I’m not even sure what to think of the other night. It reminds me of a story involving the same friend that was over Friday, involving her struggles to move from our city to another for school. Last minute, all I was told morning of was “Plague Happened. We’re on Plan C”
I was not really in the loop for plans A or B in this instance, but it brings freaky parallels to the trials I endured Friday. Of course, she would be involved somehow, and I swear her luck with life played a part in the shenanigans that my kitchen housed. If you thought that my previous Catastrophic Disaster was bad (see here), then hold on to your hats folks cause this shit just got real.
As my best friend Steph was in town and we haven’t seen her really since she moved away for school, this was a special occasion. What do I do for special occasions? Well, apart from cook or bake…usually go overboard and take on too much :p We planned that we would do supper like we used to and hang out in our apartment and laugh and basically catch up. We’re so adult no? Usually a board game is involved (or just the slightest hint of alcomahol) but she was sick and later infected me with whatever bug she brought with her. As usual, I planned a huge menu.
Normally, though stress inducing; I can deal with a large menu. Don’t expect me to be cracking witty jokes or even that it will be timed perfectly, but I like having lots of menu options. This was my huge freaking downfall that night and I can’t believe I forgot what my little French Teachers taught me in Mastering; “ …do not plan more than one long or complicated recipe for a meal or you will wear yourself out and derive no pleasure from your efforts.”
The meal plan consisted of 5 recipes from Mastering The Art Of French Cooking. Apart from the Croûtes au Fromage, I hadn’t cooked any of them. The main was to be Gnocchi de Pommes de Terre, served with a Sauce Tomate. Dessert was Choux, filled with Crème Saint Honoré. I should add that in addition to that hunk of recipes, I would actually need to cook a few other things, including Crème Pâtissière, and Pâte à Choux (which would need to be cooked two times as it is the base for the Gnocchi and Choux, which by the way are Cream Puffs). The later recipe couldn’t be doubled instead of the multiple cookings because it involved a single addition for the sweeter dessert; sugar added at the beginning of the recipe.
Count them again… Rob had to a couple of times to confirm at the beginning that I am in fact crazy. That is 8 different things (more or less). The ingredients surprisingly didn’t impact our wallets that much which further affirms that I love this book and style of cooking. No, the only thing that made it seem a lot was the number of dishes. I was still cooking after Steph arrived, so without my kitchen helper (Rob, who was entertaining as much as the little introvert can) I affectively used every dish we own.
Remember; the meal was a disaster, so let’s run through the list and laugh shall we?
I did the Cream Puffs first because I was worried that I wouldn’t have time after the meal to run to the kitchen and make dessert. They would take a while, and would need to cool down in stages so as not to collapse, so I thought it was a safe bet. I had to make the Pate a Choux first so it was good practice as it would be made again in a little bit. Piping them was fine because I’m pretty good with Buttercream, but because of the placement of the racks in our oven, I was unable to space them properly away from the elements like I was instructed. Unfortunately, didn’t think of this until writing this now, so they burned on the tops and bottoms depending on where they were. Some were salvageable; unfortunately these ones were cooled to fast so they didn’t rise properly. Fail.
Next was the Sauce Tomate because it needed to hang out and simmer for a couple hours. No biggie, I like chopping veggies. When it finished sometime later, I was instructed to strain it… which was fine… until it turned into Tomato Soup. Maybe it’s a French thing, or the fact that I’m used to Italian pasta, but I like some textures and veggies in my sauce… not a complete wash as it were. I would say Fail, but it actually did make a terrific Soup which I am eating sick in bed as I’m writing this 😛
I wanted to make sure the dessert was fully prepped prior to dessert-time, so next was the Crème Patissiere, which with the addition of some egg whites would become the fluffy and rich Crème Saint-Honore, which I had never heard of before. This one worked wonderfully, and I am a sucker for Pastry Cream. For those of you that don’t know of the baking staple, it’s used as the filling in Boston Cream Doughnuts and the custard in between cakes sometimes. Obviously, it’s not this specific version, but it tastes pretty darn close. Unfortunately, a cream a dessert does not make, and because the puffs had already been rendered useless, this is a Fail too.
The Gnocchi were literally the death of me. I have friends who have bragged all about making their own before, and while I’m sure they were talking about the Italian version (which apparently, yes there is a difference), I hate their success nonetheless. The base was once again the pate a choux, which you’d think I would have down by the second go around. Nope. Not only did it not turn out, but the Gnocchi batter suffered greatly from it. If you can imagine all you bakers out there what unmixed bread dough looks like before it does its first round rising, that’s what my gnocchi dough looked like. On top of the difficulty I gave myself even attempting the homemade pasta, I doubled it because the serving size seemed peculiarly small for the three of us. I gave up rolling all of the dough and settled with half of it, and dunked it in the water and watched with baited breath. They didn’t fall apart like the book had warned… good sign. They’re slowly rising from the bottom… that seems like a good sign. How come they’re not getting any bigger? Let’s try one…. And that’s when the fail hits. I made little flour poos for dinner. FAIL FAIL FAIL!!!
I WAS going to salvage the night if my heart depended on it. I opened the “pantry” (seriously, it’s a drawer… god I hate this kitchen) and found the Fettuccini. It wouldn’t be homemade-from-scratch pasta, but it was going to be magnificent. Start it on the stove while I begin the Croutes. I was confident that I could make cheesy-bread, as apart from the obvious simplicity of it all I had done them previously exactly like this for the Soupe à L’Oignon. Popped them in the oven and then checked back on the noodles, only to find that they clumped together into one big ball of starchy, impossible-to-clean-without-three-days-soaking mess. How I Failed at pasta I can’t figure. In any case; Fail.
Strained, exhausted, hurt, borderline-crying, I walked into the living room to tell my dinner party that supper was off, and that not only Plan B worked (I’m sure there’s a really off colour joke in that somewhere). They had spent the night asking if I needed help, and of course I said I could handle it all. Did I ask for help when my stupid foot decided to hurt again as the other night? Of course not! That would be the sensible thing to do. They brought up The Diplomat’s online menu (It’s a local 24-hour restaurant with a really good reputation for Chinese and Canadian food that basically has everything you could want for really good prices) and scoured for the essentials.
Remember that bread in the oven? Yea, I didn’t either. Charcoal. FAIL.
Do I consider my speedy attempt at knocking a bunch of recipes out of our challenge worth it? Definitely. You have to take the good with the bad especially with cooking because that’s how you grow and learn. Am I counting their attempts? There isn’t any other answer to give other than a resounding NO! I’m sure I could have paid them more attention if I had singled them out separately, so we’ll try them again eventually.