Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kitchen Bitching and Penance Pasta

This is not the meal I was going to post about.

The day before this pasta came to be, Almost Husband and I decided to make dinner together. He was going to barbeque burgers and I was going to try making an approximation of the home fries we used to eat at the Fran's at Yonge and Eglinton (that no longer exists) back in our high school days.

Oh Fran's. I remember sitting in those booths, having those intense relationship conversations that teenagers have, many of them beginning with "We need to talk" and ending with a dramatic exit, aching heart and tear-stained face. Oh Fran's. Where I famously tried to impress Almost Husband with my knowledge of world history and embarrassingly stated that Lenin was the Russian equivalent to Hitler. I believe I had Lenin confused with Stalin, as he pointed out, and even then, I didn't really know what I was talking about. I'd read one Dostoevsky book, which I found criminally long winded, and suddenly I was an expert on Russian politics. Cringe.

Anyways, I decided to make chicken burgers for myself, because I haven't fully crossed over to the red meat camp. It may never happen, actually, but I keep fronting like it will. I found an intriguing recipe in Bon Appetit magazine that seemed easy enough. Almost Husband said his burgers would take no time at all on the barbeque, and could he help me with the potatoes? So I said yes, and turned my back, and let him peel and wash the potatoes while I fussed with the ground chicken.

"How do you want them cut?" he asked me. I turned around. "Oh, " I said, "maybe a little bit smaller than - this big?" I used my fingers to illustrate. I went back to my burgers, which were not very well explained in the magazine. Every so often, I'd look over to his work space to see how the potatoes were progressing. I don't know what possessed me, maybe tiredness, maybe PMS or stress from job searching, but
I'm not lying when I tell you that I harped on just about every single thing he did with those potatoes. For example:

*He boiled them for too long. I informed him he was incorrect in his assumption that one can never boil potatoes for too long. "They'll get mushy, and then I won't be able to roll them in the flour!" He may have internally eye-rolled, I'll never know, but he took them off the heat anyway and offered to finish preparing them.

*Instead of rolling the individual potato cubes into the flour, then egg, then breadcrumb mixture, he used his hands and sort of mushed everything all about in the flour. "No, No NO!" I said, "You're manhandling them too much!" We often joke about his freakish strength and I sometimes teasingly call him Lenny from 'Of Mice And Men' when he's handling delicate things. This time, neither of us were laughing. He silently obliged me and used a fork.

*He ran out of breadcrumbs. Not his fault. At all. He asked me if I could make some more. I marched over, took his fork from him and said "Here, let me." Then, a silence, ripe with irritation. And with that, he was dismissed from my kitchen. He apologized for messing up the potatoes, made a heartbreakingly sad face at me and slunk out of the kitchen.

I felt awful. And it hit me, as I joylessly shaped chicken patties in my hands: Maybe I am incapable of sharing my kitchen. Maybe I can't cook with other people, because I want to do it all myself, accepting all the blame for a failure and all the glory for a success. I sat down for a minute. He was only trying to help me and I'd talked to him like some paddle-wielding eastern European schoolmarm.

Well. I got what I deserved. The potatoes were disgusting and my chicken burger had been pan fried within an inch of its life, charred and tasteless. Our hibachi, on its last legs, made a mess of his burgers. I'd already apologized by this point, but it was too late; we were both ravenous with only crappy food to sate us. We were officially in a Bad Mood.

So the next day, after Almost Husband had absolved me from my Kitchen Fascist guilt, I decided that with the remaining uncooked burgers, I'd change my kitchen karma and make a different meal out of them altogether.
I grabbed the last of the Swiss Chard and leeks out of the fridge, threw some things together in a pan and hoped for the best. I ended up with a lovely pasta dinner for myself, which I ate cheerily, curled up with Almost Husband on the couch.

I don't know if being a nice person has much to do with making good food; I imagine cooking with Martha would be a terrifying experience, and I've seldom worked at restaurants with chefs I would describe as pleasant or sweet. But for me, being a bitch in the kitchen kind of takes away from the love of food and the joy of preparing it.

And that, surely, is the best part to share with someone else, isn't it?

Penance Pasta, by Monika:

Pasta, enough for two people, cooked according to package instructions
1tbsp olive oil
1 glug of dry white wine
1 small onion, finely diced
about 1/2 cup of leeks, washed and finely chopped (I only used these because I had leftovers on hand, they aren't necessary)
1 tsp dried oregano
2 tbsp chopped fresh basil
1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes (or to your taste - I used a lot)
1/4-1/2 lb ground chicken
salt and pepper (easy on the salt, generous on the pepper)
1/3 bunch of Swiss Chard, rinsed and cut into ribbons
1-1 1/2 cup marinara sauce (I used store-bought)
A pile of grated Parmesan cheese
breadcrumbs (optional)


1. Cook pasta according to package. Set aside.

2. In pan, heat up oil and wine. Add diced onion and leeks if using, and cook till softened, about 3-5 minutes, stirring often. Add the oregano, 1 tbsp of the chopped fresh basil and red pepper flakes, stir around for 1 minute, then add the ground chicken and stir till no longer pink. Add the Swiss Chard and cook till it's wilted and softening, about 5-7 minutes.

3. Add the marinara sauce and cook till heated. Add the pasta to the pan and get everything well coated. Season again with salt and pepper, spoon into bowl and top with some of the remaining basil, a generous sprinkle of Parmesan, and a spoonful of breadcrumbs - I like the little bit of crunch they give.


  1. Penance Pasta, awesome. This experience mimics a few I have had as well. I have found the most successful group efforts are in the kitchen is when both people have separate tasks which they are happy and capable of -- and even then it can all go terribly wrong.

    Delicious looking pasta.

  2. Thanks Katerina, I think you're absolutely right about the seperate tasks. I've certainly learned my lesson! Also learned; never try a new recipe when you're already starving...

  3. You had me laughing out loud once again. As I read this - one of my favourite posts - I cheered you along in my head, stopping only to recall similar 'wars' in our own kitchen. Take credit for this success as it is all yours.