Today we managed to leave ourselves two meals to cook, as we didn’t want the bonus recipe, number 366, to be cooked in a different year from all the others. Obviously the best laid plans and all that meant that we didn’t cook one meal for lunch and one for dinner, but rather we cooked them one after another at dinner time. Speaking of plans which fall through, we also neglected to go grocery shopping before early closing time, so we had to improvise a little on a couple of aspects.
First up, we made Hamburger and Onion Stuffed Bread which seemed a bit of of a misnomer, given that we were cooking with beef not pork. Anyway, this was bread stuffed with a ground beef, onions and Worcestershire sauce concoction, seasoned with salt and pepper. Mustard was spread on the bread under the filling, with Swiss cheese melted on top. We had this as a starter rather than a main course, and it went down very easily. It was uncomplicated, simple, tasty food. But it wasn’t wildly exciting, just fine. Would we bother repeating this meal? Probably not, in all fairness; it was lacking a bit of punch.
About twenty minutes after we ate the stuffed bread, we moved onto making the second recipe of the evening, And Last But Not Least… Christmas Pasta [very similar recipe]. Our final recipe was certainly consistent with much of the year, in that it featured a huge amount of meat. This dish has pancetta, sweet Italian sausage, hot Italian sausage, ground veal and ground beef. It is a lot of meat. Also included are some vegetables in the form of onions, garlic, carrots and crushed tomatoes. The other ingredients include allspice, beef broth, red wine, Romano cheese and parsley, And the pasta of course. The sauce is very rich and meaty; pretty satisfying. The allspice lends an interesting cinnamony clovey piquancy, which seemed seasonal-ish. I would imagine that this dish would improve with time, which is good as we have a mountain of leftovers. If you wanted to serve many people quite easily, this meal would do the trick. Although, in all honesty, I would be disappointed to eat this for Christmas dinner. It’s good but not extra specially special, as Christmas food should be, in my humble opinion.
Well, well, well. 2007. That was the year that was. That was the year of morning sickness, of trying to sell a condo, of selling a condo and buying a house. Of remodelling a house then moving in. Of bathing our little girl in the sprinklers outside and calling it fun. Of cooking on a portable stove outside and trying to call it fun. Of being woken up every day by various contractors stomping around the house, and simply failing to call it fun. Of running to the basement bathroom every 30 seconds during the night when heavily pregnant, and failing to contain my swear words. Of trying to act oblivious to the mess, noise and stress of the move and be thankful for the progress. Only to realise that everything that could go wrong was pretty much going wrong. And finally when the house was almost finished, and mostly beautiful, Baby N was born and Baby A became Little A. And then we asked the contractors to come back again.
So here we are on the cusp of 2008. We started 2007 as a working couple with a baby living in a condo, driving relatively ok cars, and having a sporadic social life. We finish the year with two beautiful little girls, a house with a garden and a garage, and a minivan. And I’m now a stay at home mum. And of course throughout it all, every single night we cooked a Rachael Ray recipe from “365: No Repeats A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners“. When we started this cooking project we had no idea whether we would be successful or not, and although we had a vague idea that we might move house or have another kid at some point in the vaguely defined “future”, we had no idea that everything would happen so fast. And no idea that Rachael Ray would peculiarly become a constant in our increasingly hectic life.
At various points during the year, I have been desperate to end this project, to return to life where we dictate what we are going to eat, when we are going to eat it. But actually, as the end finally looms and we have a tattered, battered (autographed) copy of the recipe book complete with a section of pages which fall out every single time we pick it up as a souvenir, we have found that we are mysteriously reluctant to give up the process. Not having to discuss what to have for dinner every night has been immensely liberating. Not wasting time mindlessly wandering up the aisles of the supermarket desperately looking for culinary inspiration has been refreshing. Having a food action plan has actually proved to be a good thing. In a way, whilst this has been an intense process, it has also been a mindless activity- we have managed to follow recipes when we have been so stressed that we can barely remember our own names. I started the year writing down the title of each meal in my day planner diary thing, finding it immensely amusing that I could tell anyone who asked what we would be eating on any given day of the year. I gave up that process after a couple of months, but it is still incredibly strange that we have a visual and literal record of one meal a day eaten for a whole year.
People often ask us how we found the food, how we would rate Rachael Ray’s recipes. Overall, I would say that we ate very well this year. There were a few humdingers, but generally we ate better than we expected, and undoubtedly better than we normally would have done. The project forced us to do some things we would never do, such as eat macaroni cheese for five days in a row, but it also prompted us to eat a far greater variety of dishes than we ever do. We enjoyed things we never imagined that we would bother to cook. With the benefit of hindsight, this project was an extremely interesting pursuit, albeit a ridiculous one. We could have done without the pressure to cook on high-stress days, like moving to a construction-site-house or giving birth, for example, and also on the rare occasions when we went out and ate, then came home and cooked. But we have certainly learned that we really are as stubborn as we suspected. We hoped that we would finish the task we set ourselves, we anticipated that we might, but I don’t know that we envisaged that we actually would complete the project. I certainly thought that we would call on our back-up guest cook at some point, but remarkably we never did. On the one hand that’s a bizarre achievement, on the other hand it’s a testament to our lack of a crazy exciting holiday-filled existence.
All year I have been planning to make a gallery of images of every meal documented in this blog, so that we can see at a glance what the year held for us. I might still go back and do that as time mysteriously seems to have run out. Blogging itself has been a bit of a revelation to me. There are a number of blogs I read and enjoy regularly, but I had never thought about starting one. We originally thought that we’d only write about food, but life has a strange way of insinuating itself into everything. Shear exhaustion has recently stopped me saying all the things that I intended to say when sitting down at the computer, but there’s only so much people would probably want to hear about how wonderful yet exasperating toddlers are, and how delicious yet tiring new babies are. And how children + life = exhaustion. (Incidentally, as I sit typing this feeding Baby N, I have been listening to the happy sounds of two toddlers bathing together and pretending to be lions. The button on the whirlpool tub got pressed accidentally, and suddenly as the jets roared into action, I listened to the delicate strains of two terrified toddlers and two shocked adults trying to do damage control. Would it be awful if I said it was quite funny from this side of the wall?).
And so, as the final hours of 2007 draw to a close, we find ourselves with decisions to make regarding next year. We have decided not to go back to free-form meal decisions; the structure has actually been really good for us. Having said that, we can’t make the same kind of commitment again- blogging every single night has played havoc with my TV and film watching, book reading self. And cooking a meal after cooking Christmas dinner was a little on the insane, not to mention gluttonous and wasteful, side. So, we are going to continue with the cooking from recipes, but maybe only 3 or 4 days a week. That gives us room for the occasional takeout, and to make good meals into leftovers, and maybe even to go out for dinner, should there be a pig flying over a blue moon.
Happy New Year! And thanks for reading.