We’ve decided to take a meat break. Despite Meat 101 (and my eagerness to try out the techniques we learned) . This decision is probably influenced by a certain weariness with flesh caused by 3 months with my devoted carnivore of a mother and my shame about the general culinary laziness of months and months of trying to get meals on the table that please the whole family (it’s so easy to reach for the chicken breasts). So, post-vacation, we swore off all flesh for a week and all flesh but fish for another three.
And it’s been good. I’ve been using a few culinary muscles that had gotten a bit soft, and they feel a little sore, but in that pleasing, getting-in-shape, way. It’s been good too in helping me to remember what my vegetarian friends go through when we go out to eat and for making me order tofu which I like, in theory, but never seem to choose.
Both John and I went through our vegetarian phases, his much more committed than mine (mine consisted mostly of not cooking with meat at home; his was the miso and 25 pound bags of brown rice type — it was the seventies). The thing is, I don’t want my vegetarian dinners to be an endless parade of moist, ethnically spiced Moosewood cookbook dishes (although I still have a special place in my heart for Molly Katzen and there are some old Moosewood stand-bys that will never leave my kitchen repertoire). So the challenge has been to cook dinners all week that are flesh free and that don’t stray too far from that sort of Mediterranean, sort of Californian, sort of new American, way that we love to eat now.
This is the report so far:
Night 1: Trader Joe’s Indian Fare with TJ’s frozen naan. Hey, we’d just gotten off ten hours on the road. Good flavor, good belly feel, 5 minutes to prep. Don’t knock it.
Night 2: Linguine, a little cream, a lot of romano and parmesan, a couple of good handfuls of arugula, wilted down into the sauce. The sauce needed more thickening (too much cream?) but the flavor was good and the runny sauce was nicely sopped up by some stray baguette pieces.
Night 3: A kale and cheddar frittata courtesy of Orangette. I was really proud of this one. It was easy, pretty and deliscious. Despite Molly’s warnings, I put the no-stick skillet under the broiler. The frittata flipped out with golden-brown ease.
Night 4: Pizza, on a Friday (it was vacation) for a change. John’s crust was inspired. I designed the topping — fresh buffalo milk mozarella, caramelized onions with a handful of sliced baby bella mushrooms tossed in, toasted pine nuts, and some marinated artichoke hearts to cut the creaminess a bit. Wow. It’s a keeper.
Night 5: The Smitten Kitchen’s homemade gnocchi. The boiled version was good. although not as good as advertised. Mostly tasty, but some of the gnocchi had hard potato lumps that were unpleasant to encounter. This could be my fault — I may not have gotten the potatoes quite tender enough prior to grating. But SK was right — browned in olive oil the next day (no pre-boiling required) they were astonishingly good. Nick loved them too and got the leftovers for dinner twice this week.
Night 6: Organic polenta, chard sauteed with a lot of garlic, olive-oil fried eggs on top. Thank you Melissa Clark. Lots of polenta left for another dinner later in the week (With tomato sauce this time) and for taking in lunches.
Night 7: Black bean quesadillas. We’re back to work. All four of us are at the table again. Standards are slipping. But they’re always good anyway.
End of Week 1. Don’t fear, I don’t plan on recording the whole month. But it was a good week and also comforting to me to find that I am not utterly dependent on meat to cook meals that taste good and don’t take hours of prep time. And I must be part of the zeitgeist. Because in this month’s Gourmet magazine Ruth Reichl says something along the lines of “when are we going to realize that not eating meat is neither a virtue or a penance” but (she goes on) a good choice about how we sometimes eat? Good for the earth, good for the body, and, it turns out, good for the palate.