Another two-dish meal

Mara, Debbie, and I ate at home on Friday, with Ellie as a guest.  Two dishes – both from Epicurious, need I say?

The Grilled Summer Vegetables with Harissa Dressing could be made in advance, so I grilled them in the midst of a Djibouti-like Washington DC summer day.  One goofup, which worked out okay: the “Harissa Dressing” is harissa powder whisked into oil and lemon juice basically.  I thought that some stuff called “Harissa” at Whole Foods was just the powder in oil.  Turns out – and, dummy me, I didn’t see it until after I had mixed it with lemon juice – that the major ingredient in the Whole Foods stuff is tomato.  Mara tasted it, however, and said it tasted like sun-ripened tomato and would be OK as a dressing.  So it was.

So I really only had to assemble the grilled veggies at meal time.  I guess this is my first experience plating.

The other dish, Shrimp and Pancetta on Polenta, was pretty tasty for how easy it was.  Just make some quick polenta (we do it in the microwave, per Debbie, with one part polenta to 4 parts water) and cook the other stuff in a pan.

Here’s what Ellie wrote the next day:

Thanks for the dinner.  I loved the shrimp, polenta dish.  I came home and read the crummy blog.  I gather that pancetta can be tricky.  Nice to visit . ellie

I guess that’ll do in lieu of criticism/self-criticism.

Caramel Fish Filets and Peas w Pancetta & Garlic

Back in form this week, I made two simultaneous involved dishes.  Well, maybe not that involved.  But involved enough.

Main dish was Caramel Fish Filets, from Mark Bittman.  Since he doesn’t publish his own recipes online, see fellow blogger Boots in the Oven for the recipe.

Basically you melt sugar until it caramelizes, put in a bunch of other stuff, and cook the fish in it.

The other dish was from my partner Harry, who is a serious Italian-authentic cook.  He recommended rendering some pancetta, browning garlic in it, and tossing it over peas.

OK.  Neither of these is daunting to our halfway-through-the-year Crummy Cook.  But together, they presented some complications.

I put in the pancetta first.  I was going to get it crispy, take it out, cook the garlic, toss it with the peas, and then reheat the peas right before Debbie and I ate.

But I got so bogged down with melting the sugar (sugar as in caramelizing scares the bejeezus out of me) that the pancetta burned.  I had these four disks of completely blackened pancetta, and not much time to decide what to do.  Fortunately I had more dry powder, so I put in four more disks and ate the evidence (the blackened ones, not too bad by my standards).

Everything settled down.  The fish turned out well – it’s sweet, sour, and fish-saucy, a even spicy (although next time I’ll use chili pepper instead of black pepper) – and the peas were decent (although I want to work next time on getting the pancetta more tender; it still didn’t work out completely right).

Debbie was pleased, and I let deeper criticism/self-criticism slide for the night.

No crum(b)s this weekend

Well, one thing followed another, and there’s no suitable meal for the Crummy Cook this weekend.

Friday I was coming back from a one-day trip to Atlanta, Debbie offered to cook and I didn’t say no.

Saturday we decided to try a hip Japanese in the “new” K St (I put “new” in quotes because it may only be new to the New York Times and us).  Great food, but not produced by me.

And tonight we’re going over to friends’.


Debbie and I cooked together Friday night, she just back from10 days on the road.

We had a boatload of veggies of different kinds, including the “stretch” eggplant, old cauliflower, a big zucchini (supposed to be less tender, per Debbie and others), a package of pre-sliced mushrooms.

So Debbie suggests we make ratatouille, which I look up in Mark Bittman.  He says it’s a pretty loosey-goosey dish, very tolerant of variations.  Debbie agrees.  This only redoubles my Monk-ish wish to exactly follow orders, so I follow Mark as closely as I can.  Unfortunately, I forget to put in tomatoes which, Debbie tells me afterward during criticism-and-self-criticism, is one of the anchor tenants of the dish’s flavor.  Oh well.  It was kind of bland, although the textures were pretty good.

She put in some crushed tomatoes from a open box, and we’ll try them this morning with scrambled eggs.

I Hate Garlic

Don’t get me wrong.  I love the taste of garlic.  But garlic as a food to be prepared?  Fugettaaboutdit.  The husk around the garlic cloves is gnarly and refractory.  I hit it and hit it with the heel of the knife, and it’s still hard to peel.  And then the garlic sticks to your fingers and your knife as you cut it.

I would take pre-minced garlic any day of the week.  But Debbie forbids it in our house.  Maybe she’s right.  But can someone please intervene with The Management to make garlic easier to work with?

All this because I had to chop up a couple of cloves of garlic for the Eggplant and garlic lettuce cups recipe I made from Epicurious.  (Our “stretch vegetable” for the week was an eggplant, and I bought a tub of pre-cut mushroom on an impulse in the Whole Foods.)

Solo Dinner

Mara’s back at school, at least for another month.  Debbie’s in New Orleans (where we had a very good but not great meal at Cuvee, a hotel-based restaurant in the Central Business District.

So last night I had no one to share my Crummy-ness with, and I cooked solo.  (Prior to this year I would have eaten leftovers, frozen food, or gone out.)

Mark Bitman has a good recipe-template for grilled shrimp, and I had some pesto sauce left over, so I just slathered some frozen shrimp in pesto sauce and grilled it under the broiler for 10 minutes (longer because it was frozen).

Mark called for peeled shrimp, but the frozen shrimp I had were unpeeled, so I cooked them unpeeled.  when it came time to peel them, I got the Cajun-style effect of getting the sauce all over my fingers as I peeled and thence over the shrimp.

A Caesar salad-style dish (+ almonds and red onion) on the side.

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.

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