Loving and Loathing—A Fine Line

February 12, 2016


romeo-and-juliet-artWhen I was in grade school, there was a small group of us who participated in our town’s community theater youth group. Mrs. Rusk, a delightful lady and community-theater enthusiast, met with us after school once a week to help us rehearse our modest productions, performed later for friends and family. I remember the time Mrs. Rusk was inspired to write her own version of Romeo and  Juliet. (For 5th and 6th graders? Ambitious, yes. But we were troupers, especially since she always brought along plenty of Oreos and Coca-Cola.) In Mrs. Rusk’s version of the story of the star-crossed lovers, Romeo had an unfortunate speech impediment. The only line I can remember is when he says to Juliet, “I loathe you truly, Julie, ’tis my poor heart just realized.” How rending! A young couple sent careening toward their inevitable fates because Romeo’s garbled declaration of love was heard by Juliet as loathe. I’m sure we gave it our best, devoted as we were to Mrs. Rusk and her wonderful after-school snacks. (O betimes me nay, dear Shakespeare [unsettled in your grave mayhaps?], lest we be harshly judged for this bastardization of your classic work, be mindful that we were but prepubescent thespians treading the boards as bidden.)

In a convoluted way, I can relate to the Romeo and Juliet story. Bob and I have been a “couple” more or less since 8th grade. When Bob turned 16, I decided to make lasagna for his special birthday dinner. My mom offered to help since I hadn’t cooked much; however, I insisted on doing it myself. I created a bubbly, cheesy, tomato-y thing of beauty on that spring morning, and then I proceeded to leave it in the oven on “warm” all day long.

That evening, Bob pulled into our driveway in his handsome silver ’57 Chevy. My heart raced, knowing I was about to showcase my cooking abilities. I was too nervous to eat; I craved only his compliments. He took a bite … I waited. His brows furrowed. He swallowed and then casually asked if I might have noticed a minor, sour off-taste? I blinked a few times as his question traveled a prickly pathway to my brain. Keenly divining that prudence might be best, Bob declared the lasagna to be “really something” and managed to work through a couple of servings, at my insistence.

After the meal, we left the dishes on the table (inklings of my future as The Messy Cook) to take our first-ever ride in his car without parents in attendance. Bob had his license! We were free! Life was good! After making a few circles around the town square, we drove to a quiet dirt road in the country—no farmhouses in sight—just a few sleepy cows looking rather surprised to see us rolling past.


At last, there we were, parked under the moon, celebrating the end of a perfect day and our newly acquired independence. We launched into a celebratory kiss … I looked into his eyes and saw a burning intensity as he … suddenly bolted from the car, announcing, “I’m going to throw up!” The possibility of food poisoning never occurred to me that night. I was tormented by only one truth—Bob had kissed me and then he had thrown up. As the cows and I watched him retch, I looked to the moon for further illumination—was this loving or loathing? (Who knew that lasagna, after a day in the oven, becomes the perfect petri dish?)


Valentine’s Day is almost here! Rather than fighting the restaurant crowds this year, why not surprise your special someone by preparing a romantic dinner at home? What better way to show your sweet love muffin that those occasional little flameouts of yours are not a cause for concern and have largely been mitigated by reading personal-advice columns and consuming plant-based hormone supplements. Yes! You are at the top of your game and ready to tie one on—an apron, of course—to whip up an unforgettable meal. Maybe you’ll even decide to invite another couple! (Naturally, you love being alone with your snuggle bear, but three hours of doing the goo-goo eyes could backfire and someone could get hurt. Leave the heavy breathing to the professional actors on Days of Our Lives.)

This meal requires a bit of advanced planning and some last-minute effort, and yes, you could sweat off your “smoky eyes” while getting it on the table. When you look back, though, you will be proud. Don’t worry about those leg varicosities of yours. They likely will not flare up until after the last piece of crystal has been returned to the cabinet.

Here is the menu for your consideration. You choose the wine. (Hey, I can’t do everything for you!) Good luck!

Appetizer—Kelly’s Smoked Salmon Toasts with Wine-Soaked Cherries

Entrée—Tracy’s Seared Ahi Tuna with Mandarin Oranges and Fried Wonton Strips

Dessert—Tracy’s Flameless Bananas Foster

Smoked Salmon Toasts with Wine-Soaked Cherries


Smoked Salmon Toasts with Wine-Soaked Cherries

  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Our daughter, Kelly Mullen, lives in New York City and loves to innovate in the kitchen. She created this appetizer for a party recently.

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • Spreadable cream cheese (plain) (or Tracy’s Tweak, soft goat cheese)
  • Melba toasts (or Tracy’s Tweak, crostini)
  • Thin-sliced smoked salmon
  • Fresh coarse-ground pepper
  • Capers

Cook minced shallot in wine in small saucepan over medium heat until tender. Bring to boil and add cherries. Simmer and reduce until half the wine is gone. Meanwhile, spread the toasts with cream cheese and grind a little fresh pepper over each. Top with a slice of salmon. With a slotted spoon, place a few cherries and pieces of shallot on each one. (Be sure to tap off the extra juice before placing them on the salmon.) Top with a few capers.

Recipe from messycookblog.com

Seared Ahi Tuna with Mandarin Oranges and Fried Wonton Strips


Seared Ahi Tuna, Mandarin Oranges and Fried Wonton Strips

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: Medium
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Several years ago, I created this dish especially for Kelly because she is pescatarian. Our whole family loves this meal. It’s all on one plate; no side dishes required.

  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • 2 dashes Tabasco sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated ginger
  • 6 mandarin orange segments (from 15-ounce can listed below)
  • 2 large cloves garlic
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons diced red onion
  • 1 1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 6 6-ounce ahi tuna steaks, cut 1-inch thick
  • 4 to 6 cups baby arugula
  • 1 15-ounce can mandarin orange segments, drained (or fresh, in season)
  • Thin slices of red onion for garnish
  • Fried wonton strips (made from a package of wonton wrappers; see below)

For marinade/dressing: In a blender, add the first 8 ingredients and purée. With the blender running, pour the olive oil through the hole in the lid and blend until smooth. Place tuna steaks in resealable plastic bag and add 3/4 cup of the marinade. Turn bag several times to coat well. Place in refrigerator 30 to 60 minutes. Save remainder of marinade to be used as the dressing. Put arugula in a bowl and drizzle with desired amount of dressing; toss together. Divide it among the dinner plates, and arrange mandarin orange segments (membranes removed, if fresh) (6 to 8 per plate) and a few thinly sliced red onions on top. Remove tuna from bag; throw away remaining marinade. Heat large non-stick grill pan or skillet until hot. Add tuna, searing over fairly high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes per side to desired rareness. (Should be red in center.) Remove to a cutting board and slice crosswise into half-inch (or so) strips. Place slices on plates. Drizzle a bit more dressing over tuna, if desired, and top with fried wonton strips. (You can buy fried wonton strips, but fresh-made ones are so easy and deliciously addictive.) Make them a day or so ahead, if possible, to save time. (Warning—don’t start eating them; there won’t be any left for your dinner.) To make wontons: Slice wonton wrappers into 1/4-inch strips and fry in medium-hot vegetable oil in a large skillet until browned and crispy. (Careful, they brown fast.) Drain on paper towels. Lightly salt.

Recipe from messyc00kblog.com

Flameless Bananas Foster


Flameless Bananas Foster

  • Servings: 2 to 3
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

I created this easy recipe because I never appreciated the pyrotechnics and drama of the restaurant version. Panicked calls to the fire department are not an issue because this involves gentle banana basting, not banana annihilation. It can be created in just a couple of minutes, and it’s decadent. A perfect ending to your dinner.

  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • A light sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Splash (about 2 tablespoons) of orange juice (or, if you wish, Grand Marnier)
  • 1 banana, sliced
  • Häagen-Dazs vanilla bean (or vanilla) ice cream

In a medium heavy skillet, stir together brown sugar, butter and cinnamon on medium high heat until it begins to bubble. Keep stirring. After 1 minute or less, add the orange juice and stir well until it boils again. Boil for 1 minute or less. Remove from heat and add sliced bananas, basting them briefly with the sauce. Serve immediately over ice cream in compotes or sauce dishes. (Don’t use cheap ice cream or else I might have a meltdown, you hear?)

I made the candy heart decorations by melting white chocolate chips and then adding a bit of red, oil-based food coloring. I loaded it into a disposable pastry bag fitted with a #3 round tip and piped each one free-hand onto waxed paper. After they set (an hour or two), I stored them in a plastic container until I was ready to use them.

Recipe from messycookblog.com

Last Bites

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was nauseous and tingling all over. I was either in love, or I had smallpox.—Woody Allen

Thank you for dropping by. Have a loving (and bacteria-and-virus-free) Valentine’s Day!

My next post will be on Friday, February 26.—Tracy Mullen



13 thoughts on “Loving and Loathing—A Fine Line

  1. Love that story! I’m sure I probably ate the rest of that lasagna after you and Bob left the house! I thought it was delicious! Mom always said I had a cast iron stomach! Your recipes are exquisite! Thanks for the inspiration. Imagine that – Kell is following in your footsteps!


  2. Love that “love sick” story. Makes me smile and remember some of those “early in our marriage” meals! Excited for the delicious sounding recipes. Happy Valentine’s Weekend!


  3. The lasagna story is one of my all time favorites!! Your cooking skills sure have come a long way, Trace! Thanks for the romantic recipes. Tom and I are spending our Valentine’s Day at home and I might just have to try your menu!! Can’t wait til your next blog!


  4. Absolutely loving your blog and can’t wait for the next one. I don’t even like ahi tuna but this recipe may fix that problem. It sounds amazing


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