birthday lunch

birthday lunch

One of my personal rituals is to always, always make macaroni and cheese for myself on my birthday. It’s never quite the same from year to year, though: last year I used multi-colored vegetable shell noodles and a creamy sharp cheddar sauce. This year I decided to try a new approach, inspired by a recipe on Food52, posted by my friend Jen of the blog Last Night’s Dinner (featured in this week’s New York Times dining section, check it out!). Her original recipe is here; I failed to follow it exactly (surprise!) but I think I managed to capture the spirit of the dish.

piles o' cheese

breadcrumbs and herbs

This recipe differs from my usual approach in several ways: it uses several different kinds of cheese, it has herbs, mustard powder and hot sauce for added flavor, and it’s baked with a breadcrumb topping. Much to my surprise, it was quite possibly the best mac and cheese I’ve ever eaten in my life. Instead of the hard cheese crust I’ve come to associate with baked macaroni and cheese, this had a delicate buttery crunch giving way to creamy, rich noodles.

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lamb-yogurt noodles

lamb noodles

Perhaps you remember the lamb pizza I posted about way back when? How good it is when you’ve rolled it up with a mint leaf and dipped it in a bowl of garlic-laced yogurt? This dish is just like that, only on noodles. Oh my god it was so good. Heading straight into the repertoire, this one is.

I found this recipe in the book Olives and Oranges, which is a wildly attractive cookbook and full of the kinds of things I like best to eat. The recipe is really straightforward and simple, and takes hardly any time to prepare – about as long as it takes the pasta water to boil. The resulting pasta is a thick tangle of noodles drenched in tart yogurt sauce, studded with lamb and pine nuts and the occasional spark of hot chile or raw garlic.

lamb noodles

This would be great with a tossed green salad or cooked greens, but we ate it with cold grilled eggpant and it was beyond sublime. Add a bottle of good red wine and you, like us, will be happy.

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cheesy kale noodle

cheesy kale pasta

This was, in fact, an incredibly simple dinner based on an inexplicable, but very precise, craving I had for whole wheat noodles with cheese and greens. It ended up consisting of an entire head of curly kale, a quantity of ricotta cheese, and a package of loose hot Italian sausage.

I cooked the sausage and the kale together until the greens were very soft, then added the cheese, mooshed it all up together with some pasta cooking water and tossed it with Barilla whole grain rotini. It was quite excellent, very earthy and comforting. Also very filling.

cheesy kale pasta

I would definitely make this again, but I’d also like to try it more like my original idea, which was going to have bits of stinky cheese instead of the ricotta, no meat, and possibly a sprinkle of pine nuts.

What would you add to whole wheat pasta with greens?

spaghetti with anchovies


Now here’s some real food: pasta tossed with anchovies, garlic, hot red pepper and breadcrumbs. Man, this stuff is good. I got the idea from one of John Thorne’s old newsletters that’s been floating around the kitchen. I suppose you might not like it if you don’t like anchovies, but why would you not like anchovies? Honestly.

This would, of course, be good with any number of variations, including adding cheese, but the breadcrumbs really do a great job of standing in for grated hard cheese, adding a charming nutty crunch. We ate the pasta with a few tender lamb rib chops, just salted and seared, and a bit of fresh spinach tossed in a hot wok. Leftovers reheated quite splendidly, tossed in a nonstick skillet, with an egg fried alongside. Yum. Continue reading

duck noodle

Tumwater Canyon

We finally made it over the mountains for a secondary Christmas with my parents (with some difficulty, involving a great deal of ice, rain and traffic), and my father cooked a duck in our honor. It was served with mashed potatoes, duck gravy and carrots with morels, and it was fabulous. But, as with a great deal of my father’s cooking, the true beauty arose with the leftovers, as a Duck Noodle.

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pumpkin ravioli with sage butter


“Maybe I should have started with linguine instead of ravioli.” I was trying to remember how to make pasta, and beginning to wonder if, instead of pumpkin ravioli, our Halloween dinner was going to consist of pasta shreds with mashed pumpkin on top. Fortunately for us, and for those of you looking at the photos of our final product, it did finally come out.

I used to make ravioli and other filled pastas, back when I was young and unemployed and had more time in the kitchen, but it had definitely been a while. And I never did get the hang of squash-filled pastas – it seemed like I always overfilled them or the filling was too watery, and the pastas always self-destructed in the pot. I’m happy to report, though, that this recipe (from Mario Batali’s Babbo Cookbook) worked beautifully. I only had to wad up the pasta scraps and reroll them once! And the pumpkin didn’t cook evenly, so we ran it through the cuisinart to get rid of the hard chunks. But the result was very, very delicious. I did skip the amaretti cookies on top, though, because that just sounded disgusting.

the pumpkin

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penne carbonara

penne carbonara

I can hardly believe it, but it’s true: I had never eaten pasta carbonara before this week. Shocking, I know. And I might not have gotten around to it, if I hadn’t seen this amazing post. Jennifer’s carbonara was full of delicious local eggs, plus she had some wonderful looking pork jowl to work with; mine was a little more subdued but still very successful.

the last two eggs

We had come home from a wine tasting at our local shop, and were feverishly trying to think what we could cook with what was on hand. We had two eggs left in the fridge, a fresh pack of Hempler’s bacon, some parmesan cheese in the freezer, and some random boxes of Barilla pasta – and I already had carbonara on the brain from the aforementioned blog post. It seemed worth a try.

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planning for leftovers


Our freezer has gotten very low on emergency lunches, so it was clearly time to make a lasagna. Few things are as comforting on a cold day as being able to pull a container of lasagna out of the freezer, nuke it, pour a glass of wine, and have a hot, cheesy satisfying lunch. And to make that happen, of course, we have to have lasagna for dinner first. Oh, the sacrifices we make.

I make lasagna pretty much exactly the way my parents did when I was a kid (it was my favorite), except for the addition of no-boil lasagna noodles, which are God’s gift to casserole makers. Sometimes I’ll do a variation with pesto and white sauce, and I often add fresh spinach, but this particular one was just the basics: red sauce with meat and mushrooms, ricotta, mozzarella and noodles. End of recipe. I do not add egg, or cottage cheese – I feel very strongly about these things. That grainy ricotta texture is important here.

Oh – to go with our lasagna, we threw together a spontaneous salad of mixed spinach and lettuce greens and shaved fennel, with a lemon-mayonnaise dressing. It was FANTASTIC. If I ever figure out how I did it I’ll write the recipe down. Wow.

Now, back to the lasagna:

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cheesy pasta for one

macaroni and cheese

This is going to sound kind of pathetic, but I cooked and ate dinner by myself on my birthday. Sad, I know, but before you feel too sorry for me, take another look at the paella party we had with my family last weekend. I can’t exactly say that I haven’t had a proper birthday party.

For my actual birthday, though, I was on my own. My personal tradition is that this is the one day a year that I can have macaroni and cheese for dinner – gooey, plain, totally without redeeming nutritional value, and without guilt. And since Jon doesn’t really like just macaroni and cheese for dinner, maybe it was just as well that he had to work all evening.

The stumbling block I ran into this time, though, was that I had allowed myself rather a lot of mac and cheese back in January when I had oral surgery, and kind of overdosed on the stuff. So I decided to make this batch slightly different with vegetable pasta, the kind that’s made with beets and spinach and whatever, so there are different colors and tastes. The co-op, inexplicably, didn’t have multicolor macaroni, but they did have shells, so that’s what I went with. And they had their house-packaged raw sharp cheddar, one of my favorite cheeses for this sort of thing. Continue reading