Measured Extravagance

12 June 2003 - 10:33 p.m.

Oy. I just spent the past ten minutes thinking that I'd either lost my mind or that the dog had somehow absconded with the salmon filet I'd picked up after work, but it turns out (upon rechecking with the store) the bag boy just neglected to include it with the rest of my groceries. I guess I'll do something with salad, pasta and/or leftovers tonight.

Fortunately, the packages of cute, colorful little sweet peppers did make it to my fridge: I'd forgotten that I'd intended to make corn muffins for a wedding reception, and after frowning down the pizzelles at in the bakery department, it occurred to me that what I really wanted to do was improvise something savory rather than sweet. (The enormous, excellent slice of warm pecan pie I'd had with lunch at the Elliston Place Soda Shop might have had something to do with that - at the moment, it feels like I've maxed out my sugar intake for the entire month.) I'm thinking I'll cook and mash up some chickpeas with garlic and chives and stuff the little pretties. . .

Mary Anne's challenge:

Choose at least three of the following seven ingredients selected from what I actually have in the fridge and pantry at the moment) and prepare a meal (or rather, the recipes for a meal, though you're encouraged to actually cook it as well and tell us how it comes out.) It should be enough food to feed four for lunch. [. . .] You should feel free to use any typical staples you might normally possess, including milk, coconut milk, flour, eggs, rice, spices, oil, butter, onions, scallions, garlic, canned tomatoes, salt, pepper, flavoring agents, nuts, raisins.

* 1 lb. green beans
* 1 lb. mushrooms
* 3 poblano peppers
*6 large baking potatoes
* 1 can artichoke hearts
* 1 can bamboo shoots
* 2 cans mackerel packed in oil

I won't vouch for the recipes below, because I like to cook by taste and feel and won't have time to test them, but here's my best guess for what I might do:

Appetizer 1: devilled eggs (boil six eggs; peel and slice each in half lengthwise; mash the yolks together with one or two big dollops of mayonnaise, a small dollop of mustard, and several firm shakes of ground black pepper. Spoon the mixture back into the egg halves. Some people mix in chopped pickle or top the filling with paprika, but I like mine simple, and consider all of the ingredients I've listed to be staples)

Appetizer 2: stuffed mushrooms (take half of the mushrooms and clean them with a damp paper towel. Brush caps with olive oil and set on baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Put stems in food processor with say, 1/4 to 1/2 cup of chopped onion and puree. Mix with one raw egg, a cup of cooked rice (there's usually already some in the fridge or freezer at our house) or breadcrumbs, some firm shakes of ground black pepper, a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground thyme. Fill the mushrooms caps with the mixture, brush with oil, stick in oven preheated to 350F for 15-20 minutes (check at 10 minutes - depending on the size of the caps, the innards may already be cooked by then. Conversely, big mushrooms may take longer to cook through).

Entree: String the beans; slice the rest of the mushrooms; drain the bamboo shoots and slice if necessary; crush a garlic clove or two. Heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a large frying pan; throw in the mushrooms and garlic and stir constantly. After a minute, throw in the beans and bamboo shoots. After a couple more minutes, shake a bottle of oyster sauce over the pan until the contents are liberally dotted with brown glop. Keep stirring. If your guests like spicy food, sprinkle in some red pepper flakes. If the vegetables are starting to scorch, drizzle in a tablespoon or two of water (satisfying hissing of steam will result, but be careful so that it doesn't singe you). If the sauce is turning too watery for your liking, mix a pinch or two of cornstarch into a couple tablespoons of warm water and pour into the pan. You can turn the heat off and stop stirring when the beans are tender enough to your liking.

Side: Cut the poblano peppers in half and roast under the broiler, just enough to char. Scrape off the black bits. Mix cooked rice with chopped chives, thyme, parsley, ground black pepper, and salt, plus maybe a dollop of mustard and/or mayonnaise (maybe just mix it in the bowl used for the devilled eggs). Stuff peppers with mixture.

Starch: steamed rice.

Dessert: nuts and fruit. Or maybe agar agar boiled with brown sugar and chilled until set, then cut into chunks and served on top of a bed of fresh mint leaves. (It's a permanent fixture in our pantry, but honesty compels me to admit that the package next to the dried shrimps is at least two years old. . . )

Alternate menu:

  • same appetizers
  • steam the beans and season with balsamic vinegar and sea salt
  • make latkes or potato biscuits (I don't have a favorite recipe - I'd just go hunting through my books or on the web)
  • chop up the artichoke hearts and mushrooms (and maybe the peppers) and fold them into some sort of egg dish, like a frittata or quiche

  • For dessert, if lemons are considered staples, I'd make lemon mousse "eggs" with raspberry sauce (Mrs. Thomas F. Stevenson III's recipe in Charleston Receipts Repeats, published by the Junior League of Charleston):

    Mousse: In large bowl, sprinkle one package of unflavored gelatin (2 1/2 tsp) over 1/4 cup cold water and let set 10 minutes until softened.
    Add one cup boiling water and 3/4 cup sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves.
    Stir in 1/4 fresh lemon juice and 1 tsp. grated lemon rind.
    Chill mixture until it begins to set (1 hour).
    Beat with electric mixture until light and froth.
    In separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff with a pinch of cream of tartar until they will hold soft peaks.
    Stir meringue gently into lemon mixture and chill mousse covered 1 hour or until set.

    Sauce: Puree in food processor 30 oz of frozen raspberries (thawed and drained), 1 1/2 T. sugar, and 3 T heavy cream.
    Force mixture through sieve into bowl. [I don't bother with this.]
    Divide mousse and sauce among up to 6 chilled plates, using a soup spoon to make 3 "eggs" on each plate.
    Garnish with fresh raspberries or mint.

    Nope, couldn't think of anything to do with the mackerel. Just not something I'd serve to guests unless I'd known them long enough to experiment.

    This all ignores the fact that our four most recent houseguests were fed not by me but by The Radio Cafe, The Family Wash, and Bread & Company. One of these months I will get back to setting the table for more than two, but - oh, wait, we did cook for Frodo when he was here, because it was Memorial Day, and none of the usual spots were open, so we came up with turkey franks and baked beans (from a can) and sliced tomatoes slathered with pesto. Kalamata olives before dinner, fresh grapes for dessert, lots of beer throughout.

    That's enough here. I should go eat something and get those garbanzo beans going.

    One year ago: "I show up. I try. It's a start."

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