In this solo cooking adventure, Kate is treated to a welcome Valentine’s Day surprise.
You know that scene in Sex and the City (why yes, I did just begin my post with a Sex and the City reference question, please hold your judgments), when Charlotte is getting married for the 2nd time and she spills on her beautiful white dress before the ceremony? This isn’t the only thing gone wrong on her “special day,” and she’s in the bathroom having a meltdown and Carrie (the wise, beautiful, stylish, impossibly thin everywoman that she is) points out something to the effect of (and I’m going from memory here) “Honey, last time you had the perfect wedding, and the marriage?… not so perfect.” Pointing out the irony of life and romance. Or, not to sweat the small stuff. Or, just to let go of your ideal perfect plan and you may be happier. Something like that. That’s kind of how my Valentine’s Day dinner went this year. With the absence of the wedding dress and spillage and bathroom meltdowns.
The foiled plan was a good one! Neither of us wanted to go out on amateur night. But rather than cook as usual (meaning I pick something I want to make and BF helps), I had the idea for us to flip a coin for who did dinner (heads) and who did dessert (tails). This plan served a few purposes: I would be working until 7. If I got heads (dinner), I’d choose something slightly fancy that I could prep in advance that I could come home and throw in so we wouldn’t eat at 11 (it’s happened). If he had dinner, well, he would have plenty of time to execute it. Although he doesn’t consider himself a cook, the man makes damn delicious eggs and pancakes. I see potential and am trying to get him to expand his repertoire, confidence, and speed. As my sous chef, he preps at a very precise (read: slow) rate. While I’m buzzing around the kitchen trying to get dinner on the table, doing a dozen things, he’s calmly sitting at the table, sipping a beer, cracking himself up while telling some funny story, stopping occasionally to gesticulate with the knife, and deliberately cutting a single onion in to the most uniform cubes you’ve ever seen. It’s very cute. Unless I’m starving.
But the week got away from us and the coin never got flipped. The plan evolved. We would pick a meal together from a new cookbook (“The Accidental Vegetarian” — a vegetarian cookbook written by a non vegetarian British man. It was going to be interesting), shop together, I’d go to work, come home, and we’d cook it together. And then the day got away from us and it was up to me to pick the menu. “Just like any other night,” I thought with a silent sigh, slightly bummed.
But then I got over myself and picked our menu. I chose Moroccan Spaghetti from the cookbook, and Mark Bittman’s chocolate souffle. I choose the pasta because I think spaghetti is sexy and also because it was one of the simplest things in the book. (While I do love to cook, it was my favorite Hallmark Holiday and I wanted to spend some time with BF, not slave away all night.) And I chose the souffle for the same reason (simple and quick) and also to give it a second chance. I had made it once before and wasn’t impressed. It was dry and not all that flavorful. Had I overcooked it? It was my first souffle so I thought that maybe they just weren’t that good. There wasn’t any butter or cream, so how good could it be? But I was curious to see how it would taste with better quality ingredients (I have recently discovered scharffen berger chocolate and will never go back), and a more careful eye on the oven.
We bought the ingredients and were on our way back picking up wine, when it hit me how much of a crap shoot this meal was. As the wine guy was helping us find something to pair with the meal, I tried to describe what was in it. “Um, cinnamon, cumin and turmeric… in a pasta. Almonds and tomatoes. Mint and cilantro? Yeah, lotsa stuff…” I trailed off. He looked at us baffled and said he really had no idea how it was gonna taste. BF and I laughed and said, neither did we. So we made up for the unknown with a couple of bottles of really nice wine (and by “really nice,” I mean that they each cost more than $15), a bordeaux because I had been gifted with new fancy bordeaux glasses, and an unoaked dry, french chardonnay. If we were trying out new crazy recipe, and taking a stab at a previously tried (and butchered) dessert, at least we had good wine. Oh, and each other. So even if everything else sucked, we couldn’t really go wrong.
On my way home from work I began to feel a gnawing in my stomach. A hunger that hit me out of the blue. The thought of going in and being kitchen boss for an hour or more wasn’t so wonderful.
I walked in my door and to my surprise, there was BF. Calmly sitting at the table. Chopping the last of the herbs. Fresh flowers in a vase. All the ingredients mise en placed. Basically all the work was done. I didn’t have to designate. I didn’t have to organize. I didn’t have to lift a finger. I was speechless. I was thrilled. I was hungry.
After the necessary praise and thanks, we cranked up some music, opened the Bordeaux (note: drinking wine out of the properly shaped glasses really does make a difference—I was loving this wine! Of course, I was loving everything right about then), and started cooking. While I started the pasta sauce with the (perfectly cut) tomatoes, onions and garlic, I put BF in charge prepping the souffle. He had proven himself thus far. Why not go all the way?
The pasta sauce was simmering away when we got our first whiff of what we were in for. After adding the spices to the tomatoes and oil and letting it simmer, we both leaned over the pot for a whiff. We turned to each other, eyes widening in surprise, and in unison leaned in for more. The aroma was heady and surprising. Slightly sweet but also complex and rich. We tasted. We swooned. We high fived. The pasta went in to cook, the kale that I threw in to roast for something green to round out the meal, came out of the oven slightly crispy and nutty. We sipped wine in happy anticipation. Then the pasta got tossed with the sauce. The olive oil that the recipe called for (which I at first thought sounded excessive), was infused with the flavor and color of the spices, and coated each strand perfectly. I realized that the ½ cup of oil basically was the the sauce, with the chickpeas and almonds adding protein and texture, and the bountiful herbs adding yet more complexity and freshness. This was an extremely well thought out dish. We plated up and were ready to go. The only problem then was choosing which wine to drink with the pasta. The red or white? We were enjoying the red so much, but it would be a shame not to try the white… Because it was valentine’s day (and okay, because it’s me), we went with both.
As we were happily chowing down (at the civilized hour of 9) I realized that the pasta sauce was not only red and therefore festive, that it was vegan! It had so much flavor and texture going on that I hadn’t noticed. Happy V day to us, and to the animals that were not harmed in the making of this meal! A very loving meal indeed. I realized, as Charlotte had discovered, sometimes when you let go of your perfect plan, and take a chance on a new cookbook (or a silly yet compellingly sexy bald man), you are handsomely rewarded. 🙂
And the souffle? It looks like BF is going to be on desert duty from now on. The results of this one confirmed that my previous souffle had been overcooked. We popped them into the oven after dinner. After a few minutes the aroma of chocolate brownies filled the air. We took them out and dug in. The center was moist and gooey, with a texture between a brownie and pudding only much lighter. It tasted rich without actually being all that rich. I like my belly full and weighed down with heavy deserts as much as the next person (okay, probably more), with the exception of maybe one night a year. This desert leaves your sweet tooth satisfied but still leaves you slightly empty and ready for… more. Whatever that may be.
(barely) adapted from “The Accidental Vegetarian: delicious food without meat” by Simon Rimmer
- 10 oz dried spaghetti
- ½ cup olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- 8 tomatoes, finely chopped (or 10 good quality canned tomatoes chopped if tomatoes aren’t in season)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 cup toasted, silvered almonds
- ⅔ cup cooked chickpeas (drained and rinsed if canned)
- bunch of each – cilantro, parsley and mint leaves, finely chopped (reserve some for garnish)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Cook spaghetti in salted water until al dente.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a pan and gently fry the onion and garlic until soft.
- Add the tomatoes and spices and cook over medium heat for about 20 minutes until tomatoes break down.
- Season the sauce, then add the almonds and chickpeas.
- Fold the herbs into the sauce. then add the pasta to the pot with the sauce and toss.
- Plate it up and add a garnish of fresh herbs. Enjoy.
(Thank you Mark Bittman)
Time: About 45 minutes
- about 1 tablespoon butter, for greasing the dish
- ⅓ cup sugar, plus some for dish
- 3 eggs, separated
- 2 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, melted
- pinch salt
- ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 2-cup or one 4-cup soufflé or other deep baking dish(es). Sprinkle each with sugar, invert it and tap to remove excess sugar.
- Beat egg yolks with all but 1 tablespoon sugar until very light and very thick; mixture will fall in a ribbon from beaters when it is ready. Mix in the melted chocolate until well combined; set aside.
- Wash beaters well, then beat egg whites with salt and cream of tartar until whites hold soft peaks; continue to beat, gradually adding remaining tablespoon sugar, until they are very stiff and glossy. Stir a good spoonful of whites thoroughly into egg yolk mixture to lighten it; then fold in remaining whites, using a rubber spatula. Transfer to prepared soufflé dish(es); at this point you can cover and refrigerate until you are ready to bake.
- Bake until center is nearly set, 20 minutes for individual soufflés and 25 to 35 minutes for a single large soufflé. Serve immediately.