Saturday, January 29, 2011


I'd like to have photos to show you but I have to master my camera and its intricacies first.

I go through one of these "spasms" from time to time.  I love reading about food, watching t.v. food shows, imagining all the recipes I could concoct or at least master. 

Well, as SWMBO pointed out tonight at the dinner table, cooking is mastered (or at least made competent) by doing it every day, for days and weeks and months at a time.  I have in the past taken on some recipe that was way beyond my talents, gotten frustrated by the results and said some version of "I'll never cook again!"

But then, at some point in the future, having watched Bobby Flay or Mario Batali or the sexy Cat Cora easily polish off a wonderful gourmet dish . . or having read some fabulous recipe in a magazine or a cookbook . . . the juices get stirring again. 

I have recently taken a look at one book in our (SWMBO says) "massive" cookbook collection.  It is "James McNair's Favorites" and I have fallen in love with the kitchen again.  This time I've decided to take it from the beginning, trying some of his simple recipes from the very front of the book, then working my way forward.  Thus I came to his second recipe - "Oven-Puffed Pancakes", which he says also are known as "Dutch babies".  They're very simple and my first attempt was successful.  I used the "standard" lemon juice and powdered sugar on them, then tried some "out of the bottle" pancake syrup.  They were o.k.  Today, I made them again, for SWMBO and I.  This time, I filled the cavity with a heated and sweetened blueberry syrup which was in the refrigerator and topped them with a bit of powdered sugar.  We both loved them.

Well, what can encourage a fledgling in the kitchen except success, right?  So this afternoon I tried one of Mark Bittmann's recipes for red pepper puree.  Again, success. 

And that led, of course, to something more complicated.  Chicken saltimbocca, which I've made before, and fettucini alfredo, which I've also made before. 

First was a salad and I found, to my despair, that the refrigerator held only a quarter of a dessicated head of iceberg lettuce for the greens.  Oh, there was some bok choy but I think that's for cooking and some romaine hearts, but I usually just tear one of those leaves off, dip it in some ranch dressing and munch it along with Friday night pizza.  So I experimented, chopping up what remained of the iceberg, adding some chopped radishes, green onions and orange peppers.  As I told SWMBO at the table, I guessed it what is called these days "a chopped salad."  It wasn't bad.

Then on to the entree.  I had some trouble with the chicken.  Ended up with one fairly large piece, one slightly smaller piece and a couple of little pieces.  The prosciutto may have come out of the refrigerator too soon as it tended to shred, rather than peel off nicely in a slice.  Then the basil leaves were smaller than I had expected so instead of two per piece of chicken, there were four or so and fastening them and the prosciutto with toothpicks became somewhat of a problem.  But I got it done, after a fashion.  (Kind of looked like a Civil War soldier sutured up on the battlefield by some guy whose previous experience was as a blacksmith.)

Then there was the pasta.  Damn!  One of my front burners just doesn't put out enough heat so I struggled getting the fettucini to a fair resemblance of al dente.  Then I (as I usually do) undercalculated the amount of alfredo sauce.  So, the pasta was a little tough and a little dry.

But. . . wonder of it all . . . the saltimbocca was wonderful.

So I am a moderate success.  And, as SWMBO was good to point out (as she cowered in the other room), I neither screamed in agony during the process nor yelled the F word once.

Tomorrow morning . . . McNair's lemon souffle pancakes.


Tom Cochrun said...

so much for starting off simply! and you might want to look for an ove glove...boy are they great.

Lucy said...

Still not on to pigeon yet then? Mind you I'm not sure eating Dutch babies is too nice...

Steve said...

A post that has me heading for the frig. I keep it simple, but you seem to be one hell of a cook.

Jerry said...

Ah -- a man with patience in the kitchen. I am beginning to think that patience is the primary ingredient for a good cook.

You are tackling some difficult recipes -- and seem to be doing so with imagination and verve. When are you inviting me over for dinner?

Catalyst said...

Tom - I think we have one but it's out by the barbecue.

Lucy - No thanks on the pigeon (or mourning doves) but you'd like Dutch babies!

Steve - I'm far from that. My ambition frequently outweighs my ability.

Jerry - Patience and a wife who is an excellent cook. My cooking does try her patience, though.