A Few Good Dinners

[Dinner the other night, May 2008.]

OK, so I lied. I did soak beans the other day, but we didn’t actually eat them that same night. While they plumped up crisp and delicious, when the time came for dinner I honestly just … did not want them. Instead, I found myself staring down the contents of my refrigerator — well-stocked, because of my morning trip to the farmers’ market — and discarding every meal plan that came into my head. Faux sausages and onions? Not in the mood. Roasted cauliflower and mashed potatoes with a nice chickpea stir fry? Not so much. Spaghetti with mushrooms and red sauce? Maybe, but only as a last resort.

You know things are bad when roasted cauliflower isn’t tempting, and it really wasn’t that Saturday night. I dug through the cabinets and came up with a box of ziti; maybe ziti with pesto? Well, I didn’t have any basil — nor pine nuts, as further search revealed — so that was out, but I did have an abundance of green beans and squash. Perhaps those two together … along with some caramelized onions … and garlic … and lemon juice and olive oil and Parmesan cheese added sparingly at the end … For whatever reason, this combination was much more appealing than plain old beans. I forged ahead without a recipe, adding dashes of salt and pepper with a liberal hand, hoping it would all turn out fine in the end.

And it did — mostly. I would definitely leave out the onions the next time; against the tart lemon juice, their sweetness was almost too much and the sweet-sour clashed a bit. (It wasn’t bad necessarily, just not as good as it could have been.) And if I’d had pine nuts, I think this spring-summery dish, mellow in all its flavors and melting with olive oil and cheese, would have been elevated from merely good to fantastic. You better believe I’m adding some pinons the next time (and yes, there will be a next time).

While my greens beans were simmering, I paged through the latest Gourmet, ending up at “The Last Touch” — or, the very last page of the magazine. It was devoted to brownies (or, coconut blondies, deep chocolate brownies, walnut cherry brownies, and peanut brittle brownies, to be exact). I think you know where this is going: I had to have a brownie that instant. But I was daunted by the amount of butter called for in each recipe — two sticks! — not to mention the eggs (as many as five per). I’m sure those brownies were quite rich, delicious, and worth all the fat, but I just couldn’t do it. To Fannie Farmer I went, then, and found a simple brownie recipe that I wasn’t sure would be as decadently chocolate-y, but because it required much less butter (a mere six tablespoons), I decided to give it a try. I added just two more tablespoons of butter and threw in just a bit more chocolate and they were just fine, velvety and deep with rich chocolate.

[Weekend brownies, May 2008.]

The next night I had an unexpected dinner guest, and after sitting out in the chilly air watching a soccer game (Wait — is it fall? Did I just say it was hot? I think I need to amend that.), a big bowl of guacamole, along with a steaming plate of beans, rice, and tortillas seemed the only thing to warm me up again (well, that and a glass of red wine). I made a pot of long-grained brown rice, and while that was cooking, quickly sauteed mushrooms with lots of garlic, and then threw in the beans I’d soaked the day before. For extra flavor, I added a can of crushed tomatoes and a bay leaf, and let the whole mess simmer for about 20 minutes. Just before serving, I heated up some corn tortillas, squeezed some lime over the beans, cut up some slices for placing alongside, and drizzled dressing over an enormous market salad filled with cucumbers and carrots. For dessert, more of those brownies and sliced strawberries.

[Spring guacamole, May 2008.]

I’m on the cusp of a long weekend, and as it’s the ‘official’ kick-off to summer, and barbecuing, and just plain old being outside as much as possible, I think during the next few days I’ll have to: wear a lot of white, swim, drink a lot of iced coffee, go to the beach if it’s not too cold, bake some more brownies, sit around the backyard with one of the books I plan to pick up this afternoon at the library. If you’re looking for summery things to eat, I recommend (you may also like):

– Whipping out the mini barbie and grilling up some tofu-vegetable skewers

– Making some Pissaladière strips and basil lemonade

– And ginger snaps

– Or some couscous salad

– Or perhaps throw together some feta and tomatoes?

The only thing that would make this weekend better is if it was time for Wimbledon (just another month ’til!) or if it were a World Cup year. Still, I have a nice cup of coffee and a bowl of cherries for a mid-morning snack, so I think I can hang on a little bit longer.

Cheers to summer.



, adapted from the Fannie Farmer cookbook

5 ounces semisweet chocolate
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a pot on medium heat (or in a bowl set over simmering water), stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl; add the sugar, eggs, salt, flour, and vanilla. Stir well to combine. Spread in the pan and bake for about 40 minutes, until dry on top and almost firm to the touch.

When done, cool for about 15 minutes before cutting into 2-inch squares.

Join the Conversation

  1. That mexican dish sounds lovely. You are right about it being a nice hearty warm meal. The weather has been extremely strange, ranging from a 100 degrees to today where it’s a little colder than normal and a sweater is definitely needed. I think a weekend of relaxation and outdoor gatherings sounds fantastic. I am excited because my weekend is crammed full of graduation parties and long afternoons with a big cup of tea and a damn good book. Enjoy the holiday weekend!

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