[Now, doesn't that dish just scream, "SPRING!"?]
Your hubby calls with the fabulous news that he’s been given a promotion (in this economy!), and to seal the deal, his boss has asked both of you to join him and his lovely wife for dinner. “Nonsense!” you reply. “Why not invite them over here, as a thank-you? I’ll cook dinner.”
Or perhaps you’re shopping at Whole Foods when your eyes meet across the leafy greens. One look at his raven hair and chiseled chin and you’re smitten. He approaches shyly and mutters, “I’m sorry, I don’t usually do this, but you are so pretty I just had to ask you out to dinner.” You counter with a smile, “Well, actually, why don’t I ask you–in? I’d love to cook dinner for you.”**
Or maybe your best friend from childhood is coming to town and wants to meet you to catch up on old times. She’s staying at the Hilton and invites you for drinks. “No, no, please come to my place for dinner instead!” you insist. “After all this time, you deserve a good home cooked meal!”
Well, dear reader, whatever the occasion that prompts you to cook for someone else, I have one small piece of advice: now is not the time to try out a new recipe.
There are a few simple rules of dating. One: Don’t discuss previous relationships. Two: have two pairs of shoes by the door, so you can choose the high heels or the flats, depending on how tall your beau turns out to be. Three: never order spaghetti on a first date. Four: the first time you cook for someone, never, EVER try out a recipe you haven’t made before.
I’m sure we’ve all had this happen at least once–we acquire a new cookbook and are immediately besotted with one of the recipes. We just have to try it out, we decide on the spot. Following the instructions verbatim–even reproducing the gestures of the hand model in the photos–we weave through the various steps exactly as written. We time it with NASA-worthy precision, then throw open the oven door to find–utter catastrophe! The result resembles a molecule-mixup from a seriously malfunctioning Star Trek replicator: misshapen, gnarly, perhaps, or charred beyond all resemblance to a foodstuff. Or perhaps the dish looks the same as the photo in the cookbook, but one nibble reveals a taste like curdled milk served over rancid eggs.
I’ve had my share of kitchen disasters, believe me. Over the years, I’ve learned always to create a trial run of any new recipe the week before I’m actually going to serve it (given that we’re only two people in our house, this has resulted in many a strange meal when I’m testing dishes for a crowd). But I learned my lesson years ago. When I was still trapped sleepwalking ensconced in my starter marriage, I decided to go all out and roast a turkey for my in-laws at Christmas (I was still eating meat in those days). Well, even back then, I was no expert at turkey, having never made one before.
I pulled out my trusty copy of Joy of Cooking (the original, not that dreadful new edition that came out in 2006 ) and followed the instructions to a “T.” In order to prevent the turkey from drying out, the book suggests draping a clean kitchen towel over it, then basting directly over the towel. No problem; I didn’t even mind ruining a tea towel in honor of my in-laws.
No, the towel didn’t catch fire. And no, I didn’t overcook the turkey, or serve it raw. In fact, the meat itself was cooked to perfection; once I could bring myself to cut into it, the flesh was tender and moist. There was one wee problem, however. You see, the book didn’t stipulate that you should use a white kitchen towel. I was a relatively new cook–what did I know?? All we had were towels that matched our then-decor, blue and green check.
Towels. Entirely covered in little checks, alternating bright blue and vibrant, Martian green.
Yep, you guessed it.
Oh, and by the way–did you know that kitchen towel dyes are not colorfast when you baste them with turkey grease?
Needless to say (and thankfully!), no one was brave enough to consume bluish-green meat. We ordered Swiss Chalet and made do with my tried-and-true side dishes.
When I think of kitchen disasters, I also remember my old friend Bill. Bill was a social butterfly who loved to throw dinner parties, and I was regularly a lucky recipient of one of those coveted invitations. He was, generally, a great cook, and everyone relished his parties, both for the food and for his lively, witty, often hilarious sense of humor. We often pretended we were cohorts at the Algonquin Round Table (pretty audacious, I know–especially since I was appointed the Dorothy of the group), slinging puns and sarcastic quips at each other all evening over martinis (affording me the opportunity to paraphrase one of my favorite Benchley lines one rainy night: “Let’s get out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini.”).
So. . . . when Bill decided to attempt Pad Thai for the first time at a dinner party, no one blinked an eye.
Ooops. Rice noodles, as we now know, don’t cook up the same way as regular pasta. After bobbing and boiling for 10 full minutes, Bill’s Pad Thai noodles were more like barely set Jello. Undaunted, he threw together the veggies and sauce for the dish, and combined them with the noodle goo. Everyone ate in respectful silence, masticating tiny mouthfuls of sweet pink mush. Not too many quips that evening, I’ll tell you (I think our tongues were stuck to the roofs of our mouths).
I’ve never tried my hand at authentic Pad Thai, but this recipe, a raw version, is one I made at a living foods cooking class with my friend Caroline Dupont several years ago. The dish was created by Jennifer Italiano, owner of Live Organic Café here in Toronto. It’s one of the best raw Pad Thai recipes I’ve found–peppery with an abundance of fresh ginger and garlic, bathed in a thick, creamy sauce and boasting a mosaic of crisp, colorful veggies. I used to make the “noodles” with a spiral slicer (which extrudes long threads of zucchini resembling spaghetti), but I now prefer to simply use a carrot peeler to generate long, thin strips that better imitate rice noodles. (And they never turn to mush).
If you’re not fond of raw foods dishes, I think you’ll still enjoy this. The HH remarked that it would be a great side salad with any Asian-inspired dish. Nevertheless, he ate an entire plate, no main course required. It’s also a great base for a light dinner, and a wonderful dish to serve guests–but just not the first time they come over.
“Mum, you really shouldn’t have thrown away that turkey. We would have been happy to eat it–especially since we’re color blind!”
Raw “Pad Thai”
adapted from an original by Jennifer Italiano via Caroline Dupont
Refreshing and not too filling, this dish offers up an impressive array of veggies in a sweet and spicy Asian-inspired sauce.
2 medium zucchinis, washed and ends trimmed
1 large carrot, washed and ends trimmed
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/2 each red and yellow pepper, thinly sliced [I didn't have peppers, so used broccoli instead]
1 cup (240 ml) slivered red or white cabbage
1 green apple, julienned
3/4 cup (180 ml) finely chopped cauliflower
3 Tbsp (45 ml) grated or shredded coconut
3 Tbsp (45 ml) pure maple syrup or agave nectar
juice of one lemon (about 2-3 Tbsp or 30-45 ml)
2 small cloves garlic, minced
4 dry unsweetened dates, soaked in room temperature water for 2 hours*
1/4 cup (60 ml) tamari or soy sauce
1 inch (5 cm) piece of ginger, peeled and minced
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) salt, or less, to taste
1/4 tsp (1 ml) cayenne
1/2 cup (120 ml) natural almond butter
up to 1/2 cup (120 ml) water, to thin the sauce
To create the “noodles,” simply peel the zucchini lengthwise with a carrot peeler, rotating it as you go, to create long, thin strips that can serve as your “rice noodles.” Arrange these on a large platter.
Repeat the motion with the carrot to create long strips, or simpy grate it if you prefer. Place the carrot, onion, peppers, cabbage, apple and cauliflower in a large bowl.
In a blender, combine all sauce ingredients and 2 Tbsp (30 ml) to 1/4 cup (60 ml) of the water. Blend to combine, then test thickness. If the sauce is too thick, add more water, a little at a time, until desired consistency is reached. (I like the sauce very thick, as the natural moisture in the veggies is always drawn out and thins it out more than you’d expect).
Pour the sauce over the vegetables in the bowl and toss to combine well. Spoon the veggie mixture over the zucchini “noodles,” then sprinkle with the coconut. (If you’re taking photos, do it now.) Toss, then serve immediately. Makes 4 large servings. Will keep, covered in the refrigerator, up to 2 days.
Anti-Candida Variation: Omit maple syrup, dates, and apple. Use 5-10 drops of stevia in place of the syrup and dates in the sauce, and replace the tamari with Bragg’s aminos. Still yummy!
**Think it’s a fantasy? I happen to know someone to whom this happened. . . well, the first few sentences, anyway!
Last year at this time: Soy (and Sugar) Free Vegan Whipped Cream
© 2009 Diet, Dessert and Dogs