Posts Tagged With: cake

gluten-free experiments – strawberry coffee cake, crustless carrot quiche

Y’all, I’m in the middle of something really incredible.

It’s called the Red Clay Writing Project, which is part of a larger program called the National Writing Project.

The Red Clay Summer Institute, which I’m about halfway through right now, is sort of like a writing camp for teachers. We meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day for three and a half weeks in June, and during that time we….

  • write
  • talk about writing
  • read about writing
  • write about writing
  • share our writing
  • read and listen to others’ writing
  • reflect on how we can build safe writing communities in our classrooms
  • explore why it’s important for us to share our voices and for our students to share theirs
  • discuss ways we can support our colleagues as teachers of writing

And that’s just the short list. This thing is intense, overwhelming, and absolutely amazing.

I’ll share more about my experience in Red Clay once it’s over, but for now, I want to talk about food.

Since we meet from 8:30am until 4:00pm every day, we are together at breakfast time and lunchtime, and so one of the things that we do is take turns bringing food each morning to share with the group. Of course, this is right up my alley. 🙂

I was originally planning to revisit some of my favorite muffin recipes until I learned that two folks have a gluten intolerance–which makes whole wheat muffins a not-so-inclusive choice for sharing. And I really wanted to make foods that everyone could enjoy.

Thus began my research into gluten-free baking, from which I learned that there are all sorts of interesting flours (rice flour, teff flour, chickpea flour, amaranth flour) that gluten-free eaters deal with when they want to bake, not to mention the xanthan gum and guar gum that often contribute to creating a pleasing texture in GF baked goods. I don’t keep any of these items in my pantry, which just made finding workable recipes more a of a challenge.

I also follow several awesome gluten-free blogs, a couple of which I nominated for some blogging awards a couple of days ago–but I still struggled to find a recipe that I was really excited about making in large quantities for this particular purpose (and that didn’t require all those fringe flours).

Honestly, I got pretty frustrated. There are so many phenomenal web resources for gluten-free eaters, but it’s really freaking hard to find recipes on these sites that contain normal pantry ingredients.

All I wanted to do was figure out how to make a gluten-free coffee cake without making a trip to the store, and it just wasn’t happening.

Then came the “Aha!” moment.

Cornmeal is gluten-free. So is almond flour–and although my cupboards contained no almond flour or almond meal, I did have a tub of raw almonds that I could whir around in the food processor.

So I revised my search terms, removed the word gluten-free from my vocabulary, and looked instead for a recipe that included the words cornmeal, almond, and cake.

Jackpot!

Simple Bites offered a recipe for Lemon, Cornmeal, and Almond Cake, which, of course, I made completely differently than they suggested based on what I had in my kitchen. My version was different in that….

  • I doubled it to fit in my Bundt pan instead of a single 9″ cake pan (better for sharing with 20+ folks).
  • I didn’t include lemon juice or zest (we didn’t have any).
  • I used a different proportion of cornmeal to almond meal (there were only 8 ounces of almonds in the cupboard, so when I doubled the recipe, I didn’t have enough to also double the amount of almonds, but I did have extra cornmeal).
  • I added strawberries (just because).
  • I did a few steps slightly out of sequence (just because).

Not surprisingly, my version ended up looking a lot different from theirs, too:

very pretty Simple Bites cake on the left, my funky cake on the right

I wasn’t happy about how this cake turned out, especially since much of the top of the cake (plus gobs of melted butter) stayed in my Bundt pan when I turned it out onto a plate. The final product was also much sweeter, denser, and richer than I was going for–more like dessert than breakfast. In fact, I was kind of embarrassed to bring it in. (Did you happen to read my ramblings about vision the other day? Well, let me tell you–this cake didn’t achieve the vision I’d anticipated at all.)

But, surprisingly enough, it was quite well-received by my fellow Red Clay participants, several of whom asked for the recipe.

So, here it is. 🙂

What’s in it:

  • 8 ounces raw almonds OR 8 ounces almond flour/meal
  • 1-1/3 cups cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 pound (4 sticks) butter, softened
  • 1-1/2 cups sugar
  • 6 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 pint strawberries, cut into 1/4″ pieces

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 325°F and grease a 10″ Bundt pan.
  • Mix your dry ingredients:
    • If your almonds are whole, toss them in the food processor with the cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Pulse until the mixture takes on a coarse, sandy-looking texture. (Don’t go for too long, or your almond meal might become almond butter!)
    • If you already have almond meal or flour, whisk it together with the brown sugar, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt.
  • In a separate bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to cream the butter and sugar together until they’re light and fluffy.
  • Beat in the vanilla, then the eggs–one at a time, making sure each one is incorporated before you add the next one.
  • Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix just until combined. (My mixture was pretty thick.)
  • Fold in the strawberries.
  • Pour the batter into your Bundt pan and bake for 60-70 minutes.
  • Allow the cake to cool for at least 10 minutes in the pan before turning out onto a plate or cooling rack.

If you make this recipe, please let me know in the comments how it turns out for you! I would especially like to know whether or not your final product is swimming in a pool of butter at the end of the process.

(If I make this cake again, I’ll reduce both the butter and sugar by at least one fourth in the hopes that it will be less of a disaster. :))

one more, just because

Since I brought in something sweet last week, I decided for this week’s gluten-free adventure to take a savory path. Having made some mini quiches for Dave and Kim‘s shower last weekend (post about that coming soon!), I had little eggy pies on my mind. But even the crustless quiche recipes I’d found still called for a little bit of flour to be whisked in with the eggs for a little more structure, so I had to do a little more searching.

Again, cornmeal came to my rescue when I found this recipe for Crustless Carrot Quiches from Better Homes and Gardens. Well, actually, I found an adapted version of it that, for some reason, called for more eggs.

Again, I both doubled and changed the recipe, because that’s just what I do.

And, again, I kind of wish I had been able to adhere to the original ingredients and instructions, because I wasn’t in love with the results.

kinda cute, but not Better Homes and Gardens cute….

These weren’t terrible. Some people even told me they liked them. But I didn’t. The flavor was pretty good, but the texture was way off: kind of grainy (maybe from the cornbread?) and not as creamy as good quiche ought to be (maybe too much egg and not enough other liquid like milk/cream/yogurt?). I don’t know. I might make some variation on these again, but I wouldn’t follow either of the two recipes I linked to above. (Of course, please feel free to follow the links and the recipes if you’re so inclined.)

I wouldn’t follow my own version again, either, but I’m posting it anyway because one person asked me for it! (So, maybe, these weren’t as bad as I thought they were…?

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, shredded (about 3 cups)
  • 9 eggs, beaten
  • 2/3 cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon salt (but I thought it needed a bit more)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar (the original recipes called for more–this would’ve helped!)
Step-by-step:
  • Preheat your oven to 325°F. Grease two 12-cup regular muffin pans (or you could do a whole bunch of mini-muffins and cook for a shorter amount of time).
  • Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and onion and saute until translucent.
  • Add the carrots and cook for about 2 more minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients. (At this point, I’d probably throw in a healthy dollop of Greek yogurt for some added creaminess, plus more cheese than I used.)
  • Add the carrot mixture to the egg mixture and stir to combine.
  • Divide the mixture among your 24 muffin cups–this will be about 2-3 tablespoons per cup.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until set.
  • Allow to cool in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then remove the quiches to a wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

Next week, my group brings food on Monday and then on Friday, so I’ll have two more gluten-free experiments to tell you about soon. Hopefully, they’ll go better than my first two. 🙂

In the meantime…

that’s me on the bottom right…

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Jessica’s Bridal Shower!

My beautiful best friend, Jessica, and her man, Brent.

My mom says I’m the only person she knows who would blindly try out new recipes for my best friend’s bridal shower.

Mom also said I was the only person she knew who would attack her own wedding dress with scissors and a needle to make last-minute adjustments the week before the big day.

Apparently, I’ve got a thing for high-stakes wedding roulette. And the odds, so far, have been ever in my favor, as both my dress and the food for Jessica’s shower turned out pretty darn good.

My goal in altering my wedding dress was to pare down the extravagance. Originally, the gorgeous gown had boasted a glamorous, but cumbersome, cathedral train. Our wedding was much too informal for this fanciness, so I gathered up the dress and gauzy overlay, snipped off a boatload of extra fabric, and created my own permanent bustle to make the train a short sweep instead.

Not perfectly professional-looking, but pretty (and much easier to dance in).

Planning the food for Jessica was kind of the same. Her one request for the shower (not to mention for the wedding in the mountains this weekend) was a batch of my pimiento cheese, which she loves, so of course I had to oblige. 🙂

And once I knew I was making that Southern staple, the tone was set for the rest of the menu. My goal was to serve the kinds of things you’d expect to see at a rural Georgia wedding shower, but with some unexpected twists here and there. I didn’t want to be snooty or pretentious, so I tried to keep it simple.

The shower spread, in my lovely mother's lovely kitchen.

The menu:

* * * * *

French onion dip from scratch? But everyone knows that French onion dip is made with a tub of sour cream and a packet of Lipton’s soup mix!

The thing is, I don’t keep either of those things around my house…and I kind of wanted to tackle the challenge of creating this processed potluck party item using real ingredients. A web search provided several recipes to use as models, and my finished dip most closely followed this one from The Craving Chronicles.

Check out my mom's fancy-schmancy chip bowl! And my cute labels.

What’s in it:

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 large onions, finely chopped (I used one yellow and one red)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1-1/2 to 2 cups fat-free Greek yogurt

Step-by-step:

  • Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the onions, garlic, and salt, and cook until the onions are nice and golden brown.
  • Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Worcestershire sauce.
  • Allow the onion mixture to cool.
  • Stir the onion mixture into the Greek yogurt and refrigerate until you are ready to serve. (I think keeping mine in the fridge overnight really helped the flavors mesh!)
  • Serve with some thick, ridged potato chips (perfect for picking up chunky dip without breaking).
  • Yield: about 2-1/2 to 3 cups

The verdict: Wow! I enjoy the sour cream + powdered Lipton variety, too, and this wasn’t quite the same (as at least one of Jessica’s family members pointed out), but the flavor was rich, salty, creamy, and tangy, just as I hoped it would be.

* * * * *

Another made-from-a-mix store-bought staple is the sausage ball, traditionally made with breakfast sausage, Bisquik, and cheese. I had some yummy, spicy sausage in the freezer from Moonshine Meats, but Bisquik is another convenience item that I’m too stubborn to keep around. You can make your own Bisquik, but I ran out of flour after making the biscuits and the cake (recipes coming up shortly!). So, I decided to basically follow this recipe, but substitute cornmeal for the flour.

Sausage balls!

What’s in it:

  • 1-1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup butter or bacon/sausage grease (I had leftover sausage grease in the fridge, so that’s what I used)
  • 1 pound spicy breakfast sausage
  • 4 ounces shredded sharp white cheddar

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray with cooking spray).
  • Whisk together the cornmeal, brown sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.
  • Use a pastry blender, fork, or food processor to incorporate the butter/grease until your mixture looks coarse and kind of crumbly.
  • Mix in the sausage and shredded cheddar. (You’ll probably need to use your fingers!)
  • Pull off 1″ round balls of dough, roll between your palms, and place on the baking pan in a single layer.
  • Bake for about 15-20 minutes or until your sausage balls are nicely browned.
  • Yield: about 4 dozen

The verdict: These were super spicy, but delicious! I didn’t miss the Bisquik flavor at all and got a lot of compliments, especially from my mom and Jessica’s Granny Cilla. (And if Granny Cilla’s happy, everyone’s happy! :)) You could easily cut down the spice by using mild or medium sausage instead of hot.

Bonus: Using cornmeal instead of flour made these almost taste like a hush puppy, one of my very favorite Southern sides.

* * * * *

Now y’all know how much I love biscuits, right? Well, I knew that regular-sized biscuits wouldn’t be the right size for a finger-food afternoon shower, but I have a cute little 1-1/2″ round cookie cutter that I thought might make perfect bite-sized mini biscuits.

Aww, look at the little baby biscuits!

And when I found a biscuit recipe on Ezra Pound Cake that also included toasted pecans, I knew I had to make them. Of course, since I don’t keep sour cream around (which seems to be a common problem in this post), I made some substitutions.

What’s in it:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup toasted pecans
  • 5 tablespoons cold butter, cubed
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Step-by-step:

  • Preheat your oven to 425°F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. (Sounds a lot like the beginning of the sausage balls, huh?)
  • Put the flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, brown sugar, and toasted pecans in the bowl of your food processor and pulse once or twice to combine.
  • Add the butter and process until your mixture is coarse and crumbly. (Deja vu all over again….)
  • Add the buttermilk and process just until your dough comes together.
  • Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and gently pat down to a 1/2″ thickness.
  • Cut out with a biscuit cutter, a lightly floured drinking glass, or, in this case, a cute little cookie cutter.
  • Arrange biscuits on your baking sheet. Sides touching if you want them soft around the edges, space between if you want crispier edges.
  • Lightly press together dough scraps to cut the rest of your biscuits out.
  • Bake for 12-15 minutes or until biscuits are light golden brown.
  • Serve with butter, jam, or cheese.
  • Yield: about 3 dozen

The verdict: These little biscuits were adorable and tasty! I served them with FROG jam (fig, raspberry, orange, ginger) at the shower, but Micah and I discovered the next morning that the leftovers were also delicious with butter (because, let’s face it, what isn’t delicious with butter?) and with pimiento cheese.

* * * * *

Of course, a bridal shower isn’t complete without cake. And I really, truly thought about ordering a cake from one of Athens’ own excellent local bakeries. But, glutton for culinary punishment that I am, I decided I had to bake dessert from scratch instead. The recipe had four basic parts: yellow cake, strawberries, pastry cream, and whipped cream. On my way to the shower, I felt pretty confident that the cake would taste good…but I worried a lot about it falling apart. Fortunately, it managed to (mostly) stay together, at least until we cut into it.

See the spare tire around the middle? That's pastry cream and strawberries, just waiting to burst out the seams. A delicious disaster!

For the cake: I followed Crummb’s recipe for The Ultimate Butter Cake, which I doubled to make two 9-inch layers. I also substituted buttermilk for half of the milk in the recipe because I had some that needed using. The resulting cake was just as moist, buttery, and delicious as I hoped it would be!

For the berry filling: I washed, hulled, and sliced about 2 pints of fresh strawberries, sprinkled a little sugar on them, and let them sit for about 30-45 minutes. This got them nice and sweet and juicy.

For the pastry cream: I used a fantastic recipe from Sauce Boss, subbing extra vanilla extract for the balsamic vinegar and throwing in an extra egg yolk for added body.

For the icing: I made vanilla whipped cream by whipping 2 cups heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, and a splash of vanilla extract until it was nice and stiff.

All of the components can be made a day ahead, though you might have to re-whip your whipped cream if it sits too long, and you have to make sure you press some plastic wrap into your pastry cream or it’ll form a yucky skin on top.

To assemble:

  • Make sure all of your finished components are cold! This will keep your pastry cream and whipped cream from running too much and making a drippy mess (which would taste fine, but won’t look too pretty).
  • Start with one 9″ cake layer. Poke lots of holes in it with a fork or skewer. Why? You’ll see…
  • Pipe a ring of pastry cream around the edge of the cake. This will help keep your strawberries from sliding out.
  • Add a generous layer of the macerated strawberries, reserving a few for decorating the top of the cake. Pour all those yummy strawberry juices over the strawberries. The holes you poked a minute ago will soak up all this deliciousness quite nicely.
  • Top the strawberries with a layer of pastry cream.
  • Add your other cake layer and smooth a little more pastry cream around the seam, just to help hold things in a little better.
  • Frost the cake with the whipped cream and decorate with more strawberries.
  • Yield: one very tall, gooey, delicious cake!

The verdict: this cake took a lot of steps, but the finished product was both beautiful and tasty! The combination of the buttery cake, rich pastry cream, sweet strawberries, and fluffy whipped cream was pretty much perfect. The only downside was that once I started cutting the cake, it pretty well fell apart, mostly because my middle layer was too thick and slippery. If When I make this cake again, I might split each layer into two (for a total of four layers) so that I can fill it with several thin layers of pastry cream and strawberries instead of one thick one. Otherwise, I wouldn’t change a thing!

* * * * *

Jessica has been my best friend since 5th grade–it’ll be 21 years in August!–and I love her dearly. She was the maid of honor at my wedding back in 2009…

Eric, me, Micah, and Jessica
July 18, 2009

…and I feel so fortunate to be matron of honor at her wedding in just a few days!

Just like with my last-minute alterations, the menu I made for Jessica’s shower wasn’t quite perfect, and if I could do it over again, I might make a few minor changes. But while my cooking is far from professional, with plenty of technical imperfections, the most important thing to me was to pour my heart into making delicious food for someone I love.

Categories: people, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

date-night dinner – 3.11.12 – a series of unfortunate events

It all started harmlessly enough.

“Let’s defrost that salmon. It’s been in the freezer a while,” suggested Micah. I love seafood, but although wild-caught salmon is one of the healthiest proteins you can eat, it’s not something we can afford to buy all the time. We’d ordered this particular salmon fillet through our amazing online farmer’s market, Athens Locally Grown (though it was actually caught by a dude in Alaska named Doug), and it really was on the verge of earning a loitering citation from the freezer police.

Plus, it was date night. Usually, Friday night is date night, and we cook a fancier-than-on-weeknights meal (or sometimes eat out), splurge on some wine (since I rarely imbibe during the school week), and catch a movie or visit a local late-night spot for music and drinks. That Friday, we’d gone to a local Mexican joint for dinner with Micah’s family, and that Saturday, we’d somehow managed to visit the second location of the very same local Mexican joint for dinner with my family. So Sunday became date night, which worked just fine for me since I’m on spring break this week. And for date night, we needed something delicious.

Back to that beautiful, pink hunk of fish. Originally, we thought we might try a salmon recipe from one of our very favorite cookbooks, Hugh Acheson’s A New Turn in the South:

image from indiebound.com

The author of this fantastic cookbook is one of our neighbors, his kids attend my school, and his restaurants are some of my favorites I’ve ever visited, ever. We knew this recipe for salmon with marinated vegetables would be scrumptious…if we ‘d had the right ingredients. Which we didn’t. Not even any passable substitutes. So, we did what I pretty much always do when following a recipe won’t work. We improvised.

What we DID have in the fridge: parsnips, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, a LOT of carrots, a bag of clementines.

We decided to sear the salmon per Hugh’s instructions and make the lemony salmoriglio sauce from the book (subbing clementine zest for the lemon, ’cause that’s what we had).

But, instead of marinating all those vegetables we didn’t have, we were going to roast and mash the parsnips (which we’d never cooked before), saute the Brussels sprouts and mushrooms in some olive oil, and enjoy all those yummy, earthy flavors with a nice Pinot Noir.

Finally, since date-night dinners often involve dessert, I decided to thin out the overabundant carrot population of our produce bin by grating some of those Vitamin A-bombs into a cake and frosting it with something clementine-y.

Simple enough, right? Meat and two simply-prepared veggies, cake with frosting. Except, somehow, (almost) everything went horribly wrong.

Micah worked on the sauce and chopped parsnips for roasting while I started on carrot cake (which I very loosely based on this recipe). Thinking that it would cook more quickly (and be cuter) as cupcakes, I split my batter into muffin cups and put that pan in the oven so I could start on the frosting.

Cream cheese frosting is the perfect match for carrot cake, but alas, we didn’t have cream cheese (and rarely do). But these folks suggested making a similarly tangy-sweet confection from Greek yogurt, which we always keep around. So I loaded the bowl of my stand mixer with Greek yogurt, powdered sugar, vanilla extract, and some clementine zest. My frosting was coming together nicely and turning a lovely shade of orange, but it was still a little thin, so I added some more powdered sugar. Instead of making my icing thicker, though, this somehow made it thinner, more like a glaze. It was much too flimsy to spread on cupcakes (why hadn’t I just made a cake, anyway?), so I decided to reduce it a little. Gotta think on your feet when you’re improvising, right?

I got my Greek yogurt frosting/glaze thickened to a spreadable consistency around the time that my cupcakes were ready to pull from the oven. They were beautiful and smelled delicious. But (why is there always a but?), as soon as I tried to get one out of the pan, I could tell they weren’t done yet. Back into the pan, back into the oven. The tops of the cupcakes, once pretty little rounded mounds, fell and wrinkled. At least I could cover them with frosting, and at least (I hoped) they would taste good.

Ten minutes later, those cupcakes were still raw in the middle. “I’m giving these stupid things five more minutes, and then I’m calling it,” I grumped at Micah, and he agreed that this was probably a good idea. Five minutes later…well, they weren’t done, and I muttered some words that aren’t so polite.

In a hangry (hungry + angry) rage, I scooped all those ugly, smooshy cupcakes into a pie pan, mashed them together with some of my gooey clementine stuff to hopefully keep the resulting dessert from being too dry, and stuffed that on-the-fly mess of a cake back into the oven for the fourth and final time.

Meanwhile, we checked the parsnips, which theoretically were roasting in the other oven. Except that instead of becoming crispy-edged, soft-centered, caramelized nuggets of sweet-and-starchy goodness like any respectable roasted vegetable, these babies dried out and shriveled up like a chain-smoking grandma. Still hangry, I scraped those dessicated veggie bits into a saucepan on the back burner, dumped in some milk to rehydrate them, and started them a-simmering.

Now that the cake and parsnip disasters were as averted as we could hope for, it was time to turn our attention to our salmon, Brussels sprouts, and mushrooms. Micah had gotten everything cut and ready while I was battling the cake, thank goodness.

Micah was in charge of the fish because, well, meat is usually his job. He oiled up our biggest skillet and started heating it to sear the fillets. Those poor slabs of fish were goners as soon as they hit that hot pan. Despite Micah’s best efforts, they stuck. Bad. Turning them a few minutes later proved to be nearly impossible, and the second side stuck, too. This salmon might turn out to be delicious (please, oh, please! let it be delicious!), but it was ugly as sin.

While Micah fought with that sticky fish, I pulled my cake-like-concoction out of the oven, discovered it had miraculously not stuck to my pie pan, but was a bit concerned when it turned out onto the plate in one big, rubbery disc. I crossed my fingers that smearing it with the rest of the clementine frosting might be enough to make it edible, then turned my attention to the vegetables.

The parsnips had undergone an impressive transformation, swelling with milky tenderness, and I tackled them with my hand blender, bent on making this part of dinner not a disaster. One press of the “blend” button sent scalding hot milk and parsnip bits onto my forearm, which immediately reddened (and hurt like hell). More choice words. A big splash of cold milk into the pot. Another push of the button, and this time no mashed veggie shrapnel–just the smooth whir of blender blades as those stubborn parsnips finally accepted their fate. But, since they were now cold, I put them back on the back burner to reheat, and I crossed my tired fingers.

One side dish down, one to go. We heated some olive oil in a skillet and added the Brussels sprouts. They made a delightful sizzle when they hit the hot oil, and we sauteed them with their cut sides down to get those little baby cabbages nice and brown. Mushrooms were added, everything turned a beautiful color, salt and pepper were sprinkled, and this pan of veggies was done. Yep, sprouts-‘n’ shrooms, you guys got one measly little paragraph of this tale because you were kind enough to cooperate.

Time to cross our fingers and plate. Stubborn mashed parsnips, then scarred salmon, then those obliging Brussels sprouts and mushrooms, finally a big drizzle of lemony sauce:

Prettier than we expected, but we still hadn’t tasted it. If this dinner sucked, we had endured two hours of pain and suffering for nothing. It might be enough to make me cry.

Micah lit some candles, poured the wine, and tried for all the world to act like we hadn’t just suffered through kitchen hell. We carefully filled our forks with a little bit of everything and took a bite. Chewing thoughtfully, Micah raised an eyebrow at me. Swallowing just as thoughtfully, he raised his glass. “Good dinner,” he said.

I had to agree. It was good. The salmon was rich and fatty, as it should be. The veggies were earthy and rustic, as planned. The citrusy salmoriglio sauce brightened every bite. The Pinot was not a perfect match, but it definitely worked.

We ate every bite on our plates, drank up every drop from our glasses.

It was time for dessert. I spread the frosting on the cake, then cut it into wedges and prayed for a miracle.

It was okay. The texture of the cake was weird and dense and chewy, and the frosting was perhaps a tad too sweet. Still, the flavors were delicious. Not a total failure, but certainly not a success.

Sometimes, I feel really confident as a cook. A meal will come together exactly as planned, we’ll groan in pleasure with every bite, and we’ll leave the table pleasantly full and still musing on just how damn good that meal just was. Then, there are nights like this one, when I’m not sure if I’m cooking or fighting to the death in the Hunger Games. But ultimately, despite all the drama, this story was less tragedy and more comedy of errors, with everything (sort of) working out.

In the end, nights like this remind me that I’ve still got a lot to learn in the kitchen. That’s probably a good thing. 🙂

Categories: musings, recipes | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

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