Friday, October 23, 2009

I get nervous...

I cook pretty regularly. For myself and for groups. And I'm use to cooking pretty cheaply.

Last night I glanced at a recipe and made hamburger soup, substituting ingredients as I went based more on what I had than on taste. I forgot the tomato paste and hardly noticed until I was sitting down to eat a slightly thinner soup than expected. No one else noticed (especially the guys who went back for seconds). The buttermilk biscuits I made to go with it went slightly faster than the soup; which I now have a liter and a half in my fridge for later lunches. I've never been able to make "a little bit" of soup.

Some nights, though, I get nervous.
Dinner will fail. I can feel it in the pit of my stomach. I find myself crawling the web seeing that one perfect appetizer or ingredient that, if I had it -- would save the dinner I haven't even started making.

That's when I turn to Faefood for inspiration. I love the fact that she often writes about being on a budget, being limited by her pantry, and still loving what she does. I shop tomorrow and with a roast to cook tonight, really don't have time to go and pick up just a few more things for the meal. I'm determined to make do. My pantry is pretty-well stocked, but it's been a long time since I've even thought of making courses for the meal, and I worry that folk will get hungry waiting for the roast (which *should* come out between 6 and 6:30 ...). And naturally, I'm out of a few things (apples to roast with the pork, I have applesauce; but that will burn--maybe I'll coat the top of the roast with it; and Worcestershire sauce for the marinade... maybe I'll use a dash of soy sauce and hot sauce instead).

Food is luxurious. Dinner parties should be simple. If the food fails, order pizza and laugh at it. Dance your cares away before you start, and cook with love. Easily said; but tonight not easily done. I'm anxious and I'm not really sure why.

Dinner (for 6 adults and one child) will be a small pork roast with a lone onion, some wine, spices, and some herbs, a fair number of small potatoes, a smaller number of carrots, and a bag of mixed broccoli and cauliflower. The broccoli and cauliflower will be lightly steamed (from frozen) and served with a side of Parmesan and fresh cracked black pepper. Simple.

I have the rough makings (lettuce, spinach, red bell peppers, radishes) for a salad and always have vinagrette ingredients on-hand (best extra-virgin olive oil, tart red wine vinegar, fresh cracked pepper ... or maybe I'll make a Dijon vinagrette--something slightly creamy and sharp to go with the salad). I have some feta I could crumble into the salad just before serving. There might be croutons hiding in my pantry (I have to check). I have an open can of mixed beans which always adds flavour to the salad. I'll include those too.

I have cooked shrimp in the freezer. I could put out a bowl of them and make a sauce of tomato paste, some sugar, some water, chili powder, lemon juice, salt and pepper to go with it.

I have some pickles (giant kosher dills, homemade sliced beets), green stuffed olives and black pitted and sliced -- all for nibbles. Maybe I'll put out a few low trays of pickles and toothpicks. If they're not eaten before the meal, they can linger on during the meal and maybe be more appetizing then. I never quite know what to do with pickles. Personally, I love them and snack on them often -- but most folk don't seem to like them as much. Maybe I'm better off leaving them off the table.

I could make baking soda biscuits for bread to go with the meal. Or maybe a thin layer of homemade polenta to soak up the roast's gravy. I don't thicken my gravy; preferring the juice of the meat and the remaining marinade to be thin and filled with bits of darkened meat, fat, and spices. I'll add water or soup to deglaze the pan, and just stir enough to get that wonderful darkness up from the bottom and into the liquid.

Maybe the second course should be soup? I have two types in the fridge: chicken noodle and hamburger tomato. Or is that going overboard? I don't have time to make rising rolls (although that would have been a good addition); and the roast will be in the oven when I serve such a course -- so bread would have to be made well in advance. Sounds like I'd best make polenta and save the baking soda biscuits for the next time I serve soup.

I was thinking of preparing something simple for a late-night snack. Maybe banana bread? Slip it in the oven once the roast is done; and it will be ready and cooling by the time tea is served around 9. I can serve it with butter or nut butter if people want something special with it. I'll definitely make a triple batch as I know a friend who would really appreciate a loaf as a birthday present.

Argh. I have a plan.

Appetizer: Shrimp cocktail
Starter course: soup (chicken noodle or hamburger tomato) with rosemary croutons
Second course: Mixed green salad with feta and beans topped with vinagrette
Main course: marinaded Roast pork with onions, potatoes and carrots
Steamed broccoli and cauliflower with Parmesan and pepper
Desert: banana bread and tea

Now I have to execute it.

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