Saturday, April 5, 2014

Vegan Stuffed Shells: Part II...

Disaster Averted

Click HERE to read Part I.

You think it's easy trying to hide all of this crap?  You try it!

Once my wife was out the door on Tuesday evening, I checked the original recipe to make a list of ingredients for the store. I needed two more cans of navy beans, and we only had a half box of shells left. I figured I’d better pick up another box, just to be safe. As for the sauce, I would have loved to have used my wife’s homemade recipe. But attempting to make sauce, while simultaneously trying to prepare and assemble stuffed shells for the first time, would have meant certain disaster. In short, it would have validated every one of my wife's issues with me cooking in secret. I would have looked like a damn fool, for sure. As such, I decided on Newman’s Own Sockerooni… always an acceptable stand-in when time is short.

After slogging through a half dozen 400s at the local track, I stopped at Wegmans to pick up the ingredients. Aside from my initial complaints, my other major quarrel with the recipe was with the texture of the bean filling… mushy, bland, and lacking in substance. I definitely wanted to add another element to the filling, but I couldn’t decide between mushrooms or spinach. Finally, I just decided to add both, and tossed a 12-oz package of white mushrooms, as well as a 10-oz package of frozen organic spinach into my shopping basket.

When I returned home, my next task was to hide all of the ingredients for the next twenty-four hours, so my wife wouldn’t discover my big plans. Whenever I get the urge to cook in secret, I have the best luck when I plan ahead and pick up my ingredients a day in advance of the great adventure. However, this strategy often backfires. On multiple occasions, my wife has discovered all of the foreign goodies scattered about the fridge and pantry, and then questioned me about them ad nauseum.

I'm usually pretty aware of basic ingredients we have on hand. But I don’t have enough mental or emotional energy to keep tabs on every item in the house. My wife, on the other hand, has a running inventory in her head that seems to update itself every half minute. There are times when she’ll have the pantry open for less than a second to grab a granola bar from the top shelf, and she’ll notice the extra can of crushed tomatoes on the bottom shelf, which I’ve tried to hide behind the peanut butter, balsamic vinegar, tamari, brown rice, and steel cut oatmeal.
“Hey… What's this back here? Why do we have an extra can of crushed tomatoes?”
Unfortunately, shrugging it off or playing dumb is rarely a successful strategy.
“What do you mean we’ve probably had it for awhile? I just used the loganberry-infused rice vinegar three weeks ago, and I know for a fact that those crushed tomatoes were not back there.”
At that point, my goal changes from keeping the mystery ingredients a secret to keeping my intentions private.
“What do you mean you just thought it might be nice to have extra crushed tomatoes on hand? Did you go to Wegmans last night? You did, didn't you!?”
By this time, any further effort to keep my plans a secret is not only worthless and futile, but downright pathetic.
“What else did you buy? And why did you even go to Wegmans? I just went there two days ago. We don't need to be going to Wegmans every night. Why didn’t you tell me you needed another can of crushed tomatoes?”
At that point, I have no choice but to rattle off my entire shopping list.
“What use would we possibly have for teff flour, star fruit, hemp seeds, and coconut wax? Were you going to try making something tonight? I hope you’re planning on following a recipe."
And finally, I hold my head and shame and reveal my intentions to surprise her with a secret creation that I just know will be delicious.
"Why would you even dream of making something like that. You should always follow a recipe the first time you make something. You know how I hate wasting food. You remember what happened the last time you tried to make those tomato almond cranberry fondue bars.  They were a complete disaster.”
Needless to say, I’ve learned to be more careful about hiding any ingredients that I’ve dared to bring into our house unannounced. As I began unpacking, I decided that the best strategy would be to separate all of the mystery items. If she happened to discover just one odd item, I might be able to get away with it. But if she found two or three stashed together, the cat would be out of the bag, and I’d have more explaining to do.

The frozen spinach was the least threatening item, as we often use it for lasagna or enchiladas. I doubted she’d have any reason to go into the freezer from the time she hot home from work the next morning until the time she went to bed thirty-five minutes later. I hid the bag on the bottom shelf behind an opened box of frozen pretzels that had been there since 2009. The two cans of navy beans were next. There was absolutely no room in the pantry, and I had previously learned my lesson while trying to hide canned goods during The Great Crushed Tomato Debacle of 2011. I decided to stash them both in the trunk of my car, where they’d be safe for twenty-four hours.

The jar of Newman’s Own Sockarooni presented more of a challenge. The pantry was out of the question, and I didn’t want to store it with the beans and take a chance on a big mess and broken glass all over the bottom of my trunk. After scanning all around the kitchen, I had a brilliant idea. I opened up the cabinet just above the fridge to the left, where we store the conservative collection of spirits, coffee liqueur, and various vodkas that we rarely use, and I wedged the tomato sauce in the lone vacant spot just in front of the Amaretto. I was in the process of closing the cabinet when I had an awful thought.
“No… No, she wouldn’t… Would she?”
My arm came to an abrupt halt, as the cabinet door hung halfway open, waiting in limbo. My wife has had some pretty rough nights at work, but she’s never been driven to a hard vodka and tonic at eight o’clock in the morning. Still, there’s always a first time for everything. With my luck, that first time would be ten hours later. I opened the cabinet back up, rearranged the various bottles, and pushed the jar of sauce way back to the inner bowels behind the vanilla vodka and spare coffee maker.

Next was the 12-oz package of mushrooms, which needed refrigeration. I considered stashing them in the trunk with the beans, but I didn’t want them getting bruised or damaged. The refrigerator itself was out, as she’d be sure to pick those out without even opening the door. Then, I remembered the extra beer in the cooler out in the garage. Luckily, there was just enough room above the bottles to set the package of mushrooms and close the lid tightly.

The final item to hide was the box of stuffed shells. After another quick survey of our available storage, I decided to hide them in plain sight. Boldly opening up the pantry, I pulled out the drawer, and thrust the shells directly behind the already opened box way in the back. While this would have seemed like a foolish move at any other moment, I figured they’d be safe. After all, what are the chances she’d have a need for raw pasta shells after working an overnight shift?

However, the next morning I learned that it’s unwise to assume any location in our kitchen is safe. I was sitting on the couch with my coffee around quarter of eight when my wife walked through the door.
“How was your night?”
“It was fine,” she said, dropping her bag on the table and removing her shoes. “…a pretty slow evening actually.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her rummaging around through her bag. She appeared to be searching for something. After a moment, she pulled what looked like a container of McDougall instant soup. I watched helplessly as she made her way into the kitchen, opened the pantry door, and pulled out the sliding shelf. As she stooped down to put away the unused soup, she paused and reached into the back of the pantry. 
“What’s this?” She appeared from around the corner, holding the unopened box of stuffed shells in front of her. “Did you know we had these?”
I lurched forward and showered Indy’s rump with a half-swallowed mouthful of coffee.
“Um… Had what?”
“These shells. When I made them the other night, I bought a new box. I didn’t know we had an un-opened box.” 
I began to clumsily mop up the coffee that I’d spit all over the cat, who had turned his head to glare at me disdainfully.
“No, um… Where were they?”
“That’s weird. They were right here in the pantry next to the half-used box.”
“I don’t know.” I pressed my hands to my gut, as I felt the contents of my intestines begin to churn around uncomfortably. “I… guess we already had them.”
“How could I have missed this open box?”
“Maybe they just got pushed all the way to the back behind all the other pasta.”
The pain in my belly continued to get worse as an audible gurgle belched forth from my mid-section, followed by creaking sounds resembling antique furniture being rearranged on an unfinished hardwood floor. As the moan trailed off, Indy flattened his ears back in absolute disgust. 
“Huh. That's funny. Well, I guess you won’t have to buy shells for awhile.”
“That’s so weird.” She continued mumbling to herself as she headed towards the front hallway. “I’m going upstairs to change and wash my face.”
“Can you make it quick?”
“I think I’m going to shit myself.”
“The coffee,” I said, waving my empty mug around as she peered around the corner.
“Oh. Yeah, be right down.”
Fortunately for the couch and cat, she was fairly speedy washing up and getting ready for bed, and I made it upstairs just in time.

Click HERE to read Part III.

This is Indy's state of mind BEFORE my stomach went postal.

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