With my exam over, and firm commands from my adviser to give myself a break for a week or two (she said a month, but she and I are both too dedicated and both such workhorses that I doubt that will happen), I can concentrate on the important things: food, and husband. Fortunately, since he needs to be fed, these important things can work in tandem. So I send my apologies to Joan Didion, and promise to report to you a Week of Magical Eating. Some dishes will be fancy, fresh, and well prepared. Some will probably be valiant attempts to use up leftovers. Either way, I will try to check in with my results.
Day one, yesterday, also happened to be Valentine’s Day. Neither N. nor I particularly support this Hallmark holiday, likely as a result of residual bitterness before meeting one another and deciding that no one but each other should ever be subjected to either of us again. However, thanks to my rapidly ebbing stress and rising ability to enjoy normal activities like shopping and cooking without feeling guilt about not studying, I was able to secure ingredients for dinner on the special side. Not for VDay, but for each other.
As a congratulatory gesture for passing my exam, one of my officemates gave me the ingredients for Kir Royale: champagne and crème de cassis. This blackcurrant liquor smells sweet with the promise of a bite. Mixed with champagne, it was much less sweet than I had imagined; my taste buds were prepared for something dessert-like, but the mix was delicious and fresh, and the color was appetizing too.
With our aperitifs poured, and an acorn squash halved, liberally basted with butter, honey, mustard, and shoved unceremoniously into the oven, I embarked on Jaime Oliver’s spinach and goat cheese risotto. I’ve made this dish before, and was craving its fresh green notes and rich tanginess. To make things extra special, and since between the two of us on a Sunday night we deemed it unwise to drink an entire bottle-o’-bubbly, I used champagne instead of white wine to deglaze my risotto pan after lightly toasting the rice and onions. In the end result I couldn’t taste a difference, but I like to think the champagne contributed to the light tang of the final dish.
Piled high on a plate, it was creamy, it was luscious, with pockets of goat cheese slowly melting in amidst the kernels of rice that never lose their bite completely. The acorn squash as a vegetable side, though it has a completely different flavor profile, works nicely with this risotto, I think, in part because the color contrast is so striking. After an hour in the oven, the rind gets thin, flexible and yet crackling at the same time, and if you don’t mind burning the tips of your fingers, you can hold the caramelized edges with one hand while you scrape the flesh out with a spoon held in the other.
Nothing bitter here. Honey, crème de cassis, goat cheese, sweetness layered on sweetness, but not enough to be cloying. Exactly, perhaps, how Valentine’s Day ought to be.