Croutons and Voldemort Sauce

Meals at our house this week have run the gamut. There have been creative uses of leftovers, and there have been culinary extravagances. To wit:

Wednesday night, I got home from Pilates at 6:30, with absolutely no idea what to make for dinner. Wednesdays are tricky, because the Kid has evening Hebrew School and doesn’t get home until almost 7:30; late for a school night. So there I was, in the kitchen, scrambling for an entree that I could assemble quickly. A quick look through the refrigerator, cupboards, and shelves was not particularly inspiring: some leftover herb croutons that I’d made to accompany Sunday’s potato-leek soup, a tiny bit of leftover pesto, some aromatics, and, of course, pasta, the food of last resort. Thinking fast, I grabbed up all of those items, put a pot of water on to boil, and pulled out the big nonstick skillet. Some olive oil, a bit of butter, a chopped shallot, a couple of cloves of crushed garlic, and the last bits of pesto soon became an herb sauce. I dumped the croutons into a ziplock bag and crushed them with a rolling pin. Once the pasta was done, I coated it with the sauce, tossed the crispy bread crumbs together with the noodles, and grated some fresh Parmesan on top. Voila! The guys were suitably pleased.

Contrast that to last night. We’ve been looking for an opportunity to introduce two of our favorite couples to each other. When I learned last week that both families had received iPads as holiday gifts, an idea for a dinner party was born. The Husband and I have been using ours for months, both for fun and for professional purposes.  We invited everyone to bring their iPads so that we could share ideas. Then I gleefully planned a winter menu, full of earthy flavors:

We started with celery root and chestnut soup. I peeled and cubed four large celery roots, then cut up three large leeks and a white onion. I tossed all of the vegetables into a roasting pan with a bit of olive oil, some garlic, and a bunch of fresh marjoram, thyme, and oregano. A couple of hours later, they were caramelized and tender. Then I sauteed some sliced leeks and shallots, filled the pot with water, and added all the roasted vegetables in a big soup pot. This is one of the pleasures of the kitchen in winter: something simmering on the stove all day, cooking down  into a delicious promise of warmth. A bit of celery salt and a handful of chopped chestnuts, and a few minutes with the hand blender to puree everything, and it was done.

The main course prompted the title for this post. I had decided to make a mushroom lasagna with a bechamel sauce–in my mind, this would be a perfect accompaniment to the peasant style soup. When I described it to the Husband, his first response was, “I don’t like bechamel sauce.”

I was flabbergasted. “Are you sure you know what bechamel sauce is?” I asked. A brief argument ensued, which was resolved quickly when it became clear that we were talking about two different things. I’m still not sure which sauce he dislikes, but apparently I’ve never told him the name of the flour and butter roux at the heart of my lasagna, macaroni and cheese, soups, and many other dishes. Immediately, a joke began. The Sauce That Shall Not be Named–AKA Voldemort Sauce. I’m happy to report that the lasagna was a huge hit. We matched it with a spinach salad tossed with warm bacon/apple cider dressing to give a dose of greens.

For dessert, I made a simple cornmeal poundcake, enhanced with pears poached in Riesling and vanilla bean syrup. Just for fun, I made a caramel sauce to top the pears and cake, and brought out a bottle of Brillet pear cognac.

The iPad idea exchange was great fun, the friends became friends, and everyone enjoyed a warm winter night together.

A day in the kitchen is a restorative experience for me.

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