Like Jenny Rosenstrach, the author of the wonderful Dinner a Love Story blog and it’s companion cookbook (which I devoured on Saturday while waiting in line at Politics & Prose to meet the equally fantastic mystery writer Tana French), I keep a dinner diary. Actually, a diary is a great idea. What I keep is a loose collection of papers, each of which lays out the menu for two weeks worth of meals.

Every week there are nights on the dinner schedule that just don’t happen the way they’re supposed to. A broken oven delays the creation of this lovely casserole. Obscenely ripe tomatoes prompt me to make Alice Waters’ tomato sauce ahead of schedule. I forget to take meat out of the freezer before leaving for work. Again.

Nights like this give us three options. We can order in, go out, or make omelets. Since we prefer to save our nights out for the weekend, and because I still haven’t found a good Chinese take-out near Courthouse, we eat a lot of omelets.

But, hey, who’s complaining? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a good omelet. Growing up, we had omelets every few weeks. Along with “Spanish” Rice, they were my mom’s go-to, quick and easy dinner for hectic weeknights of dance class, forgotten school notebooks and impending spelling tests. We ate thick omelets, filled with gooey cheese and fresh tomatoes, served along-side deliciously crispy frozen fries or tater-tots.

Dan makes his omelets differently, the same way he makes his stir-fry, throwing everything into one pan, letting the cubed Swiss cheese mix with diced turkey breast, sliced mushrooms and (always) crisp bell peppers. The resulting creations (more closely related to frittatas than the classic omelet) are intimidating, but always delicious.

Which is to say, there is no wrong way to make an omelet. There is, however, a right way. Julia Child’s way. Mastering the Art of French Cooking, is rightly regarded as a masterpiece, but for my money The Way to Cook is her most helpful book for the novice or intermediate home cook. In it, Julia walks you through roasting a chicken, composing a salad, and, of course, making an omelet.

Julia’s omelets are classically French. I (try to) use her technique, but I do tend to branch out a little in terms of filling. The following omelet, from a night we were supposed to have chili, uses shallots and mushrooms along with parmesan cheese. I’m sure it would be delicious with some diced bacon as well, but the whole point of omelet night is not to go to the store. Feel free to play around with fillings and toppings. Parsley is always marvelous. Elephant & Castle in New York does a lovely smoked salmon version. But hey, throw whatever you want in there. And don’t worry too much about the technique. Worrying about dinner isn’t allowed on omelet night!

Ingredients – Serves 1

2-3 eggs
1 tablespoon water
2 mushrooms, finely diced
½ a shallot, finely diced
1 tablespoon butter, divided use
1 tablespoon red wine
¼ cu. grated Parmesan
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish

1. Sautee the shallots in about ½ tablespoon butter over medium heat. When soft, go ahead and add the mushrooms. Sautee for another five minutes. Then add the red wine, and let it go for another 2 or 3 minutes, until the liquid has cooked off.

2. Break your eggs into a bowl, and add the tablespoon of water. Whisk together until the eggs are just a little frothy on top.

3. Heat the remaining butter in a small to medium non-stick pan over high heat. When the bubbles on the foam are just starting to subside, but before the butter starts to brown, dump in the egg mixture. Grabbing the pan by its handle, swirl it around so that the egg spreads evenly over the pan.

4. Let the pan sit on the burner for about 15 seconds. During this time, add the mushroom mixture along with the grated cheese to the upper third of the omelet, at the end of the pan directly opposite the handle.

5. Now jerk the pan towards you, getting the omelet to fold over itself. Keep jerking until the omelet has folded into a nice little omelet-shaped rectangle. This is tricky. Feel free to use a spatula to push errant bits of egg into the proper place. Julia recommends making ten or twelve omelets at one time, until you get the hang of it. It’s probably not bad advice, but I’ve never done it.

6. Plate the omelet and sprinkle some parsley on top. Serve with a side salad (I went with arugula and tomato) along with some bread and homemade jam.

Carbs (without bread or jam): Negligible

Gerard Bertrand Salad: Zucchini with White Anchovies, Tomatoes and Roasted Peppers

When I was sixteen, my family took a summer vacation to France. We spent a week in Paris, and then seven days exploring the rest of the country: two days in Brittany, a day in the Loire, a day in Rocamadour and a few days in Narbonne. I had expected to be utterly enchanted with Paris; I had, after all, been captivated by Sabrina at an impressionable age. With the exception of one magnificently long day spent wandering the halls of the Louve, the strongest impression I retain of our time in Paris is of greyness. The city, the streets, even the steak at a bistro near our hotel seemed grey and old and utterly lacking the magic that is supposed to lie at the center of Paris.

There were other highlights to the week in Paris, of course: a truly magnificent cup of coffee with lunch on our first day in the city, a small boutique where I bought a skirt that I still get compliments on, and the perfectly charming Musée Picasso. But it was not until we drove out of Paris, headed west towards Brittany, that I fell headlong into a whirlwind romance with France, as so many Americans from Julia Child to Benjamin Franklin have before me.

If Paris had been grey, the rest of France positively burst with color. Driving to the seaside town of Saint Malo, we stopped to see Mont St. Michel, the famous monastery surrounded by water. By some happy coincidence, we arrived just as the masses of tourists were leaving. Walking into the monastery’s rooftop garden, my family was completely alone except for the very picturesque sound of chirping birds. From the quiet of the monastery we made our way to the carnival-like atmosphere of Saint Malo, where we ate fresh mussels and my mom ordered an unfortunately blue beverage off the cocktail menu. There were jugglers in the street and an opera singer next door, and in the morning a flirtatious waiter who cheerfully practiced his limited English on my mom and me.

Driving south, we listened to the popular Malian duo Amadou and Mariam and ate roadside picnics of cheese, pate, and drippingly delicious peaches. When we finally arrived in Narbonne, the concierge apologetically informed us that, owing to the hotel’s annual Jazz festival, the normal menu at the restaurant would be discontinued in favor of a four-course tasting menu. Well. We certainly didn’t complain.

The wine-maker whose vineyard we were staying at was named Gerard Bertrand and, after the waitress finished describing our meal for the evening, my little sister (then eleven) commented that it sounded to her as if the waitress had just told us that we would be dining on Gerard Bertrand, with a side of Gerard Bertrand, and for dessert, some Gerard Bertrand. My high school French didn’t make the menu much clearer to me than it had been to her, so I am unable to tell you the exact name of the dish that inspired tonight’s recipe. This salad perfectly captures what I fell in love with in France: the bright colors, fresh flavors, and possibility of an endless summer.

White anchovies really make this dish in my opinion, but feel free to omit if you can’t find them or want a vegetarian option. Serve with good goat cheese, crusty French bread and a crisp rose for a perfect summer supper.

Gerard Bertrand Salad – Serves 2


2 zucchinis
2 bell peppers – I went for red and yellow to add a bit more color to the salad, but feel free to use just red
3 tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, minced
Olive oil
½ lemon
10-20 pieces marinated white anchovies
4 Basil leaves, sliced crosswise

1. First, a word on how to mince garlic. Take your three garlic cloves and lay them sideways on your cutting board. Hold your chef’s knife horizontal to the cutting board over the garlic cloves and bash it with the heel of your hand. The papery outside of the garlic should come off, and your cloves will be squished-ish. If this hasn’t happened, bash them again, and remove the papery outside. Next, roughly chop the garlic a few times to break up the pieces. Cover these pieces with about half a teaspoon of salt, and chop a few more times to incorporate the salt mixture into the garlic. Now go find something else to do for about five minutes. Change the music on your iPod, open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a drink. This interaction between the garlic and salt will help you properly mince the garlic and will keep it from getting sticky and clinging to the knife blade. Now chop the garlic as fine as you can, pausing to scrape up any pieces that are hanging onto the blade. I hold my left hand on top of the knife blade, pressing down as I cut. However small those minced garlic pieces are, make them smaller. They should be almost to the point of looking like a paste when you’re done.

2. Now that the garlic is properly minced, place it in a little bowl and forget about it for a while. Time to prepare the tomatoes and peppers. Take you tomatoes and place them, stem-side down, on you cutting board. Turn on your oven’s broiler. Cut little x’s into the bottom of the tomatoes. This will make the skin easier to take off in a little bit. Place the tomatoes in or under your broiler on a sheet of aluminum foil for three to five minutes.

3. In the meantime, prepare your peppers. You can either do this under the broiler or on the stovetop. Because my broiler is too small to fit the peppers comfortably, I opted for the stovetop. This is a method for gas stoves. Remove the grill above your stove’s flame, and place one pepper each on a burner. Turn the heat up to high, and let the flame brown the pepper’s skin, turning as necessary. The pepper should be totally charred on the outside when you are done.

4. When the peppers are properly charred, remove them to a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Letting them steam for a little while makes the skin easier to remove later.

5. Remove your tomatoes from under the broiler and set aside.

6. Time to cut the zucchini! Either a mandolin or a vegetable peeler works well for this. We’re going to cut the zucchini into very thin ribbons. Cut off the tops and bottom of the zucchini, then lay it horizontally on your cutting board. Use the vegetable peeler to slice off long strips of zucchini, or (if using a mandolin) slide the zucchini along the blade to cut off slices between 1/8 of an inch and ¼ of an inch thick. Place on a plate and set aside.

7. Now that the tomatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skin (it should come off easily now) and slice horizontally. Using your thumb, dig the seeds out of the tomato and discard. Chop the remaining tomato into one inch pieces and place in a large bowl.

8. Next, remove the bell peppers from their bowl and chop each in half. Pull off the clump of seeds from inside each half and discard. Under running water, use your thumb to push off the charred outside of each pepper until all of the skin is gone. Slice the pepper into quarter-inch wide strips and put in the bowl with the tomato pieces.

9. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium to large non-stick skillet until hot. Add in the minced garlic and sauté for about a minute, until fragrant and slightly sweet. Remove from the heat and add the garlic and olive oil to the tomato/pepper mixture. Mix to combine, adding another half tablespoon of oil, salt, pepper and the juice from half a lemon. Taste for seasoning.

10. In the same pan used to cook the garlic, heat a very small amount of oil over medium heat. You want just a misting of oil—olive oil cooking spray could work well here. Arrange pieces of zucchini in the pan in a single layer—about five or six at a time. Cook for thirty seconds, and then flip each piece over and cook for an additional fifteen. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate. Continue working in batches, adding more olive oil if the pan gets dry, until all of the zucchini has been cooked.

11. Arrange half the zucchini on each plate, so that the entire bottom of the plate is covered. Place half of the tomato/pepper mixture in a mound on each plate, and top with 5-10 anchovies each. Sprinkle chopped basil on top. If this plating is too fussy for you, don’t fret. Feel free to add the zucchini in with the tomato/pepper mixture and stir to combine. It will taste just as good! Serve with goat cheese and a tasty baguette.

Total Carbs: 45 grams (without bread)
Carbs per serving: 22.5 grams (without bread)

Mushroom Ragu with Polenta & Arugula

Well. It’s been some time, hasn’t it? I’ve spent the past several weeks reading, thinking, and writing about conflict termination in West Africa. I’m doing a senior thesis in African Studies, and I’ve spent the past month writing about conflict termination and sustainable peace. We had a full rough draft due a week ago. In the lead-up to the draft, I went into self-imposed solitary confinement.  Mostly, this involved creating a zone of peace and tranquility around my desk, complete with a scented candle and two bowls full of reward candy to motivate me. It’s all about the ambiance. These tactics were successful to varying degrees (for a while there, I had very sticky teeth and very little written), but in the end I wound up with an eighty-page draft and two empty bowls of candy.

I finished the draft a week ago, but I couldn’t face the thought of writing a new blog post for another week after that. Both in my work as a student and in my actual job, I spend most of the day writing. Most days, I tend to write over a thousand words. Generally, I enjoy this. Certainly I would much rather spend my day writing than trying to wrap my head around calculus or physics. I’ve tried that already, without much success. Let’s play to our strengths, shall we?

Even still, after a week of intensive writing it is an immense relief to take some time off. I had several other school assignments due around the same time as the thesis draft. This meant that I mostly abandoned cooking for those few weeks, reverting primarily to take-out and many, many eggs. The weekend after I turned my draft in, I made a lemon cake. I’m not much of a baker, but it was such an enormous relief to be able to concentrate on something so completely different than I had been thinking about.

Zesting lemons, sifting flour, creaming butter and sugar. These skills all use a different part of the brain from the one I rely on for those mountains of words. When I’m cooking, my ever-whirring mind, the one that keeps me up at night considering how best to escape my bedroom in case of fire, flood, or ruffian, quiets down for at least a little while. I find this silence useful, both rewarding and refueling. Since finishing that draft, I’ve been in the kitchen nearly every night. Most everything I’ve made has been fairly good, but this dish in particular won Dan’s hearty approval. When he’d finished, he licked his bowl clean and then began eyeing mine.

Mushroom Ragu with Polenta & Arugula

Ragu adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food; Dish inspired by al di là

Ingredients (Serves four):

1 large onion, diced

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

2 celery stalks, diced

1 tbs. olive oil

6 sprigs parsley, chopped

4 sprigs fresh oregano, leaves removed from stems and chopped

1 bay leaf

1/3 cu. diced tomato

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (I used a mixture of white button, maitake, and shitake)

4.5 tablespoons butter (divided use)

1/3 cu. heavy cream

3/4 cu. vegetable stock

1.5 cu. arugula, cleaned and dried (divided use)

1 cu. polenta

4 cu. water

1/3 cu. grated parmesan

4 eggs

1 tbs. Vinegar

1. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onion, carrot, celery and some salt. Cook until tender, but do not let the vegetables start to brown. This should take about eight minutes.

2. Add the fresh herbs and bay leaf. Stir to combine, and allow to cook for another minute. Then add the tomatoes, and cook for five minutes more. Take the mixture off the heat and set aside.

3. Start your polenta. Boil four cups of water in a heavy pan. When the water begins to boil, whisk in four cups of polenta and a tablespoon of salt. Allow the mixture to remain at a bare simmer, and stir occasionally over the next hour.

4. Set three pans (if you’re using three different kinds of mushrooms) over medium heat with some butter and olive oil. I used about half a tablespoon of butter and a splash of olive oil per pan. Once the butter is melted, sauté each kind of mushroom in its own pan until the mushrooms are starting to brown. Remove from the heat and chop each batch of mushrooms finely, until the mushrooms are the same size as the diced carrots and celery. Add the mushrooms to the carrot/celery/tomato mixture, and stir to combine.

5.Turn the heat back on under the vegetable mixture. Add in the vegetable stock and the cream, as well as half a packed cup of the arugula. Bring the mixture to a simmer and allow to heat for fifteen minutes. Then, turn the heat to low and keep warm until the polenta and egg are done.

6. After your polenta has been simmering for an hour, remove it from the heat and stir in the parmesan and butter.

7. Poach your eggs. Bring a saucepan full of water, with a tablespoon of vinegar in it, to a simmer. Crack each egg into its own separate ramekin. When the water begins to simmer, take your spoon and stir the water in circles until it begins to swirl. Drop an egg into the swirling water. The swirl will cause the egg to turn into itself and prevent it from spreading out into the water. Allow it to cook until the white is set, then remove it with a slotted spoon. Repeat the process with the next three eggs.

8. Put it all together! Ladle in two spoonfuls of polenta to each bowl. Top with a packed quarter cup of arugula and two spoonfuls of the mushroom ragu. Place one poached egg on top of each bowl. Now all you’ve got to do is protect your serving from Dan.

Total Carbs: 150

Carbs per serving: 37.5