Oh, hello, end of October. When the heck did you get here?
It seems to happen faster every year, the arrival of the busy, wonderful, food-filled holiday season. My deskmate was appalled recently to hear talk of Thanksgiving and Christmas issues. I had to remind her — and myself — that the latter holiday is just two months away.
Another big celebratory event heading my way? My one-year wedding anniversary. As my husband and I prepare for a trip to New England to celebrate, I am relying on quick and easy dinners that can appeal to both of us.
That isn't difficult. My husband is perhaps the world's least picky eater, something I am thankful for every time I set a plate of food down in front of him. He's also a good cook — he doesn't cook often, but when he does, he knows what he's doing. Over the years we've both honed our foodie sensibilities, and grown to respect a well-executed meal. And he has an innate ability to identify what ingredients make up a dish just by tasting it. Bottom line: I can trust his suggestions and critiques.
I have learned to decode his (mostly positive) reactions, something I think has helped make me a more confident home cook:
"That was pretty good." Content silence through most of the meal followed by this sentence usually means that is was fine, thank you for cooking it, but it may be slightly too healthy or bland for his taste. We usually end up adding more salt or, his favorite, hot sauce.
"Mmmm!" Another winner!" This means he would eat this particular dish again, and it's a good one to keep in the rotation. Most meals get this praise.
"Wow, this is ... really good." This is the highest honor of all, delivered with wide eyes and an air of almost disbelief. It has been judiciously administered to a couple of select meals: chicken and dumplings, a recent quinoa carbonara, an old standby chicken and Brie pizza, an egg-avocado creation we call "egg toast." This week's recipe got that most prized reaction, so I had to share it with you.
I bought fresh pasta at a specialty grocery store to cut down the majority of my cooking time. I had a major craving for the fresh stuff, but you could easily substitute regular dry pasta in this recipe. Opt for a shape you don't normally go for to mix things up; I chose pappardelle, a wide, thick noodle, instead of thinner spaghetti or fettuccine.
Now, the cream sauce. This is where you work your magic. Because I must be true to myself, I Googled "healthy cream sauce" to get some ideas for how to make what I envisioned: a thick, creamy, cheesy pasta coater that wasn't pure fat. The grand revelation was that you don't always need butter to make a decent sauce, and chicken broth and nonfat milk can help take the place of cream. Though I did add a splash, because, come on.
A few forkfuls in, my husband got that look in his eye.