Tuesday, October 30, 2007


What's that, you say?


I can tilt my head back and just pour donut holes into my mouth?

God bless America.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Please Martha, don't hurt me

Last time I tried to make a recipe I saw in Martha Stewart, for a pasta pie, it took hours and many pots and I wanted to hurt myself by the time it was done. It turned out delicious, but was so labor intensive and confusing that it has been almost three years since I attempted to do it again. This month, though, I was reading it and saw a soup recipe that sounded kind of interesting:

the recipe

The spiced chickpea and tomato soup looked like it would be a nice change from split pea or green apple and blue cheese, the other two soups that I make most often when I make soup from scratch. It also looked a lot easier than that apple cheese soup, which takes about an hour and a half, and than the typical Martha Stewart recipe, in that most of this one comes from cans and jars. I can handle cans and jars.

Or thought I could, until I got to the grocery store.

Tomatoes, it seems, are much more complicated than I gave them credit for. Either that, or Food City is a lot less logical. The recipe asks for crushed canned tomatoes, so I went to the canned vegetable aisle. There I found peeled tomatoes, diced tomatoes, sliced tomatoes, finely diced tomatoes, tomato paste, tomato puree, Southwestern style finely diced tomatoes, and Italian style finely diced tomatoes. No crushed tomatoes. Unable to locate an employee (not surprising; they find me when I don’t need help, but when I actually do need something they’re probably all in the security room laughing as I drift up and down the camera screens holding a scrap of paper and staring helplessly at the aisles as if what I want might materialize if I look hard enough), I picked up two cans of finely diced tomatoes and hoped Martha Stewart wouldn’t snap awake somewhere in Connecticut and know someone was defiling one of her recipes.

Fortunately, I found crushed canned tomatoes in the “Italian” section later, after I had searched half the store for jarred roasted red peppers. For inexplicable reasons, Food City has no peppers of any kind in the canned vegetable section, but you can find them in “Spanish”, “Italian”, and “Natural Foods”, because, of course, everyone knows that plain old white people who aren’t tree-hugging hippies would never eat such a thing. I was so happy to find the tomatoes, and the peppers, that I stuck my two cans of finely diced tomatoes on the shelf right there, rather than putting them back where I got them. I know it was wrong, but one of the employees watching on the camera can put them away if they’re not going to help me.

Back at home this afternoon, I got everything ready to go:

ingredients and implements

I bought too many cans of chicken stock because I can’t ever remember how many ounces are in a cup and lack the spatial awareness to look at a can and think, “That’s about a cup and a half”. That I ever passed a math class at all is a minor miracle.

The first part of the recipe, and really the only part that involved more than dumping something into something else, called for me to grind about half the ingredients into a paste with a mortar and pestle. This also involved buying a mortar and pestle, which involved me harassing a “Bed, Bath, and Beyond” employee with questions about whether or not marble was dishwasher safe or if it would erode on the top rack like a sixteenth century tombstone in acid rain.

“I… don’t really know what that means.”

“It means I don’t want this melting in my dishwasher. Is it going to damage it, or can I throw it in there and not have to hand wash it?”

“It won’t melt. It’s marble.”

Don’t look at me like that. I might be crap at math, but I got an A in Earth Science.

Anyway, I finished my paste to my satisfaction.

making paste

The magazine didn’t have any pictures of preparation, but that looked like paste. The mortar and pestle also felt vaguely medieval, as if I might finish dinner and start practicing alchemy. After I made the paste (after I pasted?) I was supposed to simmer it in oil and then add all the other ingredients.

simmering the paste

everything else

Everything seemed to be going well. Things were simmering, I was stirring, and I’d only used one pot, unlike the last Martha Stewart recipe that involved three different ones on the tiny, doll sized oven in my old apartment that also didn’t have any counters. After everything simmered, I was supposed to remove the pot from the heat and transfer the contents to a blender for pureeing.

before the blending

That photo is my kitchen, about ten seconds from disaster. Martha Stewart didn’t include a warning in the recipe about hot soup in a closed blender, but she probably never imagined that the average cook would need one. I, on the other hand, despite my high score in Earth Science, didn’t really stop to think the mechanics of steam in an enclosed space all the way through, and promptly slapped on the lid and hit “puree”.


It’s hard to tell from that picture, because my counters are black, but there is soup on the blender, the counter, the wall, the floor, in the sink, and a little bit on the underside of the cabinet. Fortunately there is also soup left in the blender, and after figuring out how to vent the lid and cleaning the kitchen, I pureed it up and served myself a bowl with a dollop of sour cream, as suggested in the recipe.


It was good. It tastes a little like tomatoes, but also has a little bit of spicy heat, so that your mouth is still warm after you eat it but not burning like you swallowed a hot pepper. It tastes vaguely Indian, and I would definitely make it again.

I’ll let it cool a little more before blending, though.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

the pain of eating out

Oh God, I think I'm dying.

My parents wanted a Friday's gift card for their anniversary, and I thought I would get myself some dinner while I was there. I haven't been to Friday's in several months, and never in Tennessee, but I figured it's the same everywhere and I could just get chicken fingers and be fine. And I would have been, if I just had the chicken fingers.

They have this deal right now where you can get an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert for $12 something, and that seemed wonderfully simple. I opted for the fried macaroni and cheese (“Top Chef” has informed me that reinvented versions of old classics are hip and fun; I guess they forgot to inform Micah), the chicken fingers (when faced with a menu where I don’t immediately want something I tend to go for the chicken fingers as an easy default), and the mini mousse desserts, which allow you to pick two different shotglasses of mousse. I chose peanut butter and orange cream, comforting flavors of childhood that seemed to go with chicken fingers and mac and cheese.

The fried mac and cheese was good, coming in hot little nuggets of crispy batter with creamy macaroni and cheese inside. Alone, they would have been wonderful, but the sauce that’s drizzled under them on the serving plate is disgusting. I thought it might be some sort of mustard since it was yellow, but the flavor was so offensive I ended up scooping up a forkful by itself, just to evaluate it. It tasted like onions and fish, without a hint of mustard. It actually tasted like they took the grease that they fry everything in, mixed it with a little cream, and drooled it over the plate. It was vile, and I ate the rest of the nuggets as carefully as possible, to avoid getting them anywhere near the sauce.

The menu at the restaurant or online makes no mention of this bilious concoction, by the way, so this may be your only warning.

Next came the chicken fingers. You get a choice of barbeque or honey mustard sauce, so I picked honey mustard. I wasn’t totally committed to either sauce, but then it came out with a little cup of barbecue. I didn’t want to stress the waitress, though, since she was probably stressed already, and wouldn’t have said anything if she hadn’t said, “Oh, you wanted honey mustard. Don’t eat those yet!” Instead of taking the barbecue away, she brought a little cup of honey mustard, too, and then sailed away. Now that she’d gone to the trouble, I felt obligated to only use the honey mustard, and attempted to do so. It ran out before I ran out of chicken fingers, though, just as she walked by.

“Do you need another honey mustard?”

“Oh, no, I’ll just use the barbecue.”

Her smile said love, but her eyes screamed betrayal.

The meal finished with the pair of mousses that almost finished me. While waiting for them, I heard a waiter describing them to a couple near me with the kind of brutal honesty that I’m sure the TGI Friday’s corporation, a division of Kraft Foods, would prefer that their waitstaff not employ.

“Well, they’re shotglasses, so they’re not really filling. And they’re really sugary. Like too much sugar. The chocolate raspberry might be ok, but the rest are kind of, I don’t know, so sweet you almost feel sick. And it’s mousse, so it’s like, kind of like ice cream, but not really cold, and sort of thick but not really thick. I don’t really know what it’s made out of, but I think there might be dairy in there somewhere.”

I actually peered over the top of the table divider to see if he knew how loud he was being, but the sight of me, eyebrows raised, did nothing to slow him down. I imagine he won’t be at Friday’s for much longer with those kinds of sales skills.

When my pair of mousses arrived, I tried and tried to take a picture, but the waitress wouldn’t leave me alone.

“You need a refill? How do those look? Did you taste them yet? I love that orange one? I’ll be right back with that gift card.”

More than anything I wanted a picture of the orange cream one, because it just looked bizarre. The mousse was about the sherbet color that you would expect orange cream to be, but it was decorated with these weird orange and white lumps, too big to be sprinkles and too small to be chips, that looked exactly like aquarium gravel. They turned out to be lumps of pure sugar with a little bit of citrus flavor, and actually paired well with the mousse. I ate the entire thing and then used the tiny spoon to scrape the sides and make sure I didn’t miss any.

The peanut butter cup, on the other hand, is the reason that I’m sitting on my lounger holding my belly and erupting with explosive burps that feel like projectile launches. It looked like peanut butter mousse with tiny little chocolate chips in it, and I love peanut butter to the point that I will eat it out of the jar with a spoon, so I eagerly dug in.

I made it through two bites.

It was not mousse. It was a shotglass full of peanut butter, but not just peanut butter. Something thick and sweet was added to it, possibly sugar syrup. Whatever it was caused the peanut butter to coat my mouth and throat like that melted candle that Homer Simpson drank at the chili festival. I’d barely finished coping with the giant first bite I’d taken when I decided to give it another chance and not make any snap judgments. The second bite confirmed that, no, I was not mistaken and it was wretched.

It was so bad I tried to cough it up out in the parking lot, to the alarm of a family nearby. I continued trying to dislodge it all the way home, and now I can feel it twisting and bubbling inside me like a culture in a Petri dish.

Next time I’m just getting cake.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Dinner at the moulin rouge!

Based on tonight's sandwich on toast, it would appear that I am physically incapable of making a cream cheese and marmalade sandwich without singing "Lady Marmalade"