Back in college, after I learned how to make a white sauce, I started calling the concoctions I’d cook “weird lunch”. “Wanna visit? I’m making weird lunch.” It was generally palatable enough; the weirdness was mainly the feeling that I didn’t have any idea what I was doing.
Last night I started with the plan of doing simple pasta with tomato sauce (which I do know how to do) and ended up with weird dinner. It went something like:
“I need to cook something. All I really know how to do is pasta and tomato sauce. But I have Mizithra cheese and could find out how to do browned butter. Oh, this browned butter instruction page mentions chicken and linguine. Say, I have chicken (frozen) and linguine. What else do I have? Oh, here’s some really ancient cottage cheese that miraculously is apparently still edible…”
The result actually was tasty enough to be worth documenting, so here we go.
- Browned 1 stick unsalted butter in a saucier. Spoiler: I didn’t actually taste it in the final dish. Probably should’ve browned it more, but was worried I’d end up with blackened butter and erred on the side of unburnt.
- Put 2 frozen chicken thighs to thaw in bowl of cold water, and started pot of salted water to boil for linguine.
- Put cottage cheese (about a cup?) into bowl for later, and mixed tarragon, fresh-ground nutmeg, and a bit of light soy sauce in it. (The nutmeg is because the person who taught me how to make lasagna used to mix it in with the egg/ricotta. I never taste it in the lasagna, but I figure there must be some reason she put it in.)
- Spouse came home so I asked him which oil to use for browning the chicken. Then he exited to go to Home Depot to buy a ladder.
- Started tomatoes in saucier: olive oil, 4 largish cloves garlic, Italian seasoning, bay leaf, 1 can diced tomatoes, bit of soy sauce. Usually I’d do two cans of tomatoes to one pkg pasta, but since I was adding the chicken and browned butter I stuck with one. In future will probably do more, or add something else; we felt that more tomato taste or some other more intense flavor would have been good.
- Linguine now in water.
- Pulled out chicken thighs, which were nearly thawed, after putting latex gloves on. Patted dry with paper towel, then removed right glove to salt them. Called spouse to ask whether it was better to brown them whole and then cut up, or cut them up first (with slight preference to latter because they were already on the cutting board and I’d need to use a different board or wash this one if I planned to cut them after cooking. Turns out spouse was still at home because Prius’s battery was flat and that’s the car that would fit the ladder. He decided to skip the ladder and just go to Target for some other stuff. Also concurred that cutting up chicken first would probably be fine.
- Cut up chicken. Because I am mostly not an idiot I kept my left glove on (for holding the chicken). Because mostly != totally, this still happened.
After taking picture, I promptly lost track of the piece with the dot of latex. Found it later but then couldn’t be sure at first that I’d actually removed the latex because it was invisible against the rest of the glove. Spouse comes in at this point to bear witness to this and starts to give me a lesson on how to hold food for cutting safely, until I point out that the problem was that the glove is just a bit too big, not that I was holding it carelessly. (My fingers were in no danger of being cut.) Spouse agrees that that’s just bad luck with extra glove material, then departs for real this time, after helping me drain linguine.
- Mix tomato sauce and doctored cottage cheese in with pasta to get it out of the way.
- Pour teaspoon of oil from nearly-empty bottle into pan, then way more than that from nearly-full bottle. Shout “WAH!” which is Robin for “HELP I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING THE HOUSE IS GOING TO BURN DOWN” and then get on with cooking the chicken anyway because there doesn’t seem to be much choice. (Considered pouring some of the oil out of the pan, then concluded that chances of making a slippery flammable mess that way were higher than just going with the amount in the pan.)
- Call spouse to request some sort of sparkling juice while he’s at Target, because I don’t like wine but feel like classy fruit-derived beverage would be appropriate. Meat starting to brown at this point. Reassure spouse that house will probably not be burned down by the time he returns.
- Chicken successfully burned, I mean browned. Use slotted silicone spatula to transfer into pot of pasta. Mix in browned butter. Grate a small mountain of mizithra cheese. Start transferring pasta to serving bowl, sprinkling cheese after each tongsful of pasta. Put remaining cheese on top.
- Spouse calls. Instead of hello, I greet him with “ON TOP OF LINGUINE, ALL COVERED WITH CHEESE. GOOD THING I HATE MEATBALLS, ‘CAUSE THEY MAKE ME SNEEZE. …I mean, yes?” He’s calling about fruit beverage. We settle on Izze blackberry sodalike liquid.
- Send photo of pasta to family, with slightly improved lyrics.
- Spouse returns. We dine. Spouse incredulously asks what the thing he’s tasting that seems almost like tarragon is; I inform him that it is in fact tarragon. Later, I mention the nutmeg, which gives him a bit of a duh moment since it’s suddenly very obvious. Incidentally, he added a bit of fish sauce to his, for real.
Overall verdict is that it’s a decent effort that could use some stronger flavoring, perhaps tomato paste or red wine. I am not a wine aficionado even in cooking, but it probably would work here. The recipe that reminded me that I have chicken included fresh spinach and pine nuts, which have some possibilities. Overall I feel like it was a bit too oily, which leads me to the odd conclusion that actually the butter was unnecessary in this case. Don’t know if I’m tasting the mizithra explicitly. The cottage cheese presence is fairly minimal, but worked well as a carrier for the tarragon and nutmeg, and I think those were successful (spouse thought it was just enough tarragon, which worries me a little as I didn’t measure it). Fresh mozzarella, burrata, or ricotta might also be good choices. Spouse thought shiitake mushrooms would be good. Now that I’m typing this, I think maybe I would’ve liked it better with white meat (I had the thighs because I wanted to try making karaage, which is better with dark), which is somewhat unusual for me.
Izze was good too. Unfortunately, later in the evening I started feeling unwell, but I’m pretty sure that’s from motion sickness watching spouse play FF XII and running around at double or quadruple speed.
But yay! I cooked! All by myself!
Sorry there is no cat picture here. I should’ve taken one of the audience I had, probably attracted by the chicken cooking. Moonstone had the roundest, most dilated eyes ever. She seems to have figured out that that’s the way to look especially pleading and hopeful when requesting food (which she does by purring affectionately while rubbing her face on my elbow or whatever she can reach).