All posts by pipik1199

Cooking with Mara 2

It was just the two of us last night.  Debbie had to go to California for a death in the family, but Mara and I didn’t take the easy way out (go out to dinner).  We crummy-cooked.

I’ve been longing to find out a good recipe for grilled vegetables, or, more correctly, a theory of grilled vegetables that would allow me to generate a number of good recipes.

As usual, I went to epicurious first, and came up with Grilled Vegetables with Mint Raita.  We’re big raita fans in our house, so it looked great.  You basically toss the vegetable chunks in oil and curry powder (well, garam masala, but I’ll be damned if I know the difference between those two), grill on skewers, and serve with mint raita.

We went out to the get the vegetables, and ended up getting some halibut as well (it looked the shiniest in the fish case).  There was a recipe in How to Cook Everything for “garlicky-lime fish filets” that sounded great and looked appropriate for the Crumster, so we made that as well.  We didn’t have any limes, and I wanted to go out and get some but Mara said lemons were fine and I shouldn’t be so obsessional about following the recipe.

It turned out pretty good, both dishes, although the raita tasted a bit metallic to me.  My analysis: I used fat-free Greek yogurt instead of fully-leaded whole milk yogurt like the recipe called for, so it ended up not being a great vehicle for the mint and curry powder (yes, curry powder in the raita too).  Kind of like putting skim milk in your coffee.  Doesn’t quite cut it.

Cooking with Mara

Mara came home for a few days.  She has transitioned from someone who vowed a few years ago that she would never cook into an accomplished cook with a variety of dishes.

What amazes Crummy Cook is that, unlike her dad, she doesn’t depend on recipes.  Or maybe she had made enough cousins of what we made last night – shrimp and vegetables in pasta – that she knew the ropes.

(I don’t use recipes for stir-fried dishes much; I’ve made a lot of them and know how the basic theory works.)

She had it so firmly in hand that I just made the salad, until I saw she was going to put the pasta into water that was not vigorously boiling.  Debbie and I jumped right on her case and insisted she get it to a rolling boil, and she wanted to know why.

Fortunately we were able to trot out our McGee and read her what the Maestro had to say: moisture needs to penetrate the outer part of the pasta but not the core…

Mara’s a skeptic: her response was, “How does he know that?”

The Grill

I spent Saturday cleaning the grill and then inaugurated to cook a favorite of every crummy cook: boneless chicken breasts.

I would like to think that, having cooked on grills for years, that I’ve mastered all kinds of techniques.  In fact I mainly do what my California friend Rob called “building the fire high enough to smelt iron” and then rapidly cooking the crap out of whatever goes on the grill.

Works well with fish and burgers, not so much with chicken breasts.  One ameliorating things was marinating the things first (basically a vinaigrette).  But they tasted like chicken breasts that had been smelted.

Next time, I promise, I’ll do something more nuanced on the grill.

Very crummy cook last night – but Blue Cheese Cole Slaw is a winner

So Debbie and I got home from work late, and she assumed I was going to crummy-cook and I forgot basically.

I put together Blue Cheese Cole Slaw from Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa owner-chef), thinking that because there was a container of blue cheese crumble in the back of the fridge that it was full of blue cheese, or at least enough for the recipe.

Wrong.  It was almost empty, so it was blue-cheese-less Blue Cheese Cole Slaw, leftover rigatoni and meatballs, and a Jamaican Beef Patty for Debbie, whose secret guilty pleasure they are.

I’ve got to say that the dressing for her cole slaw is pretty good even without the blue cheese (and I cut it 50% in terms of mayonnaise, using fat-free Greek yogurt instead), but I’m worried I’m just rationalizing what was basically a very crummy episode of Crummy Cook.

Curried Lentil and Spinach Soup

Once, again, Epicurious to the rescue.  Recipe here.

I’ve decided to take pictures of my food and post together with the glossy photos from the recipe (if available) so I can graphically depict my progress as a Crummy Cook (and hopefully force myself to pay more attention to appearance if it’s going to actually appear before my vast Internet audience).

For this recipe, Bon Appetit online didn’t have a pic, so it’s just mine.

IMG00007

Oddly tasteless, this soup.  I was expecting a big surge of curry flavor.  I didn’t salt it much, and I used water (as they said) instead of stock (which I probably should have).  I love beans, but they can get pretty drab if you don’t dress them up with something.

Thinking like a Cook

I’m starting to think more like a cook.

In the supermarket, I look at things and I think, “boy, I had something good with that pancetta, I should buy some and figure out something to make with it.”  Or, “didn’t I read about some jicama salad somewhere, maybe I should buy one of those tumor-looking things and do something with it.”

It’s a big shift in my attitude, and relatively quick (just since New Year’s).

Accountability

I think the only way I’m going to get better at this is to evaluate the results and figure out how to improve. I’ve got a multi-step approach here:

  1. Ask whoever eats the food what was good and what was bad
  2. Admit what was good and what was bad to myself
  3. Figure out why the bad was bad and why the good was good
  4. Make some hypothesis about how to fix the bad and clone the good
  5. Resolve to do them

Both Debbie and Val liked the pasta.  I thought it came out pretty well.  So there wasn’t really much bad at the end.  But a few observations:

  • I cooked the whole recipe, which was humongous.  Because it wouldn’t fit in any of our pans, I used an old stainless steel Dutch oven we’ve had for years, which was graduate-student stuff when we bought it.  It doesn’t handle heat well, so there are hot spots all over the bottom which burned during cooking (the recipe involved sauteeing all kinds of stuff).  Note to self: get a better pot
  • I was scrambling at the end to coordinate the stuff sauteeing in the pot and the pasta cooking in boiling water.  I miscalculated when the water would boil and had some (mildly) heart-stopping moments at the end when I was worried the sauteeing stuff was going to burn before the pasta would be ready.  It worked out, but the takeaway is: Never underestimate how long it takes a mass of water to come to a boil.

I guess that’s it for this week.

Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Anchovies, and Fried Croutons

I didn’t cook Friday this week because Debbie had some colleagues over for a work thing and I’m not ready.  Not so much not ready for cooking for others, but not ready for cooking for a big bunch.

Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Anchovies, and Fried Croutons(Tami, an old video partner of mine, had a gig for a while as head cook at a hospital.  She said you shouldn’t put a gallon of chili powder into a big batch of chili; it doesn’t scale up like the other ingredients.)

So I’m cooking tonight for Debbie and my cousin Val, who is visiting from out of town.

I couldn’t sleep this morning, picked up the new Bon Appetit that came in the mail and found this recipe for pasta with veggies.  It looked do-able, it looked not too heavy for nicer weather, it looked fail-safe.  I went for it.

Debbie sneered at it.  “Well, it looks kind of non-standard.”  She meant the croutons, which I explained to her – quoting from the article copy – was part of the rustic Puglian charm reflected in the dish.  She said, “well, I suppose you can make whatever you want.”

My writing buddy and dedicated foodie Josh came over later that morning.  I showed him the ingredients on the counter, and he said, “Oh, pretty good,” but then he picked up the one non-ingredient from this dish – a sack of red Bhutanese rice – and said, “this stuff is great.”  When I said it wasn’t part of what I was making, he sneered, too, although for different reasons than Debbie.  “It’s just throwing together some pasta,” he said.  “Why don’t you cook something that takes most of the day, that teaches you something?”

Why not, indeed.  I’ll work my way up to it.  The first element of success is showing up regularly; the rest follows in time.

The tomato and onion tart

First of all, thank God for Epicurious.  Mary – one of my scarily un-crummy cook friends – told me about them while teaching me how to make a souffle.  They are a searchable database for Gourmet and Bon Appetit recipes, where you can type in your ingredients-on-hand and see what they’ve got.  In this case, I had too much Gruyere cheese (from the souffle) and a tub of pitted olives I’d bought on a whim the previous week at Whole Foods.  I typed in “gruyere” and “olives” and, voila: the Tomato and Onion Tart.

Easy recipe, once I made the crucial simplifying assumption that I would buy rather than build the crust.  (Using pre-made stuff is no shame in the tech business: it’s called “buy vs. build” and it’s even a bit more chic to buy than to do it yourself”.)  Whole Food’s whole-wheat frozen pie crust was probably easier on my constitution than the Butter Pastry Dough they were going to have me prepare.  I can always make a dough in Year 2.

It went well.  Debbie – who had just come home off the road – liked it (and even ate a smidgen of seconds, a surer proof of approval than mere words).  For the first time since New Years, no criticism and self-criticism afterwards.  Life is sweet.

Why the Crummy Cook?

So, at age 59 I’ve decided to learn how to cook.

Not from scratch.  I’ve never been like my poor dad, who couldn’t even make a hamburger or boil an egg.  I know the basics.  I know a few dishes.

I decided as a New Year’s resolution to do it regularly, once a week at least.

And, since we live in the age where everyone wants to write and no one wants to read, I’ve got to blog about it, too.

Hopefully my accounts of flailing around with recipes, cutting boards, and flame will amuse some readership.  If so, please let me know.