Thursday, January 13, 2011

I'd like to think I can cook.

But sometimes, it just doesn't turn out well.  And sometimes I suspect that I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to cooking.  However, in my little heart of hearts I want to be a good cook.  To whip up some tasty, and nutritious dinners on a whim.  So I read cookbooks and the occasional cooking magazine.  Right now I'm on a total America's Test Kitchen kick.  I picked up their book The Best Simple Recipes. (I'm not too crazy, I know I still need kitchen training wheels.)  America's Test Kitchen are also the people behind Cooks Illustrated and Cooks Country magazines.  I saw the January/February Issue of Cooks Illustrated at the store the other day and picked it up.

Over the Christmas break, when I went down to Arizona with my parents to visit the extended family, I read Best Simple Recipes book.  I also read the magazine.  And somewhere in there, two different recipes fused into one in my brain...  First up was Sausage and Tortellini Soup with Spinach from the Best Simple Recipes.  Second was Spaghetti al Limone from Cooks Illustrated.  And somewhere in there, the called for tortellini turned into gnocchi and the spaghetti got lost all together (along with the sausage).

After spending the day with Grandma, I set off to Target to get the ingredients I knew I needed.  First mistake, going with out a list.  I got the gnocchi, shredded parmesan cheese, a bag of frozen peas, and was very pleased with myself since I had everything else at home. Ha ha ha.

Now the peas need a bit of an explanation.  I was leary of dumping spinach into my pasta.  I'm not a big spinach fan.  I like the baby spinach, in moderation, in salads.  As soon as you heat that stuff up and wilt it down a bit, I have absolutely no interest in it.  I initially decided that broccoli florets would be a good substitution but I couldn't find a small enough bag that didn't contain cauliflower and squash too.  Cauliflower, fine.  Squash, no thanks.  So I got a small bag of peas.  I like peas, and hey, they're the same color as spinach and broccoli, so it's all good.

Home I come, through the start of a snow storm, unpack everything and get out The Best Simple Recipes, flip over to the soup, and hmmm.... I've forgotten, hot italian sausage, onion, cheese tortellini, and chicken broth.  Over to Cooks Illustrated and the spaghetti al limone and hmm... I've forgotten shallots, spaghetti noodles, lemons, and fresh basil.  Drat.  And where does the gnocchi come in!?!?  (I still haven't figure out where I got the idea for gnocchi...)  And it's snowing out there.  I'm not going back out to get the rest of the stuff I need for either recipe.  Looking over the recipes, I have more of the things for spaghetti al limone, or gnocchi al limone, so that is what I'll make.

Things went well for a while.  Boil the gnocchi, save out the pasta water, mix up the saved pasta water and heavy cream... And here's where things start to unravel.  I had a bit of cream left over from Christmas baking, and it was still good (yay!) but I had kept it in the door of the fridge.  So every time I opened and closed the door, the cream got a little shake, and a little more of a shake, and a little more of a shake... and "What the heck!?  There's a layer of butter on top of my cream!!"  I made a hole in the butter and poured out some of the cream and managed to do the reduction as instructed.

When I poured the gnocchi back into the pot, I realized that I had more sauce and not enough gnocchi!  I guess 1 pound of spaghetti cooks up bigger than 1 pound of gnocchi.  I carried on and added the olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, but had to go rummaging around my fridge to find my bottle of lemon juice.  And then my mind failed to preform math correctly.  All of my 1/4 cup measuring cups were dirty by now, so I grabbed a 1/3 cup measuring cup thinking "It's smaller" filled it up with lemon juice and then added a bit more into the pot to make up for the difference in size.  Dried basil, I had, so in it went, along with some called for pepper.  Stir, Stir, Stir.

 The sauce was still pretty thin, but I figured I'd better have a taste.  Holy Lemon, Batman!!!  Can you say pucker power?  I knew you could.  I stirred my pot, looking despondently at the sour mess I'd made.  I didn't want to throw it out, that was good food in there.  I wasn't sure if I could save it though...  There was still way too much sauce to pasta...  I grabbed my bag of frozen peas, opened it up and poured it in.  Now the sauce to stuff ratio was better, but still too lemony.  I stirred and though for a while.  I did remember that I had tuna in the pantry.  Lemon + Tuna? ... Well... you put lemon on fish, so why not?

Why not indeed.  I opened that can of tuna, drained it, and dumped into my pot.  A big pot of yellow and green...  Just like the Oregon school's colors.  Go Ducks.  Too bad they lost the other day...  I stirred the pot and thought for a few minutes.  I tasted the concoction...  Still a bit too lemony.  I eyed the rest of my butter/cream.  I poured the rest of the cream into the pot.  I stirred.  The sauce thickened.  It still smelled really lemony.  But I had given up.  Cooking had defeated me once more.

Dejected I scooped some more out into a bowl and added a bit of green salad to the side.  Heaven only knows how many calories are in this mess.  My count for the day was going so well.  Here is my dinner, Gnocchi al Limone with Green Peas and Tuna:

It's certainly not the most appetizing thing I've ever met.  But I knew I could come along and whine about my disaster as I ate.  And you want to know something odd?  The longer it sat as I wrote, the less intense the lemon flavor was.  By the end of the bowl (mostly peas, by the way) I was thinking that I wouldn't have any trouble eating up the rest of the pot.  It's not baaad, but it's certainly not something I think was the best thing I ever ate either.  Next time, I'll make a list... and measure correctly.


Astrid's dragon said...

I don't know which part I like the best - either when you figured out you had made butter or measuring the lemon juice!!! Looking forward to your next cooking lesson...

Kay said...

Thanks for the nice thoughts! I really do hope that I can manage to learn to be a better cook. There are so many cooking blogs out there that inspire me to try something different. Although I'm pretty sure Tuna, Lemon, Gnocchi was not what they (or I) had in mind.