Notes From Swan's Nest


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Lenten Meals

My husband Randy and I had the best Ash Wednesday dinner last night – Pasta Primavera with Shrimp. I was in the house all day with the wood floor installers and didn’t have a chance to get to the supermarket, so an hour before dinner, I opened the fridge and cupboards to see what my options were. Lots of fresh veggies in the crisper, a block of Romano cheese in the drawer below, a package of thin spaghetti and a can of vegetable broth in the vault, and a partial bag of shrimp in the freezer – everything I needed to put together a tasty, meatless dinner in less than an hour.

Now before I go any farther, you may be asking why I keep spaghetti and vegetable broth in a vault! The answer goes back 112 years to when Swan’s Nest was constructed. The owner and designer of the house, Ben Revett was a gold baron, and he built our home as a gift for his bride. The smaller kitchen we’re currently using was originally Ben Revett’s office, and he had a gold vault built adjacent to his office to store his fortune. With rock walls 2-feet thick and steel rails in the ceiling, it was a secure place to store the gold he dredged from nearby rivers and streams.

Since I’m a little short on gold, we converted the vault into a butler’s pantry with storage for wine and glassware, plus a temporary mini-pantry. Once the large kitchen addition is complete in a few weeks, I’ll move food items into my new spacious pantry, and the gold vault will become a wine vault.

So, let’s get back to last night’s dinner because I know you’re looking for something tasty, quick, inexpensive, and ideal for Lenten Friday’s. While the water is heating for the pasta, chop 2 stalks of celery, a small onion, a green bell pepper, broccoli, and a small bunch of asparagus, place the veggies on a large platter and set it aside. Place the frozen raw shrimp into a medium bowl, fill with cold water, and set it aside to thaw, about 15 minutes.

Preheat a large skillet over medium heat for the vegetables, and peel the shrimp, placing them on a paper towel to dry. When the water comes to a boil, add coarse salt and the spaghetti, and cook until the pasta is al dente, about 8 minutes. Pour 1 cup of the pasta cooking water into a Pyrex measuring cup and set it aside, then drain the spaghetti in a colander, reserving a few tablespoons of pasta water in the bottom of the pot. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and a dash of coarse salt to the pot, swirl to mix, and return the drained pasta to the pot, tossing well.

While the pasta is cooking, pour 1 tablespoon olive oil into the skillet and add onion, celery and broccoli, stirring frequently until they are almost crisp-tender. Stir in the bell pepper, asparagus, and 2 cloves of minced garlic, and cook several minutes until they are almost crisp-tender. Deglaze the pan with 1/3 cup vegetable broth and 1/3 cup of the reserved pasta water, increase the heat to medium-high, and cook 2 minutes until the liquid in reduced by half. Season the veggies with coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.

Preheat a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and the shrimp, and cook until the bottoms turned pink, about 1 minute. Turn them over and cook 1-2 minutes more. Sprinkle the shrimp with Cajun seasoning and deglaze the pan with 3 tablespoons vegetable broth, stirring well to scrape cooking bits from the bottom of the pan. To serve, transfer the pasta to serving bowls, top with sautéed vegetables and the shrimp, along with juices from the pans. Garnish with freshly grated Romano cheese and enjoy a fabulous Friday meal. Scrumptious!

Cook’s Note: The shrimp may be sautéed with the vegetables, but for allergy reasons, I cook them separately.


Valentine Greetings

Red Valentine hearts have been hanging in the bay window of my Swan’s Nest kitchen since the 1st of February. It’s a tradition I carried with me to Colorado from our Dallas home – one established when our sons were little. I’m sure my neighbors still think I do it for the neighborhood kids, but truth-be-told, I hang those Valentine hearts in the window each year for ME.

You see, I have an almost-Valentine birthday, and when I was little, my mother would host a party at home for me each year. The table was draped with a white linen cloth and there were red Valentine hearts everywhere – in the windows next to the front door, on the party invitations, pasted to the ruffled, white crepe paper candy cups filled with red cinnamon hearts at each guest’s place, and incorporated into the centerpiece.

As Valentine’s Day approaches each year, I’m transported back to memories of those annual celebrations, and I can hardly wait to hang the hearts in my windows. No doubt, the thrill of those childhood parties contributed to why birthdays and special meals have always been huge in our family – so important that I have devoted my career to food and celebration. There’s nothing like walking into the kitchen a million times a day and smiling at the sight of those red hearts in the window. Such a simple thing, and yet they generate so much joy.

I’m smiling these days for another reason. Our new kitchen addition is almost complete. Last week, we filmed the installation of the new quartz countertops and several of the large appliances for a future episode of At Home with Christy Rost. Later in the week, our tile experts Sean and Ryan installed the travertine backsplash, and our plumber Robert hooked up the sinks, disposals, and exterior venting system to the cooktop’s downdraft. Next week, our good friend, Phil with Colorado Custom Wood Floors will begin installing the select-grade hickory wood floor over our in-floor heating system. I’m certain the kitchen will be transformed before my eyes as the floor goes down.

As snowflakes drift past my window, I’m headed to the kitchen to bake a batch of Valentine cookies to share with friends. This year, I’m baking them in Swan’s Nest’s “old kitchen”, but it won’t be long before I start cooking up a storm in the new one. May your Valentine’s Day be filled with hearts….