough isn’t the workout, though. The breakthrough came after I showered.
John very sweetly made dinner so it would be ready when I got home. When we sat down to eat and he put a heaping bowl of pasta in front of me, for the first time in my entire non-kid life, I didn’t relate to it from a place of guilt. No, I dogged it.
Pasta has been one of the last hold-out foods for me from my years of struggling with eating. I have, for whatever reason, not been able to undo the equation that pasta=bad. I see it and cringe. I avoid it whenever possible. Pasta has been the stuff of straight-up nightmares for me for well over a decade.
So, as I sat there and inhaled the steaming bowl of pasta last night, the thanks that I started on the mat during Savasana a few weeks ago, was made complete. I happily offered my body fuel, a thanks for what it had just done with me and a launching of our next round of activity.
First some bookkeeping: We are happy to announce that the winner of Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite is CC. Congrats CC — we’ll be contacting you by email — and thanks to everyone who entered!
Now on to Mike the Gay Beer Guy’s April post
It’s spring time … well it’s supposed to be. I think the weather in the Midwest is so much less stable than the East or West; it seems that every other day is something different. Like one day it is 70 degrees and sunny, and then the next day it’s below freezing and on the verge of snowing (yeah, for REAL! As I’m writing this, it was 65 yesterday, this morning it is in the low 50s, and tomorrow, when I’m planning to brew, it’s going to be a rainy 40 and falling for the next few days)(UPDATE: As I’m editing the post, Kansas City received a few inches of snow this past weekend… for REAL!?!?! And keep in mind it was in the 60s this afternoon)(And update from Janet, as I put this online, the East Coast is expecting up to a foot of snow, no joke!)
Janet here: I have been obsessed with pasta recently, most particularly with pasta that doesn’t have a single thing red saucy about it. I grew up with marinara sauce and meat sauce and I loved it for years, but now I am all about pasta that has everything BUT red sauce in it the same way that my favorite pizza does not have any red sauce at all. What is that about?
Anyway this pasta takes about 10 minutes to pull together and if you love walnuts and olives, you’re going to like this. I hadn’t made this before so I’m still tinkering a bit. Perhaps kalamata olives next time? Anyway, I hope you like it.
Pasta with Walnuts/Olives and Capers
3/4 pound pasta (I used farfalle because I like how it looks but fusilli could work too)
about 1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons diced garlic (about 1 large clove)
2 heaping teaspoons capers, drained
1/2 cup black olives, drained and cut in half (pitted obviously)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup pecorino cheese, grated
1/2 cup bread crumbs
Cook the pasta. While it’s boiling, pour about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and saute the walnuts and garlic, stirring so the nuts don’t get black and the garlic doesn’t burn. Then add the bread crumbs and stir until slightly browned. Take it off the heat and add the cheese, olives and capers.
After draining the pasta, mix the whole mess together, adding perhaps some more grated cheese because when do you ever get enough cheese, and the rest of the olive oil. You can always add a little more olive oil if it seems dry.
Janet here: It was a busy day at work, I had just finished driving nearly 2 hours to get home and I was beat. Since dinner was not going to miraculously appear on the table from the Cooking Fairy I often fantasize about on these kinds of days, I wanted something fast and easy. Time to rummage.
I found a zucchini, some pesto, pine nuts, grated Parmesan cheese and pasta. Fifteen minutes later we had a tasty nutritious dinner a thousand times better than the fast food I pondered picking up on my drive. What’s your go-to rummage meal?
1 large zucchini, cut in half and then cut into 1/4 inch slices
2-3 tablespoons pesto (depends on your level of taste)
3/4 pound of your favorite pasta or whatever is in your pantry
pine nuts–I love these so I erred on the side of a lot. It’s up to you
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (obviously other cheeses would work too)
Cook the pasta to al dente. While it’s cooking, stir fry the zucchini in a little olive oil with the pine nuts until just cooked. Take off the heat.
Drain the pasta. Throw in the pesto and toss. Add the zucchini and pine nut mixture. Add the cheese and voila! A little bread if you’re lucky to have some on hand, maybe a salad and you’re good to go.
Rachel here: When John and I were first together, one of our favorite things to do was cook. Prior to meeting John, I worked in restaurants and lived alone. Outside of work (where I was heartily fed), I mainly subsisted on grits and fruit. Though I would definitely relate differently to cooking for myself now than I did then, at the age of 19 or 20, my top goal in eating at home was to generate as few dirty dishes as possible. Anyway, enter John. Here was a man who not only enjoyed but excelled at cooking, who wanted to make me dishes of food I had never tried and who genuinely enjoyed eating. On our way home from work, walking our bikes instead of riding so that we could talk, we’d more often than not get to talking about dinner and stop by the grocery store en route to pick up the various ingredients we’d need to make whatever had struck our fancy. To shop and eat in this fashion felt incredibly luxurious. Fast forward five years and, as a general rule, we no longer spend our afternoons and evenings planning and generating whimsical meals. We are busy, busy bees these days and no longer live nearly across the street from a fantastic grocery as we did in our earlier days. Still, though, one of my favorite ways to spend the twilight hours of a weekend home with John is over a completely homemade meal that we have prepared together. The food tastes and feels so good and I couldn’t ask for better company.
This past weekend afforded us just such a window to get into the kitchen together. A few years back, John convinced me that homemade pasta is significantly better than its store-bought counterpart and, though we usually end up eating the latter for its convenience, this weekend John taught me how to make pasta by myself. It is surprisingly easy, though it does take a little muscle, and we generated two lasagnas from our endeavors, one for dinner and one for the freezer for the days after M makes her grand debut. If you’ve never tried your hand at pasta making before, I highly recommend that you give it a whirl. It is simple and satisfying and really, truly the best way to eat pasta.
In a large bowl, form the all-purpose flour into a well. Crack the egg into the center of the well and stir with a fork. As you stir the egg, it will gradually pull flour in. Keep at this until you are completely unable to stir anymore. At this juncture, add a teaspoon of water. Once all of your flour has been combined with another ingredient (either egg or water, or both), turn it out onto your countertop. Knead, twist and fold diligently until the dough becomes incorporated. Add more water, no more than a teaspoon at a time, whenever you are convinced that there isn’t a single additional drop of moisture to be utilized towards forming a coherent ball of dough. This kneading process should take at least 15 minutes (in my experience). Once you have a ball of dough, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and let rest for 45 minutes. Roll it out as thinly as you desire (either using a pasta roller or a rolling pin) and then cut into your desired shape. I folded my dough, dusting it with semolina flour between layers so the pasta wouldn’t stick to itself, before cutting so I could get uniform shapes. Voila! Cook as you would normally cook pasta, though you should know that homemade pasta will cook noticeably faster than the dried store-bought stuff.
For our lasagna, we mixed chopped scallions and basil in with the ricotta (along with some salt and pepper) and sauteed spinach and mushrooms with garlic before layering everything with parmesan cheese and tomato sauce. Yum! What will you do with your delicious pasta?
Janet here: What I plan to do with the delicious lasagna I now know is waiting for me, not M, is eat it and enjoy every last bite. I know for a fact that homemade pasta is absolutely the way to go, but the likelihood that I will add this to my culinary life in the near future is, well, zero. I will, however, promise to fill the hole in the freezer that is made when I eat Rachel and John’s lasagna.
Rachel here: For this post, we decided to explore alternatives to the traditional pasta with tomato sauce. Now, this isn’t because either one of us can’t get down with some good old spaghetti. No, that’s not it at all. It’s just that it’s nice to utilize staple ingredients in less common ways from time to time and pasta is nothing if not a staple. I vividly recall the dish my mom has posted below from growing up. It’s quite tasty and this is coming from somebody who basically avoids cauliflower and broccoli like the plague. My soup recipe was the byproduct of epicurious (via the November 2004 issue of Bon Appetit) perusing and, though this was the first time I made it, it will definitely be making further appearances on the dinner table in my house. Plus, I’m thinking that this may generally be the way I make meatballs from now on since I have never had them hold up so well (and to stirring, even!) and this is a healthier approach than just cooking them in oil. Anyway, check out our recipes below and then let us know how you like your pasta. Happy eating!
Escarole Soup with Pasta and Meatballs
feeds 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter
3/4 lb. lean ground beef (according to reviews of this recipe turkey works just fine, too, for an even healthier alternative)
1 1/3 c. fresh grated parmesan (divide into 1/3 c. and 1 c. units)
1/2 c. fresh breadcrumbs from crustless french bread
1 large egg
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tspn. salt
1/2 tspn. fresh ground pepper
7 1/2 c. low sodium chicken broth
2 T. olive oil
2 large celery stalks (including tops), chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 c. orzo
1 small head of escarole, coarsely torn
In a medium bowl, mix together the first seven ingredients (beef through pepper). Form this mixture into 3/4 inch balls (moisten your hands to prevent sticking to the meat). Heat 1 1/2 c. of the chicken broth with the 2 T. of olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add meatballs and simmer until they are firm and hold their shape (roughly 5 minutes). When the meatballs are firm, remove them back to their bowl. Boil remaining liquid until reduced to a glaze. Add onion and celery and stir until they start to soften. Add the remaining 6 c. of chicken broth, the meatballs (along with any juices) and the orzo to the pot. Simmer until pasta is soft (roughly ten minutes) and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the escarole and simmer until it wilts (roughly 5 minutes). Ladle into bowls, top with remaining parmesan cheese and enjoy.
one head of cauliflower, cut into bite-size pieces
one medium onion, choppped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 28 ounce can of your favorite diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
about 3/4 teaspoon oregano
about 3/4 teaspoon basil
about 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound spaghetti (I prefer thin but that’s just me)
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and add the chopped onions. Saute until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and saute for about 1 minute. Add the cauliflower and saute for about 5 minutes until it’s just start to get tender. Add the tomatoes and seasonings. Let simmer for about 15 minutes until the cauliflower is cooked the way you like (I like my vegetables crunchy).
While the cauliflower mixture is simmering, fill a pot with about 4 quarts of water and salt it. When boiling, add the pasta and cook until it’s the way you like it (I prefer al dente), about 10 minutes or so.
Drain the pasta, place portions on the plate, add the cauliflower mixture, top with Parmesan and you are ready to go.