Today the Food Section introduces a new feature, The Husband's Cookbook, written by Mike McGrady. It will appear in 52 weekly installments.
A couple of years ago my wife and I traded roles. Every morning she went off to an office and earned the money that paid the bills. I cooked and cleaned, went head-to-head with bargain-hunting shoppers, pleaded for a raise in allowance, and lived the generally hellish life that half the human race accepts as its lot.
The story I lived to tell, "The Kitchen Sink Papers - My Life as a Househusband," was serizlized in Newsday.
There's much about the experience I'd just as soon forget. Ironing, for example. Picking up three kids, for another example. In fact, the only part of the job I truly enjoyed was the cooking. And that's something I still enjoy.
During the next year, I'm going to be planning meals and recipes that can be cooked by rank amateurs, by those husbands who have not yet figured out which switch turns on which burner.
The recipes will appear in The Post each week. We begin with the simplest meal of them all, but a year from now we'll be cooking chicken Kjev together. (You gotta believe!)
I'll start each recipe with a supermarket shopping list. And we'll use an hour-by-hour timetable for the preparation and cooking of the meal. By following the schedule, even the beginner will be able to serve dinner promptly at 6:30. (No? Would you believe?)
Throughout the year, we'll go for the casual approach - it'll be a "pinch" and a "dash" and a "handful" and, every now and then, a small prayer."
We begin with spaghetti because it is easy, because it allows for improvision, because it is easy, because everyone likes it and , above all else, because it is easy.
The Staples: Make sure that these are on hand: salt, pepper, basil, oregano, thyme, butter, olive, oil, garlic, vinegar.
The Shopping List: 1 pound of spaghetti, 1 pound ground beef, 1 large can Italian plum tomatoes, 1 small can tomato paste, crackers, Chianti wine. And these vegetables: 2 large onions, 2 green peppers, 1 bunch celery, 1 head lettuce and 1/2 pound mushrooms. Also, 2 cheese - 1/2 pound of parmesan and 1/2 pound of brie. This should be enough for a family of five.
4 p.m.: This first day we start early, allowing time to recover from small disasters along the way. An adequate spaghetti since can be prepared in less than an hour but today's extra simmering time will only improve it.
Put a half-stick of butter and a splash of olive oil into a large saucepan over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add the thinly sliced onions and green peppers. (Save some of each for your salad.) Slice 2 celery stalks and add them. Peel and mince 2 cloves of garlic and sprinkle over the mixture. (Danger! A clove of garlic is not to be confused with the large bulb of garlic. Not ever.)
Stir with a wooden spoon. Other spoons may be used in an emergency but wooden spoons will lend you a deceptively professional air. In a short time - 10 minutes or so - the onions will turn golden brown at the edges. (Danger! If they turn golden-black at the edges, turn down the heat at once.) Add the sliced mushrooms, cook for a few minutes, then turn off the heat.
4:25 p.m.: In a separate pan cook the ground beef over medium heat, breaking it into small chunks. When meat is brown, throughout, pour off the fat (Danger! Not in the sink!) and add the meat to the vegetables, again over a medium heat.
4:40 p.m.: Stir in the canned tomatoes, the tomato paste and the spices. The seasonings might include a large pinch of basil, another large pinch of oregano, a small pinch of thyme and some salt and pepper. Trust your taste buds. Many other seasonings can be added - a bay leaf, a few cloves, a few sprigs of parsley, some cayenne pepper. This is, in fact, a dish that invites experimentation. Any number of vegetables will enrich the sauce. Eggplant, zucchini, chopped carrots - you name it. And should the sauce be too thick, it can be thinned with consomme, tomato juice, water or wine.
When sauce is well heated, reduce heat to lowest point, cover pan and allow mixture to simmer gently. Stir the sauce occasionally. (Danger! If mixtures shows signs of sticking to pot, heat is too high.)
Take a little breather. Read the paper. Sample the Chianti. (One can't be too careful about these things.) Carry on a relaxed conversation with your wife, who is apt to be looking into the kitchen somewhat nervously.
5:40 p.m.: Start water boiling in the largest pot you can find.
6 p.m.: Make the spaghetti according to box directions. While water is boiling, you can put together the salad. Chop up a couple of stalks of celery and add that to the leftover slices of pepper and onion. Rinse the lettuce free of sand. Pat it dry with paper towels and break it into bite-sized pieces. The salad dressing, 3 parts oil and 1 part vinegar, is kept to the side until ready to serve.
6:15 p.m.: There are many ways to determine when the spaghetti is ready. In ancient times, cooks supposedly removed a single strand from the boiling water and threw it against the ceiling; if it stuck up there, it was done. (Danger! If there are no old spaghetti strands on the ceiling, don't try this method.) An alternate methods is to simply taste the spaghetti; it should be chewy but not tough - al dente.
As the pasta completes its boil, grate the parmesan cheese and put it in a small serving bowl. The salad dressing is mixed and poured over the greens and the salad is tossed lightly. The spaghetti is taken from the pot, drained, placed on a serving platter and the sauce is draped artfully over it. Hold the brie and crackers for a final course.
As the family digs in, you pour the Chianti. This is one time your wife won't ask you what the celebration is.
This time she'll know.