From the Kitchen … With Love

I like food. I prefer someone else plating it up for me, but I generally know my way around a kitchen. I will be the first to admit, most of my culinary creations tend to be on the simple side, but I am not afraid to experiment … only I’m not very good at it.

Karen was the cook in the family. She intuitively knew how to adjust recipes, substitute ingredients, come up with appropriate sides, proper presentation, and 1,001 ways to use  leftovers. Me? Not so much.

We had a routine — especially after the nest emptied. We would get magazines like Taste of Home, Bon Appetit, Country Cooking, or the monthly recipe-loaded offering from Wegman’s. We usually looked at the separately — Karen for practical ideas and me for the pictures. “That looks interesting,” she would say. “Boy, that looks tasty,” I would   my taste buds salivating.

Later in our marriage,  we actually took turns cooking on weekends. I remember the first time she allowed me in the kitchen. I chose the meal by sight … and it was a little more than this “what is he doing in the kitchen” chef could handle. I must have interrupted Karen’s quiet reading time by popping my head in the living room with questions like “What the hell  is a Dutch oven” and “The recipe says dry mustard. We don’t have any. Can I use regular mustard?” and “It says an eighth of a teaspoon of Kosher salt. We don’t have Kosher salt. Should I run to the store? For an eighth of a teaspoon?” and “It says to let it rest for 10 minutes. What does that mean?”

I don’t remember exactly what it was or where I got the recipe from, although I vaguely recall it might have been Glazed Corned Beef. I do remember it was about a three hour project that stretched closer to four; it served eight for a table for two; and we didn’t sit down until close to 9 p.m. The picture showed carrots as the side … but the recipe didn’t mention any so we ended up without any veggies.

Meanwhile, my bride — who periodically surfaced to ask if I wanted her to help — sat quietly in the living room reading … then watching television …. ventured to the kitchen for a snack, took a look around at pots, pans, ingredients, and mess, shook her head, gave me a little peck, said “Smells good”, and returned to the living room to put in a movie.

It was a little while before she allowed me back into the kitchen. Even then, she pre-screened the menu, made sure we went shopping together for ingredients, adjusted measurements, and suggested sides.

Since she died, my cooking escapades have been fewer and less frequent. Although I find my way around the kitchen better, it’s just more of a bother cooking for one. Occasionally, however, I have cooked for her on special occasions like her birthday or our anniversary. My first Christmas in Maine included a Standing Rib Roast with Petite Potatoes and roasted Brussel Sprouts.

Monday was our anniversary so I decided to try something special I had seen awhile ago — Heart-Shaped Lasagna Bundt. Only problem — I didn’t have a heart shaped bundt pan. I looked locally, but it must be a February thing and back in February I was on the road. I could have ordered one online, I suppose, but it seemed kind of silly ordering a$15-$25 item I wouldn’t use very much, especially when shipping was factored in.

I DID however have a regular bundt pan so I just made that little adjustment. What I DID NOT have was a deep pot to boil the lasagna. I thought I did, but the deepest was a sauce pan. Guess what? It wasn’t wide enough. Plan C was using my iron skillet. That generally worked although the water had a way of boiling away.

The joy or recipes is its language. It said to spread the  noodles “flat on a baking sheet {no problem} lined with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels.” Note to anyone listening: Don’t use paper towels!

So I’m working on the filling and sauce. The sauce was no problem — I used my iron skillet to let it simmer. Of course, even on low, sauce splatters so my stove and adjacent counters took on a reddish tint. The filling wasn’t difficult to assemble either …except my largest bowl was no match for the ricotta, mozzarella, eggs, and Parmesan, so I  ended up transferring the ingredients into my mixer bowl to blend.

The next step was assembling the meal in the bundt pan. It actually was quite easy … a base of noodles on the bottom, crossed by noodle side to side with an overlap. Easy peasy. Except the noodles had this paper towel residue, so I had to “wash” each noodle {in hot water, which actually helped finish cooking the noodles that were on the top while initially cooking in the iron skillet}. After that extra step, the sauce and mixture layers just fell into place.

It actually didn’t come out too bad. It wasn’t heart shaped but circular, but it cooked well and just one stinky little decided to stick to the pan when inverted. I’m proud of myself, though. I  managed to unstick it before  the whole thing unraveled.

I  put it on the table to rest and went to open a bottle of Merlot {after all this was a pseudo-anniversary dinner) and put a half loaf of an Olive Oil Ciabatta Demi Baguette in the oven. However, I quickly realized my Swiss Army kitchen can opener gadget didn’t have a corkscrew and God only knows where mine is. I got this bright idea — actually it worked — to use a Phillips head screwdriver to get into the cork, gently and slowly, and use a sharp knife to guide the cork up.It took a few minutes but voila! The fruit of the vine was ready for pouring. It was then I realized I didn’t have any wine glasses, so the presentation was dinged for reverting to a small, simple on the rocks glass.

Dinner was served. Halfway through the meal I realized I forgot the bread in the oven.

These days, my interaction with Karen are filtered through a bronze urn. But I sensed a hearty laugh inside her new room. I think she would have given me an A for effort and a B for presentation. But as I looked around the kitchen — one end to the other with pots, pans, bowls, utensils, and splatter — I know she would have flunked me on organization.

I still haven’t been able to find the bag of sugar and a jar of parsley … and I have plenty of leftover lasagna.

THOUGHT TO REMEMBER: Of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these, “It might have been.” — John Greenleaf Whittier

 

 

About wisdomfromafather

I'm just an ordinary guy walking along the journey of life.
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