Saturday, April 16, 2011

"An Unmitigated Flop!", Critics Howl

Holy Mother of God, what is that monstrosity in the baking dish and how did we get from lovingly written recipe to the unrecognizable mess sitting on the stovetop? I have no earthly idea. The Cookbook Challenge began with good intentions that somehow led us into some Bizarro World left field. Today certainly started off well and then began to feel increasingly wobbly as it went on and the evening's dinner went wonky...

The planned menu included a Greek salad made from the Panera Bread cookbook, Polenta Pie with Sausage from the Italian Slow and Savory cookbook and a strawberry pie made Shoney's- style from an Excelsior Springs Centennial Cookbook that Betty had given me. We kicked the day off in fine taste with a zesty Southwestern Scramble at Ginger Sue's in Liberty and then moved on to a shopping trip at the new ginormous HyVee nearby. This new HyVee's streamlined produce section is something to behold between the sushi counter and most impressive gourmet cheese corner. Soon, we returned home to the kitchen; rife with inspiration.

The Dark Cloud of Ineptitude started creeping in with the making of the Greek vinaigrette. I loved the Panera version and was looking forward to recreating it. I foolishly mixed all of the ingredients up without reading the portion of the recipe that said to combine all of the ingredients up EXCEPT the oil as it must be added slowly at the end to create an emulsion, or mix of two or more unblendable liquids. Despite an attempt to force the ingredients to co-mingle with the help of the food processor, they just weren't co-habitating peacefully. I left the dressing alone and already found my frustration starting to choke me. This was a boneheaded move...I've made vinaigrettes and I knew better. I was suddenly reminded of my dear friend Annette and a memory Keith and I share with her from our days of living together on St. Simons Island.

Annette was cooking dinner for us and I believe it was a Greek pasta dish of some type. The dish was removed hot from the oven and emanating heavenly aromas that had us salivating. We had plates in hand and starting moving towards the pasta when Annette took a taste and cried, "Oh, Hell, no!" and unceremoniously tossed the entire thing into the trash. Standing there, stunned, plates still in hand, we watched Miss Thing grab her purse, fix us with a look and inform us we were going out to eat at Bennie's Red Barn. Annette's grown far more chill over the years but at this moment, I was appreciating her quick and final solution.

I was ready to throw a full-out diva fit with my own cooking at that point and hurl my Greek dressing out the kitchen window. I might even follow it up by going full-bore Valley Of The Dolls; hanging out the window with liquor bottle in hand and shrieking, "You don't know me!!" at unfortunate passerby. Keith witnessed me having, what in reality was a far less dramatic moment and then, ever the voice of calm, drug me kicking and screaming back to reality. We made the strawberry pie and then moved on to the polenta pie called Smacafam. Smacafam is a hearty, rustic pizza or pie and is best used with a buckwheat polenta. We couldn't find this and the recipe said it would be fine with a regular cornmeal polenta. When we cooked the polenta in milk, it didn't seem to cook correctly; it didn't thicken or get "creamy and smooth". We still poured it into the baking dish and layered it with Italian sausage and topped it with the Fontina cheese. The result, after baking, was a dish filled with a soupy mess that didn't taste half-bad but really was a flop, as they say. Some of the ingredients, such as the Fontina cheese were a bit pricey, so we are not throwing it out. Joyce Goldstein is the author of the cookbook that featured this recipe and she's a revered cooking instructor of Italian fare. I'm sure we screwed it up but we followed the recipe very closely and I'm unsure of how we failed. We need to cook polenta again and figure out our mistakes.

Laughing at our ridiculously unproductive day, we realized we were not without success. Once the vinaigrette settled, it mingled with the Romaine, red onion and feta beautifully and our Greek salad was a success. The strawberry pie turned out quite well and was indeed strikingly reminiscent of one of my Mom's favorite out-to-eat treats: Shoney's strawberry pie. We made homemade whipped cream to top it off and realized with one last eye roll that we didn't put enough sugar in the whipped cream. For one last insult AND injury, Keith was nicked by the mandolin when cleaning it. Holy Kitchen Nightmares, Batman....let's put this day to bed.

The recipes follow....and these counted as CC# 46, 47 and 48.

Smacafam (Buckwheat-Polenta Pie With Sausage)
4 tablespoons lard or olive oil (we used olive oil)
2 yellow onions, sliced
1/2 pound sweet sausages with or without fennel
4 cups milk
1 1/2 cups of polenta taragna(with buckwheat) or cornmeal polenta
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 ounces Fontina cheese, finely shredded or sliced

Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 2 quart baking dish, an 8 by 11 gratin dish or 12 inch pie dish. In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. To cook the suasages, prick them with a fork and place them in a saute pan with water to a depth of 1/3 inch. place over medium heat and cook, turning once, until the water evaporates and the sausages start to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the sausages from the pan, remove the casings and cut into 1/2 inch thick slices.
Pour the milk into a saucepan, place over medium heat and heat just until small bubbles form on the edges. Stir in the polenta, then continue to stir until smooth and creamy, about 5 minutes. Add the onions to the polenta mixture and season with salt and pepper. Pour half of the polenta into the prepared baking dish into a smooth, even layer. Top with half of the sausage slices. pour in the remaining polenta and top with the Fontina cheese. Bake the pie until it is set and surface is golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes.

Panera Bread Greek Salad Dressing
Makes 2 cups

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons garlic, minced
2 teaspoons shallot, minced
2 teaspoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 teaspoons fresh basil (that Keith grew himself!), chopped
1 tablespoon Dijon or whole-grain mustard
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups extra-virgin olive oil

Combine all ingredients EXCEPT oil in a medium mixing bowl with a wire whisk. Once ingredients are combined, THEN slowly pour in the oil while whisking to form an emulsion.

Strawberry Pie (Shoney's-like!)

1 baked pie crust
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp. strawberry jello
3 or 4 drops of red food coloring
2 cups of sliced strawberries
3 tbsp. cornstarch
1 cup boiling water

Boil sugar, cornstarch, jello, water and food coloring until thick and clear. Place strawberries in pie crust. Pour cooled boiled mixture over them. Serve with whipped cream. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. This recipe is from Mrs. John Tyler in the Excelsior Centennial Cookbook and according to her, this is the Shoney's recipe.


Kristy said...

HAHAHAHA! Pie is good for breakfast, lunch and dinner! And it looked to DIE FOR! I can't imagine polenta is easy to get right so HOW HOW to you for trying it!

Lisa Mandina said...

Hmm, sounds like an interesting time! I've tried to make polenta before and had a hard time with it.

University Exam Result said...

It looks so delicious. awesome this post .interesting details shared in the post .cool your idea for recipes .

Annette Beldgin said...

Oh my Dear, Dear Friend.....Yes I have thrown Polenta in the trash too....That is a hard dish to make I now stick to corn bread and add all the good stuff to that....But I still can dial a mean 411-PIZZA number or get in the car Dale we are going out....(HE hates to throw food away too...but in my world SHIT IS SHIT and I'm not eating ya Annette

Confounded Cook said...

LOL, Annette, damn, we miss you!

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