Thursday, March 12, 2009

Another Lame Post Without Photos

Big Pasta with Mushroom, Parsley, Garlic and Thyme

Let me begin by saying, "Whoo, Doggies!" This was
a g-r-r-r-eat recipe!

I had to make a few concessions on ingredients which
actually worked out. Can you believe it?!?!
(See previous post for context)

This is the first Nigella recipe I tried and I was a
little sceptical. She makes everything look so-o-o
effortless. I happened to catch the Food Network
episode where she made this. I found it attractive
because 1) my family will enthusiastically eat
casseroles (which this dish is, basically) and 2) because
it makes a bloody great roaster-pan full,
another plus when you can count on at least two to three
extra mouths to feed along with the usual four in the family.
You see, I have three sons with big appetites and they have lots of
friends with same. Ours is The Kool-aid house. You
know the one: that certain house where all the neighborhood
kids congregate to hang out, swimming in the pool or
staring glassy-eyed at video games on the TV.
I've come to the conclusion that no one in this community
bakes anymore, least of all from scratch, judging by
their kids' reactions to the cookies, cupcakes,
and other goodies I set out for them.
It's really a subtle form of bribery: as long as the Mongol
Horde is chillin' here, I don't have to wonder where my kids are,
what they're doing, and who they're with.
Chocolate chip cookies ensure that they make our house their
headquarters. The price of cokes and baked goods
are cheap in exchange for the peace of mind.

But back to The Domestic Goddess. I have two of her cookbooks
and I must admit I love reading them. She's a terrific writer-her prose
is wonderful, very appealing to the senses.
And of course the food is sublime.

Big Pasta with Mushrooms, Parsley, Garlic, and Thyme



1 stick butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
8 cups milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Mushroom mixture-

2 tablespoons butter, plus 1 stick
1 tablespoon oil
3 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in 2 cups boiling water*
1 pound, 8 oz. mixed mushrooms, chopped
3/4 cups fresh parsley leaves, chopped, plus 3/4 cup, plus 1/4 cup more for garnish
1 teaspoon dried thyme or fresh thyme leaves
3 fat garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup amontillado sherry**
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus 1 cup
3 pounds rigatoni or other big pasta of choice
few sprigs fresh thyme for garnish

Special equipment: large roasting pan, approx. 12 3/4 by 16 1/2 inches***.


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a saucepan, melt the butter for the bechamel, and add the flour, stirring gently to make a smooth paste. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the milk. Turn the heat back on to medium, and stir the bechamel until it begins to thicken and come to the boil. Let it bubble for about 5 minutes to get rid of the floury taste. Take off the heat and season w ith salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter and the oil in a large wide pan. Drain the porcini, reserving the liquid, and chop before adding to the pan with 3/4 cup chopped parsley, the dried or fresh thyme, and garlic. Stir for a couple of minutes then melt the remaining 1 stick of butter in the same pan and add the chopped mushrooms, stirring for about 5 minutes. The mushrooms will appear dry at first but will eventually start to give off some liquid.
Add the porcini soaking liquid, which the mushrooms will largely absorb, but keep stirring and add the sherry and let it bubble away. Turn off the heat when you have a bronzed, syrupy stew.

Stir the mushroom mixture into the bechamel and add 1 cup of the Parmesan and the other 3/4 cup of the chopped parsley. Put a big pan of water on for the pasta, and when it boils, salt it well. Cook the pasta until al dente, then drain and add to the mushroomy white sauce, stirring it the best you can to get the pasta covered.

Turn into the large roasting pan and sprinkle over the remaining 1 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes or until the top begins to turn golden in places.
When the pan comes out of the oven, decorate with the remaining 1/4 cup chopped parsley and some springs of fresh thyme.

*Instead of dried porcinis, I used readily available buttons, sliced, and compensated with a little extra chicken broth I had on hand.

**I couldn't find amontillado sherry to save my life. In the end I had to substitute some white wine I had on hand and it was marvelous.

***I used my bigass turkey roasting pan, holds a 24#er every November.


Okay, okay, I know that we all mess up sometimes. Every one of us
has had those less-than-stellar performances at
something we considered ourselves to be good at.
If I am honest, I will admit I am somewhat of
a perfectionist--a perfectionist with an asterisk qualifying
a small quirk: I can give myself a break on the gotta-be-perfect
thing as long as I did my best.

But--sometimes I find myself in the midst of a
failure SO BIG that even I can't rationalize it away
by knowing I gave it the ol' college try.

This cake recipe was such an experience.

Oh, it sounded innocent enough: chocolate cake.
Anybody can manage that, right?
A chocolate stout cake, to use up another bottle
of that six-pack I had to buy for the Guinness stew I posted
about some time ago.

As a disappointed student told my first husband (a high school
teacher) after
receiving a dismal test score, "I failed HARD."
Now I know what you meant, Jamie.

The cake was dry as a fart. Three layers of this crap, no less.

The second problem with the cake was the frosting.

(Time out for a homey little anecdote that almost earned
my husband The Pillow and Blanket On the Sofa award)
My daughter is a fearless cook.
She doesn't need a recipe and can just look
at the fridge contents and come up with something
wonderful that leaves her younger brothers (and apparently
her stepfather) cheering. My mother is the same way.

I, alas, am not like that. The first time I try a recipe,
I want the comfort of knowing that I am following something
tried and true. After a couple of times around the block with
a certain dish, I feel confident enough to take liberties.
My husband complimented my daughter one day by saying
that she was excellent at improvising dishes--then he
must have seen me with the Death Ray glow coming out
of my eyes because he hastily added, "and you're really a
good cook with recipes, honey!"

What would you have done? In my head, I realized he was
trying to give my daughter an honest compliment and that's cool.
He tried his best to compliment me too, when he saw the thin ice
he was on. What pissed me off was that he was
right: she's terrific ad libbing in the kitchen, and I'm not.
I'm afraid to take chances. Maybe it's because I hate
to feel that I have to eat something bad that just
didn't work out as planned.
It may have been a pride issue, too. Maybe.
Oh, shut up. Who asked you?!

Back to the chocolate stout cake.
I took a chance with the recipe for frosting--it was supposed
to be a chocolate ganache that would drape
gracefully down the sides of the three layered cake.

As you can see, the result was less than...less than...there just
aren't words to express this frosting except to say that
it was STIFF. And the more I tried to fix it, the worse it got.

So my days of taking liberties with recipes are over for
the time being, until the stench of failure is gone and
my cheeks are done burning with shame.