Thursday, April 19, 2007

Last Meal (For Now)

I'm not exactly sure what happened. No, actually, I know exactly what happened.

C works as a game tester for a large company, which is not as glamorous as it sounds. For one, as he's had to clarify countless times, he does not "play video games for a living." Game testing usually involves long hours and tedious replay of the same level over and over, looking for any continuity errors or programming glitches that might upset gameplay. It's monotonous, eye-straining work, and he can't even really bitch about it due to the nondisclosure agreement he signed with his contract.

Occasionally international teams will collaborate on testing for a single title. A week ago Camden came home with a dour look on his face. His schedule has been adjusted to fit international timetables, and for the next month or so he works from (brace yourself, people, it's not pretty) seven PM to four AM.

His new schedule threw quite a wrench into what I'd hoped would be a smooth quarter. I had to drop the night class I'd been planning on taking with C, since he wouldn't be available to give us a ride and the bus doesn't run that late. Which meant the other night classes were moot as well. When I scrambled to sign up with late-registration for some online classes that had looked interesting, I found they were all full. So I have make excuses for yet another blank quarter on my college transfer applications, which look like they might be pushed back yet another year. D'oh!

Even worse, though: I can't cook.

C's reasoning is this: the one meal I cook regularly, almost every day, is dinner. Since he won't be home to share dinner with me, he feels guilty at the idea of "making [me] slave over a hot stove" only to immediately box up the meal for his lunch, while I eat my portion alone. A little melodramatic, perhaps, but I do feel less enthusiastic about cooking when he's not here. Which is really a pity, now that spring has really arrived and all its bounty is brimming in the markets. Maybe I'll start mustering up the energy to start cooking dinners for myself this week, but for now I just feel too disoriented by these bizarre hours to do much of anything but order Thai food and surf the Internet.

Still, I've found ways to weasel in a little time in the kitchen. I get up an hour or so after C gets home and rustle up some bacon, eggs, and oatmeal. And for you, dear readers, I offer up the last nice dinner I made for C:

Spring Pantry Pasta
This is basically a dish of my own invention, if I can even call it a dish. The beauty of pasta recipes is how malleable they are, how simple it is to showcase specific ingredients and flavors as they shift with the seasons. The sauce is based on pasta carbonara, but beyond that I kind of went crazy. Leeks were on sale for $0.99 a pound, so I threw in four of those; C loves peas, and even though the produce market was out when we got there (boo) I've found that Trader Joes' frozen peas are actually comparable to fresh, depending on how they're used. Throw in some crumbled bacon and an aging yellow bell pepper that had been languishing on my counter for a few days and we had a meal to carry us through the dreary takeout-laden weeks to come.

- 4 slices bacon, diced fine (I find chilling the bacon for a few hours before slicing helps get more uniform dice)
- 4 leeks, pale parts only, rinsed free of grit and sliced into thin rounds
- half a bag of Trader Joe's frozen peas
- 3/4 cup to 1 cup cream or half and half
- 1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1 onion, diced into roughly 1/4" cubes
- 3 plump shallots, diced fine
- 3 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 1 small yellow pepper, julienned
- 1 egg, well beaten
- 16 oz. fresh pasta (I used lemon and cracked black pepper tagliatelle from a local pasta company)

1. Thaw peas and set aside. In a medium saucepan, fry bacon over medium heat until crisp and brown. Using a slotted spoon, fish out all the bacon and let drain on paper towels. Leave in as much of the bacon fat as you can stand.
2. Add leeks, onion, garlic and shallots to the pan and saute until translucent and tender. If they look like they're browning too quickly lower the heat and continue.
3. Add bell pepper and peas and saute until evenly incorporated and partially cooked, about five minutes. Lower the heat to low. Once the saucepan has cooled a bit, add the cream and stock and mix. Gradually increase the heat until the stock just barely simmers.
4. In a separate, larger saucepan, heat water for pasta. Be sure to salt the water well.
5. Once the cream is pretty warm, SLOWLY spoon about a tablespoon into the bowl with the beaten egg, mixing rapidly with a fork or whisk all the while. This is to temper the egg. It's important that the hot cream is added gradually, so the egg isn't shocked by the heat and curdles. Once about 1/2 cup liquid has been used to temper the egg, take the saucepan with the sauce off the heat and add the tempered egg to the saucepan. Stir to evenly incorporate the ingredients and add salt and plently of freshly cracked black pepper to taste.
6. Cook the pasta according to its directions and drain.
7. Plate and serve immediately, with crumbled bacon on top.

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