Making a great dinner

March 7, 2006

Last night I made a decent dinner. Decent may be an understatement, but I’ll let you decide. Wild sockeye salmon in garlic butter, sauteed mushrooms (also in garlic butter), asparagus, a baked red potato, diced tomatoes in a spicy vinaigrette, and accompanied by sourdough french bread and chai tea. It was actually to my benefit this time to have a small kitchen because I was cooking so fast that having pieces further apart would have given me more trouble. I even had my timing correct so that all of the dishes were ready at roughly the same time, and believe me, knowing when to start the water boiling so that it’ll be boiling 3 minutes before the salmon is done is as much an art as it is a science. The neat thing was that I was able to do all the prep work as I was cooking, so from start to finish was just about 15 minutes.

Sometimes quick dinners turn out very well. The other night I combined the two ingredients in my fridge that were not condiments. My cod and celery combination actually turned out to be a spectacular dish. Sometimes I make a horrible mistake; do not ruin salmon with barbeque sauce. But those are opportunities to learn.

If there’s one thing I learned from Iron Chef, it’s that ingredients are the building blocks with which gustatory art is created, and creativity and willingness to match ingredients, coupled with a foundation of knowledge about the indredient and what it can and cannot do, are an extremely important set of skills in cooking. I didn’t learn to cook from Iron Chef. Who uses white truffles or foie gras regularly anyway? No, their knowledge of exotic ingredients is useless to me. What I learned is how to use timing, how to use smells, how to think about the ingredients, and how to come up with creative solutions for new dishes.

As an inaugural post, that one was not very good. I apologize for the wanton recklessness with my thoughts, but frankly, I had just eaten and it was on my mind. To you, dear reader, I amend a second post as a token of my sympathy for having to endure a dismal beginning.

So I begin again it traditional blog fashion; with a complaint about the opposite sex.

I am not often one to be discouraged easily, and after my concerted efforts recently, I could hardly say that my discouragement was easily attained. In short, the club scene is frustrating. First example:

I’m dancing away in one of the Tri-Cities 3 clubs, and see a very attractive girl dancing. For a while I do some reconnaissance, casually watching for a guy, or some other indication of unavailability. After determining the coast clear with a slight possibility of boyfriend in the corner, and after establishing myself by clearing a circle and breakdancing to Michael Jackson, I make my approach. I smile, she smiles back. I say hi, she says hi back. I say “are you here with someone?” and she proceeds to take a dull spoon from her front pocket and carve a hole in my intestines with the reply “yeah, my husband. I’m married” I congratulate her and continue to dance for a bit, trying to maintain my cool before I slink off to nurse my wound. Off to a bad start indeed.

The next attempt seemed easier. A woman standing against the wall nursing a drink looks extremely miserable. I approach and say hi, making friendly chatter, asking questions, avoiding awkward silences. Out of nowhere, she says “Just so you know, my boyfriend’s standing over there.” Well that’s wonderful. Strike two.

The third time took place over the course of two weeks. On the first week, I was approached while dancing, which was nice. We danced close briefly, then I moved away and danced alone in a great flourish of stupidity. After realizing my mistake I made an effort to recover and may have even ended up better off because of the mistake. We danced a few times, and she was fun. The next week she was there again. I approached her and said “hi, we danced earlier.” “I just got here” she said. “No, last week. You were wearing a salmon shirt and we danced a few times.” “Oh, yeah! Bob, right?” Yes, this was a good sign. And then… “I can’t dance with you anymore. I’m engaged now!”

Sad stories, yes, but not without their morals. 1.) ALWAYS look for a ring. 2.) You will get turned down. Pick yourself back up and move on. 3.) Clubs might not really be the right place to meet people.

There, dear reader. I hope I have sated your thirst for personal information.

As I was making dinner tonight, I think I came across a marine biology discovery. Yes, it sounds odd, and your furrowed eyebrows are completely valid. Here’s what happened:

I was making pasta. Mostaccioli, to be exact. Essentially, it’s the same thing as penne, which is a fancy name for round-tube-pasta. This is an important detail. I got the water boiling, then poured my pasta in. I stirred it once or twice to make sure the pasta wasn’t going to stick on the bottom and burn. Then I left for a while. When I returned, the pasta were making an effort to align themselves vertically. They didn’t all express this alignment, but there were enough that one could easily notice a general trend. Perhaps this is not unusual of your round-tube-pastas like rigatone (they’re all round-tube-pastas, why can’t they all have the same name?), but it seemed odd to me.

Naturally I sought an explanation for this behavior. My first theory was that air bubbles sought to travel from the bottom of the pan to the top of the pan so the air bubbles would over time push the pasta into an arrangement that would facilitate the most efficient transfer. My second theory relied on the fact that the pasta were expanding and alignment was a way to optimize the space in a pot of limited size.

I think my first idea was best, though, and watching the little tubes wave about reminded me of a coral reef. Perhaps in reefs things align themselves according to flow of gas bubbles.

Perhaps I’m reading into it too much. Anyway, it was good, aligned or not.

Haystacks

February 13, 2006
  • 1 tbsp peanut butter
  • 3 oz chow mein noodles (just a bunch of noodles. you adjust the amount as you mix.)
  • 16oz package of butterscotch chips.

Melt and mix the pb and butterscotch chips on medium low heat. Remove from heat. Add a bunch of the noodles. adjust recipe to taste. Drop spoonfulls of haystacks onto a cookie sheet and cool. Try to make them bite size, which can be fairly difficult.

 

350* 20 minutes

  • Crust:
    • 1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 1/4 cup confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
  • Topping
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 cup granulated sugar
    • 1/2 tsp baking powder
    • 1/4 tsp salt
    • 2 tbsp lemon juice

Blend crust ingredients thoroughly. Press evenly in 8x8x2 square pan and bake for 20 minutes. Beat rest of ingredients together. Pour over crust and bake 20-25 minutes more. Do not overbake. The filling puffs during baking but flattens when cooled. When cooled, dust with confectioner’s sugar.

 

375* 8-10 minutes

  • Mix together
    • 2 1/4 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
    • 1 tsp baking soda
    • 1 tsp salt
  • In a separate bowl:
    • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar packed
    • 2 eggs
    • 1 tsp vanilla
    • 1 cup butter, softened
    • 1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
    • 2 cups (12 oz) semi-sweet chocolate chips

Mix gradually mix the two together and drop rounded spoonfulls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

 

Rice Crispy Treats

February 1, 2006
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 45 marshmallows
  • 5 1/2 cups rice crispy cereal.

In a large saucepan, over low heat, melt butter and marshmallows, stirring until melted. Remove from heat. Stir in rice crispy cereal. Using a buttered spatula, press mixture into a buttered 13×9 pan. cool.

 

Aunt Diana’s Pecan Pie

November 21, 2005

Diana Dunnington 11/2005

Preheat oven and bake at 300 F, 60 Minutes Place pie on center rack in oven

Combine:

  • 1 C dark brown C & H sugar (Don’t substitute sugar brands on this one. All other brands are white sugar with caramel added and change the flavor and consistency of the product)
  • 1C White corn syrup (Karo)
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp real vanilla

Beat:

  • 3 whole eggs until very-very frothy

Stir: all above together. (set aside ½ cup of mixture as reserve)

Add: 1 ½ C pecans and stir (I use pecan pieces and don’t chop them up.)

Pour filling into a 9” raw single pie shell (You can purchase the shell in the frozen section of most grocery stores, or use a cook book for instructions)

Bake 60 min. Watch to make sure the top does not get to brown. I like to dress the top with a few ½ pecans to make it look extra special.

Cool, then refrigerate. Be sure to refrigerate left overs.

**I reserve a 1/2C of the egg mixture before adding the nuts and filling the pie shell. If I find I have room for any of the reserve mixture I add it before cooking. If there isn’t room, I dump it.

 

Apple Streudel

November 20, 2005

350* in a 13x9x2 pan for 45-50 minutes

  • Pour bready mix into pan, then spoon apple mix over it. It’ll displace the bread mix, not make layers.
    • Make apple mix: melt in large sauce pan on medium heat for 15 minutes or until thick
      • 1/2 cup butter
      • 8 cups apples (about a 5 pound bag)
      • 1 1/4 cups sugar
      • 1/4 cup bisquick
      • 1 tsp cinnamon
      • 2 tsp nutmeg
      • 1 tbsp lemon
    • Make bready mix: blend in bowl and pour evenly into pan
      • 2 tsp vanilla
      • 3 1/3 cups bisquick
      • 1 14 cups sugar
      • 2 cups milk
  • Make sprinkle mix: easiest to pour in shot glass, cover with hand, and shake. Then sprinkle over filled pan
    • 2 tbsp sugar
    • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

 

350* until toothpick is clean (about 30-40 minutes)

  • Mix together
    • Mix together in one bowl
      • 3 1/2 cups flour
      • 1 tsp baking soda
      • 3 tsp baking powder
      • 1 1/2 tsp salt
      • 1 1/2 cups sugar
    • Mix together in separate bowl
      • 2 eggs
      • 2 cups bananas (about 4-6 bananas)
      • 1 cup milk

This makes a good banana bread. You can add walnuts if you have them. If the mix is too thin in the pan it’ll cook faster and get harder, so be careful.