Friday, April 13, 2012

Weekend Dining with WinCo

My son forced me to WinCo this morning with the sad news that his twin sister hid all the chocolate pretzels in her backpack and took them to school where she was probably handing them out to STRANGERS.

I decided to table the HOSPITALITY and GENEROSITY discussion with him for another time and hied myself off to WinCo to restock the chocolate covered pretzel supply ($2.29/lb Bulk Food Section).

I wandered into the deli and found this:
The goat cheese with fines herbes is also $2.98/4oz.

My Atkins-addled brain immediately recalled an elegant, easy and economical dish I can recommend for those times your husband calls you at noon to tell you his old fraternity brothers, Eddie, Teddy, and Freddie are in town and he's invited them to your house, along with their wives, Bitsy, Betsy, and Boopsie, for dinner and an evening of reminiscing.

I don't care if you're a SAHM, a doctor, or a corporate raider, you can make this meal in minutes, have it on the table without any fuss and your guests will be so impressed, they will sing your praises for years to come. And don't give me any foolishness about how you can't cook, because all you really need to be able to do is boil water, stir a skillet and toss a salad.

Here's what I call the dish: Pasta with Goat Cheese and Spinach. Yeah, it's not imaginative and the recipe isn't even mine. It's from one of my cookbooks and if I could remember which one and give credit where credit is due, I would.

Get to WinCo and get cooking:

Ingredients for the Pasta:

Goat Cheese mentioned above, plain or fines herbes, whichever you prefer
Spinach, 78c/bunch today along the back wall of the produce section. Get three bunches to be on the safe side.
Whole Wheat Spaghetti. $1.08/lb in the bulk foods section. You'll need 2 pounds for 8 people.
Soy Sauce, Hy-Top, $1.15/bottle in the Asian Foods Aisle
Sundried tomatoes - $4.50/lb in bulk foods. 1/4 pound should be plenty. This adds a nice color and a little sweetness to an otherwise green and brown and somewhat salty entree,

Ingredients for the accompanying salad:

Spring Mix - 98c bags or the larger $1.98 tubs in the back wall of the produce section
Bleu Cheese - In the Deli a couple of shelves down from the goat cheese, $2.48 for a container of crumbled. (Crumbled plain goat cheese is also there for $2.28/container)
Glazed Walnuts - $6.75 in the Bulk Foods Aisle 3 - a half pound should be more than enough. It might even be overkill.
Raisins - $1.78/lb right near the walnuts - quarter pound should be fine.

A nice loaf of freshly baked Whole Wheat French Bread ($1.48) from the Bakery department, for wiping up the Goat Cheese/Spinach sauce rounds out the main meal nicely.

How to cook the dinner:

Get the water heating for the pasta. You need a great big pot for this. Don't skimp. Add some salt to the water. Pasta water should be like the sea. Add a tablespoon or two of olive oil to the water so the pasta doesn't stick.

While the water heats:
1. preheat the oven to 350 degrees so you can heat the bread. then;
2. set your table, then;
3. compose the salad by tossing all the above salad ingredients in a bowl and tossing it. Or you could layer it with Spring mix on the bottom, then the bleu cheese, then the glazed walnuts and raisins. I suggest a raspberry vinaigrette for this salad, but olive oil and balsamic vinegar works well. You want the sweetness of the dressing, the walnuts and the raisins to balance the saltiness of the cheese and soy sauce in the meal. Wait until just before you serve to dress the salad so the ingredients don't wilt. then;
4. Wash the spinach well. Don't dry it. You need the water on the leaves so it will wilt properly when you make the sauce.

When the pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and give it a stir to prevent clumping. Set the timer to 11 to 13 minutes. When it dings you'll test the pasta. You want it al dente, with a little bit of resistence, not mushy.

Time to make the sauce:

Heat the skillet to medium. Add the still damp spinach leaves. Add a tablespoon or two or soy sauce. Add  the goat cheese. Turn heat to low and cover for a few seconds and give everything time to wilt down. Then remove the lid and stir with a wooden spoon or a spoonula, one of those spatula/spoon hybrid utensils. Keep the mixture moving because you don't want it to burn or stick. You could even remove it from the heat all together and let it finish cooking off the burner.

Get the salad and the bread on the table and call your guests to the table.

Test the pasta for doneness. Drain. Toss in a big bowl with the sauce mixture and bring it to the table to serve.

Hopefully, your husband has already cracked a bottle of good wine to accompany the meal.

Eat Happy. Collect accolades.

This meal basically takes the time needed to get the water boiling and cook the pasta.

Consider serving sliced strawberries (98c/carton) and whipped cream (I didn't price this, but how expensive could it be?) as a light finish to this rich and wonderful meal.

Don't worry about storing leftovers. There won't be any.


Test this dish at home before serving to guests. Goat cheese and soy sauce are both salty, and you'll want to experiment with amounts to get a combo that is pleasing to you. Fortunately, at WinCo prices, this is a cheap and delicious experiment.

Also, while the ingredients of this dish are mother's milk to a person of meditteranean ancestry, such as I, you may want to check first to ensure that Eddie, Teddy and Freddy and their wives all eat bleu cheese and goat cheese. I learned the hard way that this is not necessarily true.

And make sure nobody is on Atkins.

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