Saturday, February 21, 2009

Accomplishment #28: Cook a Three-Course Dinner (#30)

I'm not really a cook. I mean yeah, I can boil spaghetti noodles and dump a jar of sauce in a pot and 40% of the time it tastes decent, and I make a mean tuna noodle casserole with potato chips crushed on top. I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan and never let you forget that it's your turn to do the dishes. Sundays we have tacos, and I can warm up the tortillas in the microwave. I've even cooked two turkeys, though I managed to set a kitchen towel on fire on one of those occasions and lots of screaming and crying (and drinking) ensued.

So yeah. Julia Child I'm not.

But I sort of long to be, just like how I wish I could knit and cobble my own shoes. My friends will talk about how they made these dinners from Epicurious or whatever, with exotic ingredients and paired with the perfect wine, and I'll be befuddled as I try to remember what I ate the night before. (Something my boyfriend or a restaurant cooked, most likely.) Or I'll get all proud if I made chicken and the inside was cooked all the way through.

My friend Mimi claims she doesn't understand how anyone can be scared of cooking, but I'm here to tell you: I am. Not scared necessarily, but let's just say I'm always pleased when after I do cook something, no one gets sick and dies. That, to me, is a culinary triumph. Also I will buy cookbooks and then see some weird ingredient that is supposed to make something uber-fancy and I think, "Seriously? Pineapple and mango chutney over chicken? Why???" and then I figure I have the palate of an eight-year-old. (Which is probably true.) Plus -- I have been told by all my boyfriends that I am a fairly lousy cook. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but those words got me a pass out of the kitchen. I still make dinner, sure, and sometimes have an accompanying salad, but never anything terribly fancy or memorable.

So for this Accomplishment, I decided to challenge myself. Sure, I could make a three course dinner: salad from a bag, tuna noodle casserole with potato chips crushed on top and a freezer-burned popsicle. But no! It would be a nice meal, a belated Valentine's Day Feast. And so I wouldn't cheat, I would take pictures to chronicle the whole ordeal. And I was going to LOOK IN A COOKBOOK and pick something that I had never made before. Like the scariest thing of all:

SEAFOOD. And not Chicken of the Sea, either.

Seafood I am definitely scared of. I don't know how to tell if it flakes easily, and I always just think of The Simpsons when Homer ate the poisonous blowfish while Lisa and Bart karaoke "Shaft." It would be just my luck that I would make fish and it would turn out to be a baaaaad mother. (Just talkin' 'bout Shaft!) But this time, I was going to conquer my fears, and Jon agreed to be The Royal Food Taster. So I poured over my dusty cookbooks and picked Spring Greens with Radishes, Blue Cheese and Toasted Walnuts with made from scratch dressing (no help from Paul Newman for this girl!) for the first course, and Asian Style Sea Bass for the second.

what it was supposed to look like. what it was supposed to look like.
What they were supposed to look like.

Oh geez.

So armed with a list of stuff I didn't have on hand (sea bass, sesame oil, fresh ginger, walnuts, a shallot and a frozen pizza if it all went to hell), I went to the grocery store and marched right up to the seafood counter. "One pound of sea bass, please," I told Seafood Counter Man, hoping I sounded like someone who cooks sea bass on a regular basis.

He laughed like I was an idiot. "Um, no way," he said. "We don't carry it. It's thirty bucks a pound!"

Leave it to me to ask for the most trop cher seafood ever. (I may have the palate of an eight-year-old, but a spoiled one.) "Okay," I said, thinking fast and hoping I didn't come off like a total moron. "Give me the scallops." (Which, by the way, weren't cheap either.)

Once home, I did the first thing I believe every chef should do: don an apron. (And even better if it has cat heads all over it.)

3 course dinner
OMG, does this apron make my butt look big?

And then I set to work on the third course, BROWNIES. Okay, they were from a box, but people, the box was 99 cents and there's a recession on. And I added THREE eggs to make them cake-like, which is trying something new. So there.

3 course dinner 3 course dinner
Mmmm... brownie goodness. And the cook always gets to lick the spoon.

And then, because it was belated Valentine's Day and we weren't going to be eating dinner in front of the TV watching DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I set the table all purty.

3 course dinner
But no, I didn't iron the tablecloth. There's only so much I can handle.

And then I prepped the asparagus for roasting in the oven when the brownies were finished baking, snapping off the ends, drizzling it with olive oil and Maine sea salt and pepper:

3 course dinner
Yes, I need a new cookie sheet.

And then on to the scallops. I washed them to get the grit off, and cut up 3 scallions. Then regarded the ginger. I was pleased to find a little stump that had come off a big piece that cost a penny and looked to be just the right amount I'd need. But it also looked like a thumb. Peeling a thumb is super creepy, but it was all good.

3 course dinner 3 course dinner
Thumb size is the perfect amount. Remember that.

Then I took a square of foil and added the scallops, the scallions, the ginger, a tablespoon of reduced sodium soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil, and sealed the tin foil in a package all tight.

3 course dinner
Shiny shiny

Meanwhile, I was boiling one inch of water in a skillet and as soon as it was bubbling, I plopped the packet in there and covered it, leaving it in there for 10 minutes. So I hurried and threw some instant rice on the stove (I know, but I don't have a rice cooker and it was ON SALE) which was perfectly timed, and started on the salad.

It was super easy -- 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice (I didn't have any lemon zest because lemons were a dollar -- pffft -- but there was supposed to be 1/2 teaspoon, oh well), and two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of mustard powder. Mix all those up then add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped shallot. Then I added the greens and the radishes and tossed, and PEOPLE, I TOASTED THE WALNUTS:

3 course dinner

And yes, I burned some because I got carried away chopping the damn shallot, but enough were salvageable. And then I added low fat blue cheese and VOILA:

3 course dinner
Okay, so it doesn't look like the cookbook, but it still looked GOOD.

By then, the timer was going off and everything was ready at once and I felt like a chicken without a head. I uncovered the scallops and poked at them, but I couldn't tell so I just put them back on for another five minutes to be on the safe side. (Our stove is old and wonky anyway, so we always have to do that.) So I took the asparagus out of the oven and put it in the special Russel Wright asparagus dish, and it was toasted and crispy, just how we like it:

3 course dinner
Mmmm, tasty. And it makes your pee smell, too!

I got the rice ready, and then it came time for the scallops! I took them out of their packet, and drizzled the sauce from the foil and another tablespoon of soy sauce over them (and a bit of the sauce on the rice):

3 course dinner
What DO scallops look like in nature, anyway????

Ta da!

3 course dinner
Not bad, if I say so myself.

And a little mood music:
3 course dinner
I'll swing along with Sinatra, no matter how many courses.

Then Jon came home -- perfect timing -- and my three-course dinner earned five stars. Jon even said that it was the best salad he had ever eaten. It was even better than SALAD IN A BAG!

3 course dinner 3 course dinner
3 course dinner 3 course dinner
Look Ma! No leftovers!

And the third course was good, too:

3 course dinner
cake-like brownie with low-fat French vanilla ice cream.

So I'm happy to report that not only was my three-course dinner delicious, no one got sick and died as a result of eating it. Which, in itself was an Accomplishment. But the biggest Accomplishment was that I conquered my fear and preconceived notions that I can't cook, because I can. Which, in a way, kind of sucks because now I'm going to have to do this more often.

Julia Child, eat your heart out.

Twenty-eight down, 69 to go.


Dr. Monkey Von Monkerstein said...

Way to go girl. That meal looked fantastic, as did your kicky apron!

Delinquent said...

This royal food taster says: The salad was amazing (six stars even though that's cheating) and everything else followed pretty closely. Overall it easily rated 5 stars. Nothing to be afraid of, you're a GREAT cook when you put your mind to it!

Dane said...

1) The picture of the brownies in the Pyrex? I HAVE THAT EXACT PYREX THINGY.

2) The entire meal sounds great! Looks good too!

3) Mmmm, tasty. And it makes your pee smell, too! HA!

4) You chose so well for the musical accompaniment.

5) The palate of an 8 year old? ME TOO.

gal4giants said...

nice job! seafood I am scared of cooking seafood, a bit jealous I am

Sparkleneely said...

Dr. Monkey -- it really was good! So good, in fact, that I made the salad again tonight. however, i did not don the apron.

Delinquent -- it was pretty great, wasn't it? lucky YOU!

Dane -- 1. Of course you do!!! Mine was my mom's. I love it.

2. It was quite delicious!

3. it's TRUE!!! Totally stinky!

4. I don't think it's a bad thing. Eight year olds are quite the connoisseurs.

Mosmamma -- trust me. if I can do it, you can, too!!!!

Andy said...

Way to think on yer feet with the scallops! Go girl. xoxoo

Diana Black said...

This post was a delight... Love the pics! (And no, the apron did not make your butt look big...But did it still fit after the feast?!)

In the first half of my life, I cooked all the time. Once or twice I even enjoyed it.

Now? I'm all about salads and dark chocolate. Oh, and the daily glass of Merlot for the anti-oxidants, of course.

Main point of this comment is...I found your blog through Tee and your title made me want to check it out.

I'll be back!


iLhan said...

oh my god!
I have that plate!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Karen! You did it! Sounds delicious! Yeah, when I read sea bass I snorted my coffee up my nose. $$!
And I told you it wasn't that big a deal. And the more you do it, the easier it gets. Coordinating everything to come out at the same time and having the time you need to attend to the little extras is what used to intimidate me too. It wasn't until I watched the cooks at the Royal that I got it. You got to have -as Anthony Bourdain sez- your mis en place- that is to say, simply this: prep everything ahead of time and plan accordingly, and it is dead simple! I'm proud of you! Cook on, you crazy bitch!

Sparkleneely said...

Andy -- you know me, always quick on the uptake. Pffft.

Diana -- thank you so much! And the great thing? the apron still fit... because here's a secret -- those recipes were from a WEIGHT WATCHERS cookbook. So they were all low fat and healthy. (Well, except the brownie. But I only ate a tiny bit.) And your blog is so much fun!

Sparkleneely said...

iLhan -- well, DUH, we bought our first Fiesta together! I don't have the peach anymore, though. And here I thought that you were going to say I was a lousy cook... I remember the first time I cooked for you, in the old studio on Jones St., and we sat at a milk crates because I didn't have a table. I don't remember what it was, but I'm sure it was terrible. That was the night there was a sniper on the roof and the landlord came to the door with his teacup chihuahua to yell at us about the melee with crazy Pierre... no wonder I can't remember what we ate. Pbbbbbt.

Sparkleneely said...

Mimi-- you were my inspiration! You always talk about your delicious dishes (and I know they're served in your delicious vintage dishes)and I decided to get in on that action. And though I doubt I will ever become a real chef, at least I'm a bit more willing to try. Thanks, lady!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

This is something I've never done, so I'm well impressed at your accomplishment! Try cleaning your cookie sheet with Easy-Off No Fume. That's my new-found way to clean off old baked-on stuff, though it may take several times to really make a difference. And I want your Sinatra record, so please send it right over. Found your blog through Black Olives - love it!

Sparkleneely said...

Thanks, Tikimama! And I'll have to try your Easy-Off recommendation. I just forget about it until it's time to bake again, and then think, UGH.

If I find another Sinatra Swings, I send it. This one is so good -- it's got his version of "I Never Knew," and I LOVE it.

And I love your blog, too! Yay!

Elizabeth said...

Yay for you! A three-course meal cooked in an adorable apron AND the food was yummy and healthy! Honey, come on over to mi casa!

BTW the fiesta-ware table setting was perfect and, did you know that fiesta ware is made not two hours from where I live. And there's a factory store. And they have a whole back room with amazingly cheap factory seconds! Just in case you ever mosey on out this way....

Anonymous said...

New here.:) Food looks great! What will you be whipping up next?

Kim @ The Girl Can't Help It said...

Sweet fancy moses, that looks de-LISH. I'm SO stealing that dinner idea!

PS. Part of my word verification dealie to post a comment (you know, the thing to prove I'm not a robot. Ha! Fail.) started with the word "fish". I'll take that as an official sign.

Sparkleneely said...

Elizabeth -- SHUT UP. if I lived two hours from Fiesta paradise, there wouldn't be room in my cabinets. Or closets. Or to walk anywhere. Just stacks and rainbows of Fiesta everywhere. dreamy! So that means I'll be right over so I can cook for you AND shop!

Hannah -- welcome and thank you!

Why, I'll be whipping up that frozen pizza next. It's someone else's turn to cook a gourmet meal for ME!

FERR -- admit it, you want to cook some Knudsen's "Best." Scallops in gelatin. YUM YUM YUM.

Stay tuned -- blog post dedicated to MY NEW KITTY WITH DEMONIC EYES coming soon!!! Thank you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Unknown said...

your dinner looks lovely!

If you need new cookie sheets the best (and best value) ones I have found are the Martha Stewart cookie sheets at Macy's.

Megan said...

I want an invite to the Sparkle house. I'm not kidding. I'll be up there sometime in the next couple months.

Be my Facebook friend!

Sparkleneely said...

Megan -- it's a date!!! YAY!!! I'll start planning your three course dinner now!!!!

Hermanasatana said...

I have total faith in your cooking talents, anyone that looks that good in an apron is a big winner in my book and I know you make mean jello mold too. KUDOS! You should try making fondue, it's so easy.

Ancient Egyptian Art said...

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