Saturday, September 22, 2007

Mike's going away dinner, preparations

Mike was in town for a very short while before heading out West, and I proposed having everyone over to see him off.

I'd promised that I would make a vegetarian dinner for him at some point and this was the last chance I could see for a while, so I gave it a go. Nicole helped by making a fresh salad and Dave brought the wine.

Preparing the dinner was sort of difficult to pull off midweek, so there was some extra planning involved. We had to schedule things out about 2 days in advance although things still sort of fell apart and got hectic at the last minute.

Also, our vegetarian cooking skills are in early development. This was the first intentionally vegetarian meal we'd cooked for more than 2 people. Mabel and I had a "discussion" about whether or not there should be beans. Overall, we learned a lot.

Anyway, for the past couple weeks I'd been thinking about coming up with a vegetarian version of Boeuf Bourguignon using browned shitake mushrooms to compensate for lack of meat juices in the sauce and using portobello mushrooms instead of the beef. I'm pretty comfortable making regular Boeuf Bourguignon, but I was worried about the portobello mushrooms. I don't really know how to cook them, and when I tried experimenting with them last week, it didn't work out so well. Well, I figured that I could use our friends as beta testers for my next attempt, and if I got lucky it might turn out fine.

On Monday, I go to the Upper West Side Fairway for the bulk of the groceries. At the apartment I experiment with the portobellos and learn that they give off tons of water. But that's about all I learn.

I try to roast 7 large red bell peppers in the oven, whole. Doesn't work, so I put them in a large brown bag to steam them. No go. So I roast them directly over a gas burner (I decide that using my blowtorch would have been too slow). But the skin still won't come off easily. So I put them in another brown paper bag to steam them some more. When I pick up the bag to move to the cutting board, the bottom, predictably, falls out and they're on the floor. After washing them off the skin still won't come off even though, as I learn later, getting the skin off isn't essential. So I cut them into pieces, lay them on a sheet pan and roast them that way. I come back and they are burnt. I decide that Mabel is infinitely better at this and I beg her to do this for me tomorrow.

While this goes on I make the red wine sauce.

For some reason I decide to pick this week to restart my breadmaking and try to actually develop my own sponge. So I bake a loaf of bread as well.

On Tuesday when I get back from lab, Mabel has already done some shopping on her own at Chelsea Market and is cooking the night's dinner and making dessert for Wednesday. She is roasting the red peppers and is doing a much better job than I did the previous night until she burns them too. Something there is that doesn't love a roasted pepper. We eat dinner and she goes to bed in a crummy mood.

I make the sauce for the creme fraiche pesto that Mabel made for me the previous week. I braise pearl onions and saute button mushrooms for the red wine and portobello dish. And I "grill" whole portobellos in a cast iron skillet. For some reason I do not salt the portobellos. This is a fatal error.

At 2 AM I am drying pasta.

I don't know what's wrong with me. I feel a normal person would just buy fresh pasta, but I have a compulsion to make fresh pasta, in particular, from scratch anytime I can.

On Wednesday, I leave lab a little early with Priscilla's help and stop by Fairway to pick up bottled roasted red peppers and ingredients for a chickpea dish.

I don't really get back to the apartment early enough to prep the Brussels sprouts and eggplant without rushing. I figure there's probably too many different kinds of food and want to get rid of the eggplant, but Mabel really wants it. I want to keep the Brussels sprouts because I figure Mike is never going to Momofuku Ssam Bar (they are hostile towards vegetarians). Mabel helps out a lot by making a Patricia Wells chickpea dish at the last minute. Nicole brings a great fresh salad. And Dave brings two bottles of red Burgundy. The only casualty is the control panel of our oven. It gets splattered by oil when I deep fry the Brussels sprouts.

Who would have thought that could happen? I thought the whole purpose of having that backsplash was so that you don't melt the wall. What's the point if you end up melting the oven computer instead?

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