Today was my wife’s birthday, and a birthday around here means lots of food.  The morning started off with Cook’s Illustrated’s French toast.  It’s a surprising recipe, because the batter into which you dip the bread (challah) contains flour, one egg, and 3/4 cup of milk, plus a few other things.  It produces a great crust, and, depending on how long you let the bread soak, a wonderful, custard-like interior.

Lunch was a simple pasta dish that used to be a staple at our house.  Not sure why it’s been so long since we made it.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil and throw in enough linguine or capellini (angel hair) for everyone.

While the water is coming to boil and the pasta is cooking, in a pan that is large enough to hold the pasta after you’ve cooked it…

warm a puddle of olive oil over medium low heat.  Don’t use “lite” olive oil.  You want something full and flavorful, and since it will provide the base for the sauce, you’ll need a good amount, more than just enough to barely cover the pan.

Add at least 1 clove garlic, crushed per person.  The heat needs to be low enough that you can barely see it simmering.  You don’t want it to turn brown on you.

Add at least 2 anchovies, along with 1 tsp fresh thyme and  a pinch of crushed red pepper per person.

In another pan, toast a big handful of fresh bread crumbs (yes, again, one handful per person) in some olive oil over medium heat.  I prefer to make the crumbs myself and leave some large-ish chunks of bread intact.  Salt them as you go, and once they’re crispy in spots, dump them onto a paper towel lined plate.

The anchovies should eventually, within five minutes or so, fall apart.  Once the pasta is done, drain it, throw it into the pan with the garlic and anchovies, and then squeeze over at least 1/2 lemon (for one or two people).  You’ll probably need some salt, too, in spite of the anchovies.  Toss it all together and taste it.  You’re looking for brightness from the lemon, a kick from the garlic, savor from the anchovies, a little heat from the pepper, and the warmth of thyme.  Squeeze in more lemon or add more salt as you need it.  Dish it up in shallow bowls and top with the toasted bread crumbs.

Dinner was crabcakes (from Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist Cooks Dinner) with red sauce and cole slaw (from Pepin’s Fast Food My Way).  We finished it all off with an Apricot Almond Pastry.

Heat the oven to 350 F.

Cut a few apricots (fresh or canned) into wedges – there’s no need to peel them.

Grind 3/4 cup almonds in a food processor, then combine these with 2 tbsp flour and 1/8 tsp baking powder.

Combine 1/4 cup sugar with 4 tbsp unsalted butter, at room temp.  Mix this with the almonds.

Beat 1 egg with 1/2 tsp almond extract, and then add this to the almonds.

Scrape the batter into an 8 or 9 inch pie dish or cake pan, which you have greased with butter, and then top with the apricot wedges.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the pastry has risen and is heading toward a toasty brown.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve.  I prefer it with ice cream.

It had become pretty cold out by the time I was putting the dessert in the oven, so we lit the fireplace for the first time this year.  It was a great way to finish off the day.