Sunday, April 15, 2007

Maiden Voyage

Sunday, April 15, 2007
I thought that the kitchen would be completely finished by now, but the final steps are agonizingly slow. The in-floor heating still isn't ready to start heating, which is not important today because it was 60 degrees outside, but it may start snowing tomorrow for all I know. The window muntins aren't in because it has to be 65 degrees three days in a row before they can be installed. (I didn't know what muntins were; when Adam talked about them, I thought he said "muttons," which seemed like a peculiar name. In fact, I got so distracted by the idea of sheep on the windows that I forgot to pay attention to what else he was talking about). There are a few little nicks and scratches in the floors; the microwave has some scratches....
But this weekend we decided that we would just start moving things in the kitchen, even if it isn't completely done. Moving things back is even more of a chore than packing them up and moving them out. I have no idea what boxes contain what utensils, and I don't know where to put them.
I promised Sarah a birthday dinner, and even if I didn't know where my pots and pans were, I was determined to deliver!
I made a simple dinner. The idea was to make everything ahead of time so that I could just sit around and drink wine and eat cheese all afternoon. When Sarah and I drink wine, we both get pretty goofy. However, she was late to her own festivities because she had a flat tire that she was trying to take care of before she came over, and she and her beau, James, couldn't get the lug nuts off. Finally they had to give up on the flat tire, but Jim, in a nice fatherly way, told her that he would help her tomorrow. By the time they arrived, I'd already grilled the asparagus and scallions, and baked the cake.
The weather in Minnesota has been crazy this spring, veering from unseasonal highs to unseasonal blizzards. Yesterday was just a nice spring day--perfect for grilled asparagus and scallions.

This doesn't really need a recipe, and it couldn't be easier, except that you tend to burn your fingers when you're turning the thin pieces of asparagus. Just mix asparagus and scallions (I used two bunches of asparagus and three of scallions) and toss with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, and a few pinches of sugar. Grill them. (This is where the burning of the fingers takes place). Put them on a platter or large bowl. When ready to serve, sprinkle with a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, some finely chopped red onion, and some toasted pine nuts.
Then I had pasta with shrimp, garbanzo beans, and greens.

With my old stove, my pasta was always sort of gently simmered. The water would come to a feeble, arthritic boil, and once I put the pasta in, it ceased boiling until the pasta was almost done. Then it managed a few more bubbles. This time I boiled the pasta using the super-charged burner. The water came to a wildly enthusiastic boil in just a few minutes, and even adding a pound of pasta didn't curb its enthusiasm. This was great fun, if you're a person who's easily entertained.

1/2 medium red onion
1 Italian frying pepper
2 red medium-hot jalapenos
10 Kalamata olives, pitted
1 pound spaghetti
2-3 T. olive oil
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
5 ounces mixed salad greens
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined shrimp
1/2 cup chives
1. Heat oil in 12-inch saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, pepper, chiles and olives. Saute about five minutes.
2. While vegetables are cooking, cook spaghetti in boiling water. When pasta is done, drain, reserving 1/2 cup pasta water.
3. Stir garlic and half the greens into the onion-pepper mixture and cook for a few minutes. Stir iin the shrimp and cook a few minutes. Blend in reserved pasta water. Cook just until shrimp are done. Add the rest of the greens and the pasta. Turn into bowl, and sprinkle with snipped chives.
--Adapted from The Italian Country Table, by Lynne Rossetto Kasper
When Sarah was little, she craved sweets, and used to buy candy bars and toss the wrappers under her bed. I always found them, which meant we had to have A Discussion. I always wished she'd do a better job of hiding the evidence so I wouldn't have to yell at her, but even when the craving for Hershey's bars turned to more sophisticated, and less legal, substances, she never was good at doing things secretly.
Now, however, I have to browbeat her into eating dessert. As in, "This is the very first thing I've baked in my new oven, and I did it just for you, and now you're saying you're not going to eat any?" I convinced her that it was really good for her, especially served with fruit, so she gave in. She said she liked it pretty well. I thought it was good, but not great.

My new oven is very beautiful. It's probably the same size as the old oven, but it seems much more spacious--as if I could roast a 50-pound turkey and bake a three-layer cake at the same time. I was a little sad not to be baking bread for my first baking project, but I didn't promise Sarah a loaf of birthday bread. Of course, I didn't bother to look at the instruction book, so I had to just guess at what I was doing. I think I did everything right, except I couldn't figure out how to re-set the timer when I turned the oven temperature down. I'm used to adjusting the oven temperature by fifty degrees, so it seemed brave--or foolish--to just set the temperature to 375, as directed, but I did, and it seemed to be about right.

4 eggs, separated, plus 1 egg white, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 t. vanilla
1 t. orange extract
Finely grated zest of l orange and l lemon
1/2 t. salt
1/2 cup plus 2 T. olive oil
1 1/3 cups milk
1 1/2 c. sifted cake flour
2 t. baking powder
Powdered sugar.

1. Preheat oven to 375. Oil a bundt pan.
2. Beat egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gradually add 1/2 cup of sugar and continue beating until firm peaks are formed. Scrape into large bowl and set aside. In same mixing bowl, beat yolks with remaining 2/3 cups sugar until thick. Lower speed, and add flavorings and salt. Gradually pour in the oil. Slowly add milk, then whisk in flour and baking powder, making sure everything is well mixed. Fold in egg whites. Scrape batter into pan.
3. Bake for 25 minutes. Lower temperature to 325, and bake another 40 minutes, until cake starts to pull away from sides. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then invert on cooking rack. When cake is cool, transfer it to cake plate and dust with powdered sugar.

This cake is supposed to have a sponge-cake texture; I thought it was more of a pound cake, which is fine with me. I made it with whole wheat pastry flour and served it with whipped cream and mixed berries, thus convincing everyone that it was extremely wholesome. Dairy, fruit, fiber. A complete and well-balanced diet.


Melinda said...

I think the dinner looked lovely. Love the asparagus and noodles. I personally think cake should be as unheathy as possible, but then just have one slice and share with friends and family! Happy birthday to Sarah!
You haven't said how the oven was? No different, really nice or disappointing?
Has your faucet been fixed properly?
Laughed at your sheep windows, which sound very cosy for the Minnesota winters. I had to look up what muntins were...I had never heard of the little guys either.
So I sense a bit of disappointment in your writing. Are you just wanting it to be all done with now?
I can understand that completely.

breadbasketcase said...

I have sort of an anti-climactic feeling--as if my entire life should somehow now be a great deal better, and it's just pretty much the same. Also, it doesn't really seem to be my kitchen yet. I haven't put half my stuff away yet, and I don't know where I put the other half. It's kind of like renting a condo for a vacation and trying to cook in it. It's fun, and an adventure, but it's also annoying. And you're right--I just want it to be all done with.