Riffed by Dr. Geek
from an idea by Vitriol


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a culinary comedy of errors

Saturday turned out to be a small culinary comedy of errors. The occasion was a small 70th birthday dinner for B., Fiancee S.'s Godmother (who long time readers of this diary may remember from my description of St. Patrick's Day dinner last year.) Somehow, it all came out well in the end... but perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself.

I assigned myself three major tasks for the day when I got up Saturday morning. They were:

  1. clean the apartment,
  2. shop for the food needed to prepare dinner that we did not already have on hand, and
  3. prepare dinner.
Since Fiancee S. was going to be gone most of the day to deal with a number of personal appointments and personal errands, I was relying on her (and the electric dishwasher in our kitchen) to help with most of the clean up.

Our apartment was largely a mess. It took me about five hours to clean the kitchen (including mopping the floor), clear our dinner table, and deal with the large amount of clutter covering every flat surface in our living room. Thankfully, the carpet only required some "touch up" work with a vacuum cleaner. The apartment wasn't completely spotless at the end of this effort, but, I think it did pass muster for guests (even someone like B. who is "old school" -- her condo is always very clean when we visit). Thankfully, cleanup occurred more or less without incident.

The problems began when it came time to buy groceries. I planned the following menu for the evening:

steak au poivre (from a Julia Child recipe),
spaghetti alla carbonara,
grean beans, and
apple pie a la mode.

One of the things that I needed to create this bill of fare was the beef. But what cut to buy? I asked the fellow behind the counter, and he asked one of his older coworkers. Eventually, they decided to tell me to get a couple of New York Steaks (essentially a porterhouse without the bone, also known as the strip steak, the Delmonico steak, and the Kansas City strip steak) and cut them into halves. Now I thought that they meant cutting an 8"x3"x1" steak into two 4"x3"x1" medallions. When I ordered the steaks and turned my mind to other things however, the guy behind the counter decided to cut the steaks into two 8"x3"x0.5" strips. Cursing my lack of attentiveness, I got the steaks anyway, resolved to deal with them as best I could once I got home.

When I got home, I determined that I needed to make the pie first because it required time in the oven to bake and time out of the oven to cool. I purchased about half a dozen granny smith apples for the purpose. I was able to peel these in pretty short order and spray them with about a lemon's worth of fresh juice to keep them from turning brown.

The crust, however, turned into a complete catastrophe. I neglected to add enough water during my first attempt and ended up with something more powder and crumb than actual pie dough. As time was growing near for Fiancee S. to return home with B. in tow, I found myself cursing liberally. After getting myself a "wee drop" of Balvenie Doublewood Single Malt to calm my nerves, I resolved to throw out the first attempt at crust and make another.

I use a recipe for pie dough from the cookbook that I got with my KitchenAid mixer. The recipe basically says to chill butter and shortening, add the aforementioned fats to sifted flour and salt, mix, add water until the resulting combination is wet enough to make a ball, and then chill the whole thing for 15 minutes. I took all sorts of ill-advised shortcuts the second time around: the butter and shortening spent about 5 minutes in the freezer, I added enough water until it looked right, and the dough only chilled in the refridgerator for about 5 minutes after it was made into a ball. This somehow ended up producing something a lot more like dough once I rolled it out between pieces of plastic-coated freezer paper.

I was able to assemble the pie just before Fiancee S. and B. got home. I managed to get the dough into the Pyrex pie plate. I then added generous amounts of sugar and flour by eye with a dash of cinnamon to the apples. I put the filling in the pie shell and then haphazardly combined butter, shortening, flour, and sugar to make a crumb top for the pie. The pie went into the oven about a minute or so before the front door opened. That in itself felt like a small victory.

The rest went a little more smoothly. I was able to make the pasta from scratch fairly quickly. I then used toothpicks to "reassemble" the New York strip steaks into something a little thicker. The beans were very simple; I just snapped off the ends and boiled them at about the right time.

In all, it came out pretty good. I think the steaks were a little tough, in part because the cut across the middle allowed valuable juices to leak out during the cooking process. They were definitely edible though. The pasta came out great, and B. commented more than once on how much she liked that. The beans were ok, but I think I let them cook a little too long. The pie was the real surpise, however. That somehow turned out to be the best apple pie I've ever made (I've made about 4 of them now). I hope I can recreate what I did someday.

In all, it turned out to be a pretty fine evening, and I think B. was reasonably pleased with my cooking skills. She commented to Fiancee S. that I seemed to be a "real keeper". She also told us and later told her daughter that she had a great time dining with us.

I started the dishwasher going, took a little time to watch part of the movie Desk Set on DVD. I then retired for some very much deserved rest.

said drgeek on 2004-05-17 at 3:05 p.m.


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