An embarrassment

23 02 2010

When I’m cooking I talk like my favorite TV food personalities.  My top three are Padma Alton Brown, Mario Batali, and Gordon Ramsay.  So I’m one part food science, one part food history, and one part swearing.  This time it was mostly swearing.

I love soup.  Soup in the winter is an absolute must, and we tend to do it a lot.  Karen got me some soup cookbooks and we’d done a good bit of experimenting, but as is our habit we developed some favorites tended to stick with them.  One such dish is a cream of broccoli soup that even the kids like.  I’ve made it so much that I don’t even need the cookbook any more.  But this time I decided to make some changes to it.

My first change came when I asked myself “If this is a vegetable soup, why am I using chicken stock?”  Now, the answer to that question is simply that the recipe tells me to.  Also we found some very good store brand chicken stocks and we use them with great success.  But I wanted a vegetarian soup for some reason this week so I bought some store brand vegetable stock.  (It was College Inn, in case you were wondering.)

What I didn’t know was that Karen had a quart of homemade veggie stock in the freezer.

I knew I was in trouble the minute I started pouring the stock into the pot.  It seems that in making this stock they use some tomato trimmings or whatnot, giving the stock a red hue.  Doing some math in my head I came up with the following equation:

Red Vegetable Stock + Green Broccoli & Leeks = Brown Soup

I knew that the instant I put the stick blender in this soup I’d be witness to something very unappetizing.  And I wasn’t disappointed.

My next failure came when I went to add the dairy to the soup.  It is a cream soup after all, and the recipe calls for half and half.  And I had bought half and half especially for this soup.  Unfortunately I’d used it all up in my coffee that week.  So in went whole milk.

Yeah.  That’s what I said too.

I’m ashamed to say that I fed it to my kids and told them that it was the same as the nice green soup I usually make, except it’s brown and it’s still good.  They didn’t buy it.  It looked like swamp water and, what’s worse, it was gritty when you did try to eat it.  I still don’t know where all that grit came from; I washed those leeks thoroughly. I could only eat half a bowl, then I decided to strain the rest and “fix” it.  That only made it worse.  After straining it looked more vile than before.  You should be glad I didn’t take any pictures; it would ruin your appetite for days.





Just an excuse to make Jambalaya

2 02 2010

I’ve never made Jambalaya before.  It looks very time consuming and labor intensive.  So that was probably why I wanted to see New Orleans in the Super Bowl.

Two years running I’ve successfully picked the Super Bowl winners using only my cooking as the deciding factor.  Don’t believe me?  Fine.  Go read THIS and THIS then come back to me.  Here’s how it works.  I pick a dish indicative of one of the participating cities and make it.  So far, they’ve been (in my estimation) fairly ambitious meals that I’d never made before.  If the dish is awesome, they win.  If it fails miserably they lose.  The goings on during the preparation directly reflect the flow of the game.  In the end we eat and see who has a big parade on Tuesday.  Bored yet?  Let’s get to it.

This year pits the Saints and the Colts.  So OF COURSE I chose Jambalaya.  How creative.  I will be playing the part of current Saints’ star quarterback and former Chargers “washed up” quarterback (remember that, ESPN?), Drew Brees.  My predictions for the game will be in bold, followed by a brief description of how things went in the kitchen.

OFF WEEK:  The Saints adopt an aggressive game plan.
I searched high and low for all kinds of recipes and in the end picked this one from Emeril.  No thanks to the Food Network, whose web search feature seemed to have been broken last week.  I chose it because of the duck.  Yes, I was enticed by the idea of cooking duck in with everything else because I figured it wasn’t enough work all by itself.  Karen wasn’t sure I could pull it off.  I don’t blame her.

SUPER BOWL WEEK: The Saints arrive in Miami and make a change to their offensive attack.
I live in central PA and andouille sausage is not something I can just go and buy.  Well, I can, but it’s frozen and mass produced.  On the other hand, the local butcher shop has homemade spicy Italian sausage.  No brainer.  I know it’s not authentic; I don’t care.

GAME TIME!  FIRST QUARTER: Drew Brees leaves the game and the Saints get behind early.
See, I was up very late the  night before painting the living room, so Karen suggested I take a nap with the baby.  I did and it pushed dinner back considerably.

FIRST QUARTER: Reggie Bush keeps the Saints within reach.
Why Reggie Bush?  Because he’s the superstar game changer who has mad skills.  In our kitchen this is Karen.  While I napped she did all the prep work.  Go look at that recipe and see how much there is.  She cut up the duck, prepped the peppers, onions, celery, garlic, sausage, and cleaned the kitchen.  Sounds like a punt return for a touchdown to me.

SECOND QUARTER: Brees gets back in the game and the Saints slowly start making progress.
I finally got out of bed and started cleaning the shrimp.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how much was already done.   It went very slowly.

SECOND QUARTER: The Saints’ stars score two quick touchdowns.
Dare I say they heat up?  Yes, in goes the duck to brown, followed by the sausage.

The kitchen smells great and the smoke alarm goes off.  There was still a good bit of fat on the duck so I actually drained a little before browning the sausage.  Then the onions, peppers, and celery join the sausage and I’m surrounded by the aroma of sizzling goodness.

HALFTIME: This part is painful.
Yes, the halftime show this year is The Who.  Maybe their walkers will be on stage with them?  No one learned their lessons from the Stones’ halftime show a few years ago or Springsteen last year.  Oh well.  In the kitchen the painful part was filling the pot with chicken stock and cooking the duck for an hour.  Waiting is so hard, but as Alton says “Your patience will be rewarded.”

THIRD QUARTER: The Saints shred the Colts’ defense and take the lead.
Actually this is the part where you shred the duck meat and cook the rice for 10 minutes.   It’s my blog, let me pick the metaphors okay?  Things are shaping up for a very exciting finish.

FOURTH QUARTER: The Colts take the field to tie the game.  All the Saints’ offense can do is watch and hope everything works out.
This is where it gets scary.  The recipe says to return the duck to the pot, add the shrimp, bring to a simmer, cover, and remove from the heat.  Do not open the lid for 15 minutes.   Karen starts to worry that the rice won’t cook.  But I remember Bobby Flay’s jambalaya throwdown and that guy did the same thing.  So I had faith.

FOURTH QUARTER: The Colts tie the game, sending it to overtime.
Now, you would say that this is bad for the Saints, but I say no.  Overtime would cement this as the greatest Super Bowl ever (except for every Super Bowl won by the Steelers).  So, that being said, I opened the lid and tested the rice.  Everything was cooked perfectly.

OVERTIME: The Saints get the ball and score a touchdown almost immediately.  Reggie Bush is named the MVP.
This is where Emeril tells me to add salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste.  I just added a bit of cayenne, and it was AWESOME.   A bit soupy, and we’ll probably use a cup less stock next time, but wow.

Now, why overtime?  It was 9:00pm, that’s why.  A little late for dinner, but it was a winner nonetheless.  And why a touchdown?  Because for the second time in my life Karen didn’t have to add any extra pepper sauce.  That’s my culinary yardstick folks.  And btw, had it not been for Karen doing all the prep work it would have been an epic failure; we’d have eaten dinner at midnight I’m sure.  So she gets the MVP for this one.

So there you have it.  Saints win 36-30 in overtime and Mardi Gras arrives a little early this year.  What about you?  Who ya got?