A few weeks ago I got canned in high style, and it hit me right in the kitchen. I turned to two things to get through the early days spent absorbing strange news: a couple of old, easy (already-blogged-about) recipes that I knew wouldn’t fail me the way something else just had, and mostly takeout. This left me with nothing to post.

The trend continued. I focused on staring out the kitchen window to see what message the branches were scraping into the air for me. (You’d be surprised how pleasant such a pastime is.) Then, on the weekend, I came to this line in the New York Times Book Review: “When we find ourselves coping with pain, the kitchen can become our therapist.” The line woke me up, for I had a word to share with the reviewer: “Mika Brzezinski, completely untrue!”

The job situation had spleened me; my mind and hands weren’t gravitating to the chopping board; they were elsewhere. They were suddenly required for making innumerable lists, plotting the straightest route to get the hell out of publishing and into…forensics? Dentistry?

Therapy was letting Wayne cook, for crying out loud. It was eating Thai soup and cold rolls every other night. It was weird tinned suppers and distracted, hardscrabble lunches of veggie-salami sandwiches. (Have you seen that stuff?)

And while I agree, Brzezinski, that eating is a great balm, cooking takes creativity and effort and gumption. And all of those forces had to be gathered and pointed at a new plan.

In any case, after a week or two, I started to recognize myself in the lists I was making. The first hint of a storyline began to emerge, and a timeline. A workback – beloved workback! – has started to take shape, and it has made me feel more like myself again.

Or at least enough so to realize I need a kick start in the kitchen, if this blog – and supper itself – is to carry on. I enlisted the help of three cookbooks from the library and started with the lightest one first. It was a bit of a novelty selection, called the What Can I Bring? Cookbook, a ’50s-meets-aughts feed-a-crowd potluck cookbook – perfect recipes for the wake of an old magazine hack.

While the baby slept, I howled over “Cowboy caviar” (a cross between salsa and guacamole, with beans), “Can’t Eat Just One spinach balls” (the ingredients include a box of stuffing mix, and I will certainly not knock this till I’ve tried it) and “Ladies’ lunch tomato aspic” (whoa).

But there were delish-sounding dishes, too, that I would definitely try the next time I have to cook for a crowd: “Mindy’s [love the Mindy’s] grilled figs with honey, walnuts, and crumbled Stilton,” “BLT canapés” and “Ricotta-filled bresaola with arugula and parmesan shavings” – which show pretty good range for a potluck manual. These funny recipes started to made me hungry for the kitchen again.

I moved on to The New Lighthearted Cookbook, but – travesty! – next to no photographs. Very naughty, Anne Lindsay. Straight back to the library you go.

And there I found the winner in an unexpected place: the blow-dried, manicured domain of Giada deLaurentiis, in her cookbook called Giada’s Kitchen: New Italian Favourites.

With her super-plucked brows and jersey tank tops, Giada always struck me as kind of tediously high-maintenance, so I tended to avoid her. But after one flip-through of this excellent book, I was in full repentance for the unfair judgment. I wanted to cook and eat almost everything in it. I grabbed hold of a piece of cardboard in the recycling bin and started stuffing every other page with a placeholder.

I wanted:

Spicy Parmesan Greens with Kale

Artichoke Gratinata

Asparagus Lasagna (not a tomato in it)

Swiss Chard and Sweet Pea Manicotti

Roasted Halibut with Grapefruit Fennel Salsa

Cornmeal and Rosemary Cake with Balsamic Syrup (weird. But how could you not want to try a taste?)

Polenta-crusted Shrimp

Pizza Pot Pies

Hazelnut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate (how can I describe the tantalizing picture. It’s Libeskind meets a Scorcese wedding: dark chocolate layer cake, intersected with indomitable stripes of creamy white icing, impaled all over with towering shards of hazelnut brittle. Heart racing. Scanning the calendar for birthdays. I need to make this for someone, stat.)

Yesterday, I tried my hand at Rigatoni with Vegetable Bolognese.

To start, GDL instructed me to chop the veg in the Cuisinart. Fantastic. In went garlic, carrots, red pepper and onion, pulsed until chunky in just a few seconds:

I sautéed them in a pan with olive oil, then added thyme, oregano, pepper and salt (lots of it . Nicely done, Giada). It cooked quickly, in little more than 5 minutes.

Then in went tomato paste and chopped fresh mushrooms.

Once the mushrooms had softened, I added stock and red wine

and reduced the whole (already) fragrant lot of it till it was intense and flavourful.

I knew then when I stuck my spoon in it that this pasta was going to be spectacular. (And I’d even forgotten to buy the dried mushrooms this recipe calls for in addition to the fresh. Surely they would have added even more depth to the overall flavour. My stupid Frills doesn’t carry them, so I substituted bouillon for the missing liquid.)

I turned the sauce off and waited for Wayne to get home to finish it. It wasn’t until then, a couple of hours later, when I stirred in half a cup of mascarpone, that I realized this was that rare thing – a pasta so good I would consider serving it to my parents.

Look at the mascarpone, melting in there like a giant scoop of ice cream:

I whipped up a five-minute cucumber salad, and Wayne threw some asparagus under the broiler while I put the baby to bed.

Then we tossed the rigatoni with the creamy sauce

and fell into a pasta reverie/coma.

I can tell you one thing those branches scratched into the air outside the kitchen window, a message from the future: The new me isn’t wasting another second of her life on whole-wheat pasta. Beyond that, the sky’s the limit.

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