Sunday, June 21, 2009

Alice Waters, watch your back!

Family and friends from near and far have been calling and e-mailing wondering how Friday night's dinner went.

Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, but a couple of people have asked, so in service to efficiency, I figured I'd post the full report here.

The short answer to the question "how did it go?" is: great.

If you're interested in more details, read on...

First off, let me say "yay!" I did it. I really did it. I cooked a full meal, poached salmon with cucumbers cream and mint and sauteed grated zucchini with herbs -- without burning either the food or myself. And the food was good, even Avo thought so.

Thankfully, my friend Blair was standing by to answer my questions or I might have given up early on.

The first smart thing I did before beginning to cook was turn on the TV so the kids wouldn't bother me. In theory, I'd love to cook with my kids. But given that it was Friday afternoon after a long week and they were nearing meltdown (and so was I), TV was the only reasonable option.

I had no problem with the first steps:

1. Rinse the salmon, pat it dry, refrigerate
2. Get out pantry items (I substituted Kosher salt for sea salt)
3. Get out tools (I never thought of a skillet as a tool!)
4. Assemble the ingredients (although I always get my herbs mixed up)
5. Open the wine and chill it (and since it's open, you might as well take a sip or two).

Things got tricky once I began to prep. The web site I was following, notakeout, instructed me to "grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater." Amazingly, I was able to locate a box grater, but I couldn't figure out how to use it. Was I supposed to peel the zucchini? Luckily, Blair helped me situate myself so I was able to use the grater (although I think I contracted tennis elbow!).

Blair's advice: "Next time, use a Cuisinart with a grating attachment."

We went to our back garden to pluck the mint and the basil. I got quite a kick using ingredients we grew ourselves. Wouldn't Alice Waters be impressed?!

When it came time to seed the cucumbers, Blair handed me a spoon and said "You do it. Seeding a cucumber is something one needs to experience." I tried it and it was -- fun! It was so satisfying watching those cucumber seeds fly into the sink and knowing I was responsible.

Meanwhile, Blair scoured the pantry looking for measuring cups, but no luck. Finally, I found them on a top shelf.

"I knew we had them because I've seen Avo use them before," I said.

By this time, Blair and I were drenched in sweat.

"Why are we so hot?" I asked.

"Um, the oven is on." Apparently, we had forgotten to turn it off after baking brownies.

One thing I learned is that poaching is really easy. I basically just flopped the salmon into the water and remembered to flip it after 3 1/2 minutes.

Ruby helped to set the table and we all scrambled to clean up in time for Avo to return home from his 2nd day of work at the new job.

We timed everything so that the meal would be ready at 7:30. Luckily, Avo arrived just in time for us to sit down at the table.

"Surprise!" the girls yelled as he walked in the door.

Avo was indeed surprised to find a gourmet meal waiting for him -- and was especially happy when I handed him a glass of the Sauvignon Blanc.

The meal turned out perfectly -- except for the brownies, which were too flat and gooey (even after I let them bake for 7 minutes longer than the 20 minutes the recipe specified).

"It's interesting that of all of the things you made, the brownie is the one that didn't work since it's the easiest," said Blair. "Luckily, it's chocolate, so it still tastes good."

I loved using notakeout as a guide, except I had one big problem with their recipes. They listed some ingredients by weight: 4 ounces unsalted butter and 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate for the brownies.

So we had to turn to wiki answers to determine that 4 ounces of butter = one stick. The equation didn't work for chocolate chips, so Blair spread them on a plate and eyeballed it.

Maybe that's why the brownies were so mushy. We'll just have to try making them again sometime soon! I'm sure the kids won't mind.


Dori said...

Tee hee...sometimes I really do forget just how remedial your understanding of cooking truly is. When we talked about weight instead of cup/spoon, I didn't realize you were talking about butter! It says on the stick's wrapper that it's 4 oz! Similarly, I think the brownie recipe was suggesting that you use 4 oz from a bar of chocolate, not chips. This, too, would've probably been clear by the total weight.

That said, I commend your efforts-it sounds like a delicious meal and, more importantly, the pride you (and the kids) felt for delivering such a lovely dinner to the table is a feeling I hope you'll remember as you continue on your path to cooking competency.

Undomesticated Me said...

For the record, Dori, I bought the fancy, homemade butter at the food coop that doesn't list the oz. equivalents on the wrapper. Also, the brownie recipe didn't say what kind of chocolate to buy. I bought chips, but perhaps a bar would have been wise (although then it takes longer to melt).
Slowly, but, surely, I'm learning.
Thanks for the encouragement!