Dinner for One in 86 Steps
I blogged in the Pintester Movement!

This post was experienced, photo'd, and written up in response to the Pintester Movement. I like to call it "the get off my butt and make some things I pinned a hundred years ago on Pinterest" movement. Others joined me in these hijinks, and - in fact - it's probably in your best interest (entertainment/edification-wise) if you visit http://pintester.com/2013/05/the-pintester-movement-craft-all-the-things to see what everyone else did instead of pinning (ha!) your hopes on any great or amusing revelations here. Nope, all we have here is crushed dreams glazed in culture shock with a handcrafted oopsie crumble.

As with all of my other posts, this one is going to be unnecessarily long. Normally I don't do the slow-mo double-arm wave to warn off readers accidental Google stumblers (think of the Giant in Agent Cooper's dream in Twin Peaks) about the rambles within, but since some of the people reading this might have actually clicked the link to get here on purpose, I feel more responsible than usual.

Despite the length of this post, it all ends kind of abruptly without enough photos of the end result. (Apparently six hours in a kitchen cage match with myself is what it takes to get me to finally put down the camera.) However, I started the write-up before setting foot into the kitchen, which is why this ambitious table of contents still exists:

The Back Story: Which Pin to Choose

I decided to cook a multi-course fancypants meal composed of nothing but long-languishing Pinterest pins. (This is how I discovered that I really need to start a Pinterest board for side vegetable dishes that aren't covered in grains or cheese.)

The multi-course fancypants meal, hereafter known as the MFM (an acronym which ended up being surprisingly apt), wasn't my first choice. My first choice was some kind of craft. After all, I'd just made a crafty seashell photo-frame thingy to commemorate the first three Australian beaches we visited and the shells we collected there, and I was feeling all Martha about it. (This wasn't a Pinterest idea but rather something I came up with myself... which is probably sadly obvious and therefore the reason why this project didn't get its own blog entry. See also: Laziness.)

Shell Art Is Not Over

("Shell art is over.")

The MFM wasn't my second choice, either. My second choice came about after I noticed that my drinks board (“Always Thirsty” - less true after moving from Las Vegas) was dominated by pink drinks. “Ooo!” thought I. “I shall make a buffet of purty pink bevvies!”

Except, no, because I'm in Australia now, and not just in Australia, but in Western Australia, and not just in Western Australia, but Not In Perth (aka The Place That Has Things, If Said Things Are To Be Had in Western Australia), and therefore frozen pink lemonade concentrate, Torani syrup, and shelf-stable cotton candy aren't down at the local supermarket. (I do know to refer to the latter as “faerie floss,” though.)

So, onto Plan 3: The MFM.

The Back Story Continues: Proof That My Pin Choices Are Bold

In order to appreciate that I'm not just, you know, cooking dinner like a sane person, the following must be noted:

  • Our stuff still hasn't arrived from the United States. I know I find a way to mention that in every post, but this time it's not just whinging. No stuff means no measuring cups, no measuring spoons, no whisks, no stand mixers, no hand mixers, no frying pans, almost no pans at all, no sieves, no sifters, no mixing bowls, and no graters. If it can't be made with a knife, a fork, a wok, and a pressure cooker, then it's MacGyver time.
  • Anything I go to this much effort to make - speaking as someone who can't be bothered to take the crackers out of the box when preparing a cheese board - has to be appealing to my husband. This is tough since, for most of our marriage, I've been at work while he arranged to keep us fed - meaning I could largely ignore his pickiness except when it canceled out restaurant options. Speaking of restaurants, we had more cheap gourmet eats surrounding us in Las Vegas than we could hope to sample in a decade, so sometimes a week's worth of dinners could be best described as “ate out (3 times), ate leftovers (3 times), ordered pizza (with different toppings on each side).”
  • I'm not just inexperienced in feeding Mike; I really have no notion of “courses” or even “sides” except when in a restaurant. Before getting married, I was too tired and/or poor and/or lazy to cook more than one thing for dinner at a time. Afterward, between Mike doing the feeding and us not having a dining table for years (then not using it for dining once we got one), we got into grazing habits. Eat a salad, two hours later eat a main course, a few hours later eat a side dish or dessert. So, yes, I am in awe of everything that happens on Chopped. Or any cooking show. “You cooked a thing in under 30 minutes? And it has accompaniments?! WHUH....??!!”

But wait! The proverbial more!

This event is not just dinner, and it's not just courses of dinner, and it's not even just entire courses of dinner being prepared in an extremely limited kitchen (albeit one with a charming sky-blue teapot, because I do have some priorities straight). Resolving these pins involves new skills, too!

By the end of this Pin-In (which should totally be a thing where you go on retreat for a weekend to a woodsy place with full kitchens and craft workshops and somebody with a 50/f1.2 L lens follows you around), I expected to acquire the following skills and achievements:

  • making tasty and presentable (lots of holes!) ciabatta without any kneading
  • incorporating the fruits of Mike's various chili pepper plants (you know, the ones that he has allowed to appropriate much of our balcony in Kudzu-like fashion and which include the types of peppers that cause people to make videos on YouTube when they eat one) into actual food
  • roasting a pepper over an open flame on a gas stove
  • eating orzo for the first time
  • making Béchamel sauce
  • actually cooking something from Saveur magazine, which to me would bring the same glory as saying I completed an Araucaria puzzle
  • knocking out five pins at once (Pinterest should totally add badges to their mobile app.)


The Shopping

My plan was to go to the store on Saturday, after I had time to convert all of the ingredients to metric. However, my husband had his own plan to go to the store on Friday, while he was on a “best week of teaching ever” high and eager to get some BBQ stuff for the weekend. No problem. I'd convert things on the fly... in the tiny, after-work end-of-week crowded grocery store.

I'm not a complete doof when it comes to the metric system... well, not by American standards. I have been known to dazzle certain audiences - which is to say fellow liberal arts majors or those with no majors yet - with my ability to quickly switch between inches and centimetres. As a child of the earnest 1970s, when we were told that we'd be full-on with the metric system any day now, that's the one thing that stuck.

By Aussie standards, I'm hopeless. When the leasing agent representative came over the other day for an apartment inspection (that's a WTF for another day), she started telling this whole anecdote about the weather here that involved understanding the fine difference between a couple of degrees in Celsius. I interrupted her: “Whoa now with your high-falutin' metric talk! I'm an American!” (And, apparently, a cowgirl.) She didn't laugh because she didn't understand. (And also because I'm not as funny to others as to myself. Sorry.) I thought America was notorious for being ig'nurnt in the ways of logical measurements, but more than once I've made self-deprecating excuses for needing a translation, and the other person was confused until I explained that I come from an entire land of people whose instinct is to complete “Milli_________?” with “Vanilli.”

In preparation, I had actually already looked up how ounces convert to millilitres. I almost sort of remembered the formula as we walked into the store... only to realize that I needed to know kilograms. Units of weight, not volume! Damn you, tricksy duplicitous ounces! I had my phone open to my shopping list, and like I said it was crowded, so I was hoping Mike would simply just know the conversions after his years of living with me in the States, and neither of us would have to press ourselves into a corner to Google.

Alas, Mike only speaks a bit of Imperial. (Almost as if he senses no long-term need for this ability.) So, this conversation happened:

“Mike, I need to know ounces to kilograms.”



“Well... a kilogram is about half of a pound. Pretty sure.”

(Spoiler alert: other way around.)

“Okay! A pound is 16 ounces, so a kilogram is 8 ounces? Really? Okay!” (I get cheerful and soldier on at such moments. Imagine a rapid double-handclap and victory arms.) “Then if I need 4 ounces of fresh mozzarella for one recipe, plus half a cup for another... shit, that's volume, not weight. All right, I can eyeball half a cup, so if I need 4 ounces, then I need ¼ of a kilogram. No, crap, I mean half of a kilogram. I also need half a kilo of brie.”

Mike hands me half a kilo of brie.

“Surely not.”

Mike went into the corner with Siri while I did slow math in the middle of a veritable traffic circle around the cheese section. (“Big Ben! Parliament!”) (Never gets old.)

Mike returned. “Never mind. A kilogram is 35 ounces.”

“Ah!” I called on my waning math reserves. “So, I need... 1/9 of kilogram, plus a little more. Plus a little more than that of mozzarella.”

“So, a bit over 100 grams.”

“An inch is 2.5 centimetres!”

What These Shenanigans Cost

I actually sat down and worked out the cost of everything based on portion used and the prices that I saw on Friday night. (Greetings from the sparkly, pink-clouded land of line-dancing jackalopes where I'm so sure I'll use all of the leftover materials from this cooking adventure.) Really, I just like making spreadsheets more than, say, cooking.

Prices below are expressed in Australian dollars, which have been nearly on par with American dollars for some time now. (Cost of living is higher here overall, but people are paid more - or at least teachers and minimum-wage workers are. All I know is that Mayor Bloomberg has to explain to his constituents why, in a land where soft drinks served in a restaurant can cost $5 and NEVER involve refills, fat Australians still exist.)

  • Ciabatta: $2
  • Orzo and Arugula Salad with Lemon-Thyme Dressing: $7.50
  • Sriracha Quinoa Bites: $10
  • Roasted Poblano Bechamel with Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese: $13
  • Corsican Mousse au Citron: $6.50 (because we're pretending that we bought our eggs from the roadside seller we saw on Saturday, and not the “local version of Whole Foods” grocery store on Friday)

(Early spoiler: not all of these items end up with the same names they had going in.)

Therefore, the entire cost of the meal (minus labor and, inevitably, laundry) was just under $40, or more like $50 if we realistically consider the cost of, say, the rest of the jar of nutmeg (and whatnot) bought strictly for this exercise. Or $85 if one counts the baking sheet I bought but which I totally needed anyway since we don't have any coming with the rest of our stuff. (Because our nice Calphalon one gave up after fifteen years, and our cheap twin-pack from Sam's Club quickly ended up on the cover of my fledgling “Pins That Lied or Died” board.)

So, by local standards, more expensive than a typical home-cooked meal, but less expensive than if it were being served all of these things at a cafe down the street. (Australians love cafes, and they really don't seem to understand casual dining that isn't a fast food chain or a cafe. There's probably a wealth of cultural insight to explore there, but I have to share my shame now.)

The Menu

This being a great occasion, one where I took the risk of telling Mike to come home hungry, I prepared a written menu to be admired tableside.

Making the menu was kind of like when I would assign a research PowerPoint to my students: 10% of the time in the computer lab spent writing up their research; 90% of the time spent changing fonts and backgrounds.

By the time I was done cooking, though, any thought of clicking CTRL+P to share said menu with Mike was abandoned. So here it is, three days after I last looked the kitchen in the eye, now seen for the first time ever by anyone else:


(Click to embiggenate.)

No-Knead Ciabatta

Here I should explain the title of this post. When I typed up everything I needed to do and the ideal order in which to do it, I ended up with 86 steps. (If you don't include the shopping, which involved three stores and several Google conferences.)

Lesser mortals - aka me at any other time - would just open a tab with the recipe and follow it. However, not everyone is great at writing recipes. Sometimes you get to step seven and see “Add the petunia blossoms, which you sugared and chilled earlier,” and then everything has to stop for five hours because, you know, people.

So, when I got to the ¼ teaspoon of yeast in this recipe, I thought that had to be a typo. I'm not incredibly experienced in breadmaking, but it happens once a year or so, and I seemed to recall more yeast being involved.

I searched the web for other people making this bread and discovered that at least half of the people were only using 3 cups of flour instead of 4. (And many people had different opinions on the temperature of the water - anywhere between icy and boiling - which I suppose justifies why so many people wrote “adapted from” while otherwise copying either the 3c flour or 4c flour version wholesale. People.) But, everyone still said a ¼ teaspoon of yeast. Okie dokie, then.

I decided to make the 3-cup version, with the option to add more flour if my “fairly shaggy and wet dough” was too much of either. I know the pin's website says four cups, but the pin's website also has an annoying pop-up that greys out all of the content underneath while informing you of the following:

“Like most websites we use cookies to provide a more personalised and responsive service. We use cookies to enable our website to function more efficiently, to improve performance and to tailor advertising with our partners. If you continue we will assume you are happy to receive all the cookies from our website.”

Sleazeballs. I don't care about about cookies. Track me. Mine my habits. Sell my data. But “we will assume you are happy to receive all the cookies from our website”? FTN. If I can't trust them to gauge my emotions, how can I trust them on flour measurements?

(So I read the site through the muted grey film placed over it and got the rest of the content anyway. Early thought: "I have already won this pin!")

The yeast we bought (the only kind at the store) was sold in 7g sachets. I think it would've taken me about two minutes to measure and combine the ingredients then put the dough aside to rise, if I hadn't had to work out how much of a 7 gram sachet to remove in order to get the equivalent of 1.5 teaspoons.

After all kinds of math - including fractions! - I had the answer... and then remembered that it's 1.5t of salt, not yeast. Oh yeah. The yeast is ¼ t. So, I eyeballed what I remembered ¼ of a teaspoon looking like back in the States and hoped for the best.

At this point you might be wondering if we're just using our fingers to eat until the shipping container comes. No, Mike bought some cutlery before I came, but he specifically bought dessert spoons and soup spoons and serving spoons instead of “normal” spoons. So, in lieu of measuring spoons, I have to make guesses and think in ratios and parts instead of exact measurements. (Did you know that Australia uses its own size of tablespoon? So, if you are ever using an Aussie recipe or using an Aussie tablespoon, you - assuming you are a non-Australian - must also mathmagic things.)

My attempt at an arty photo of our spoons, just because photos are long overdue:

Spoons Want To Go Out And Play

I was lucky enough to find a plastic measuring cup that came free with a bamboo steamer that Mike bought when he couldn't wait any longer for our way-cool pressure cooker steamer insert to arrive. (I hate bamboo. Mike was only alone in this apartment for three months, but there's already so much damage to undo. Let's just say that they don't sell Charmin Ultra Soft here, and Mike didn't think that getting a comparable brand was important.)

I couldn't find bread flour at the local shops (that didn't have special seasoning in it), so I just used self-raising flour. (Not self-rising. Raising. But you don't get a “pay raise” here, you get a “pay rise.” Oh, and while I've learned to accept that they spell “chili” as “chilli,” I remain twitchy that Aussies write “veggie” as “vegie.”)

Bread Ingredients

Everything slopped together into the bowl of a rice cooker and ready to rise overnight, I moved on to making the dressing ahead of time.

No-Knead Ciabatta Dough

(When I started typing all of this, I thought I would write about each pin separately. Now I've decided to write more chronologically. So, the story of the bread continues somewhere else. Am I trying to make people just snort and go away? Maybe.)

Orzo and Arugula Risoni and Rocket Salad with Lemon Thyme Lemon-Oregano Dressing

  1. “Arugula” is called “rocket” in Australia.
  2. “Orzo” is called “risoni” in Australia.
  3. “Lemon thyme” is called “oregano” in Australia... just for the moment because that's the one fresh herb that the grocery store happened to stock (hey, it's nearly winter here), and since I needed oregano for the pasta anyway...

As mentioned, I made the dressing a day ahead, hoping that the “hand-shredded oregano” wouldn't get wilty and stupid while the plastic tub of lemony skeptical effort sat in the fridge.

(It was hand-shredded instead of cut because, despite an effort to time things well, I decided to make the dressing while the cutting board was in the dishwasher. At the time it seemed better to shred than to lose momentum. P.S. Did you know that you're not allowed to ship used cutting boards to Australia? P.P.S. Did you also know that last week we had to pay Australian Customs $80 to destroy the two pinecone-based Christmas ornaments that I accidentally packed? No, of course you didn't. That's the kind of fodder that other bloggers dream of, but I just keep going around snogging kangaroos like I don't even care about providing long-winded blather for our online society.)

Me Beside Roo

Before shredding, the oregano needed washing. Not just a precautionary rinse, but a "Holy shit, I'm swapping over to the macro lens" scrub.

Dirty Oregano

Without a grater, I had to zest the lemon with a vegetable peeler like I was going to decorate drinks for the country club set.

The Saddest Way to Zest a Lemon

Oh wait, here's a photo of all of the dressing ingredients together, before the mangling.

Making Salad Dressing

(Taken back before I realized that, in the course of cooking five unfamiliar things at once, group ingredient photos would be the first thing to go. Look how happy we all were then. So young.)

Then I had to chop the zest stips up as if someone from the dollhouse under the stairs placed an order for a jicama platter. (What with the chopping board still being in the dishwasher.) Then I had to taste-test the dressing in tiny drops (like an adorable Russian rodent sipping dew from a leaf) since the volume of dressing the recipe produced was on the skimpy side.

Like all dressings I have ever attempted to ever make, ever, it was a case of “HI I AM LEMON” followed immediately by “this is just a nondescript oily texture now.” I kept adding pepper and red chil(l)i flakes, but... (Those ellipses aren't meant to be suspenseful; they're meant to foreshadow the despair to come.)

I toasted the walnuts for the salad in the morning, triumphant with my lone measuring cup that looked like it was only recently promoted its position as a laundry scooper.

The toasting method described in the recipe went like this:

  1. Lay walnut pieces flat on a baking sheet.
  2. Bake in oven for 8 minutes.

My toasting method varied slightly:

  1. Measure out ¼ cup of walnuts.
  2. Worry over whether the ¼ cup is supposed to be before or after the walnuts are chopped.
  3. Be annoyed because how are you meant to know how many walnuts to measure out to toast if the ¼ cup refers to after they are chopped?
  4. Measure out ¾ cup of walnuts, since I also need walnuts for the pasta later.
  5. Lay walnut pieces flat on a baking sheet.
  6. Worry over how if I toast the pasta walnuts now, then won't they get double-toasted later, when they're on top of the pasta that's cooking? And get all bitter or burnt?
  7. Decide to cook ¾ cup anyway, because if toasted walnuts are as awesome in salads as the pin and its commenters intimate, then I will want them for future salads.
  8. Worry over how the walnuts are just going in naked - no oil or seasoning.
  9. Decide to add a little oil to the foil, just for something extra.
  10. Decide to smear a little mustard into the oil, just for that hint of specialness.
  11. On the way to grabbing the mustard, notice the fig/almond/ginger jam purchased on our recent getaway to the southwest. (The one I was halfway through posting about before kind of wandering off for a few weeks. The Yelp review lives, though.)
  12. Remember the times I've had candied walnuts in salads. Decide that I'm on to something. Smear jam all over foil. Smear walnuts all over foil. (Neglect to lay them back down flat on the foil.)
  13. Bake in oven for 8 minutes.

    Walnut Tampering

  14. Taste 30 minutes later.
  15. Throw away ¾ of them for tasting burnt and weird.
  16. Chop remaining walnuts.
  17. Measure.
  18. Chop enough regular, straight-from-the-sack, untoasted walnuts to make up the required amount.

We're way past 86 steps now.

Since the salad was meant to be served warm or at room temperature and involved pasta and mozzarella, I decided to cook the orzo and put it together last, sometime around when Mike was due home.

Sriracha Aji Quinoa Bites

Before getting a new baking sheet, I'd considered using my new Madeleine pan for this recipe. Savoury quinoa madeleines - doesn't that sound pinnable?

(Given my luck this day, I'm so glad I didn't defile my Madeleine pan. However, the baking sheet or something ended up scratching my new blue teapot - the one I was so happy about at the start of this post. Even Mike is quite sad about this, which is why I can only mention it very quietly in parentheses. Now let us never speak of it again.)

I couldn't find sriracha peppers anywhere. They sounded familiar, but even Wikipedia only mentioned sriracha as a type of sauce made with chili peppers, not a pepper itself.

Of course, it's only now as I reread the recipe that I see it says "1 1/2 tablespoons sriracha." Nothing about peppers. They meant the sauce. Oh. I think my brain was thinking about shishito peppers and... I don't know.

(I was reading the archives of The Oatmeal to console myself after attempting these pins and came across this comic. Argh! I am mocked!)

Just as well - we have too many shelves in an already too-small pantry dedicated to hot sauce and salsas (which Mike buys in bulk from U.S. importers in order to better spread the gospel to Australians who, left on their own, are quite content to be excited over the shittiest of salsas, and don't get me started on what passes for tortilla chips here). Besides, this gave me a chance to pluck peppers from Mike's garden. I was practically living off the land here.

Mike's Aji Omnicolours Are Ripening

Ingredients for Quinoa Patties

(Another group photo because things weren't going so badly at this point.)

You know which pin I super-hate? The one that says something like "Don't throw away the white ends of your spring onions! Plant them and grow new onions - AMAZEBALLS!"

Who is throwing away the white ends of their spring onions?! The white ends are all I use, unless garnishing a baked potato. (In theory, because if I'm eating a baked potato at home, it's something I tossed in the microwave out of hunger and not having a firm idea yet of what will be for dinner, and thus no garnish will be happening.)

This is what I consider the "usable" portion of the spring onion:

Spring Onion

(All the loose green stuff on the left is just the handle.)

Not having a grater for the cheese was unfortunate, but I pep-talked the peeler into another round of duty.

Gruyere Without Grater

Ungrated Gruyere

And in case we haven't seen enough of the pink member of my husband's collection of metrosexual knives, here it is next to the aji omnicolour that I threw into the sink to rinse (what with not having any gloves and not being sure how hot this one was, but being very sure of the likelihood that I would absentmindedly rub my eye after touching it).

Rinsing the Aji Omnicolour

(Maxwell Williams should pay me for this! Or pay me to remove it. Their choice.)

I cooked the quinoa until the "curlicues" separated, feeling very proud of myself to have actually seen what was supposed to happen, happen. (To this day I have yet to see "stiff peaks form" when beating eggs... and since lemon mousse was on the menu for later, you already know that didn't go well.)

Cooked Quinoa

I just wish I hadn't completely forgotten about the garlic until after the bites were in the oven.

Forgotten Garlic

Meanwhile, the ciabatta dough had risen for about 15 hours, so I "shaped" it onto the floured countertops.

Shaped Ciabatta

You'll never see this bread again except in the blurred background. Although I have distinct memories of taking photos of it, no such photos seem to exist on camera, phone, or tablet. I think I was so sore and exhausted after six hours on my feet that I just looked at the bread really hard before wobbling off to begin the memory erasure procedures.

The bread was still the same size two hours later. I carefully placed it on the sheet with a pan over it as directed and let it bake for 30 of the 30-40 minutes. I then let it bake for 40 of 40 minutes. I then continued to let it bake and checked it when I remembered, which was every 10-20 minutes. I have no idea how long it was in the oven, but I took it out when it finally looked a bit brown and not as doughy.

(The original pinned recipe used Celsius for the oven temp, so it wasn't that. Shrug.)

How did the final loaves look? They looked the same as the photo above, just browner. Same size and everything. I'd question that 1/4 teaspoon of yeast, but that's what everyone else on the Internet who has made this recipe has claimed to use. I just have bread-killing hands.

It tasted okay, for a very flat bread with a very dense crumb. Maybe I knocked all of the gas out when I transferred it to the sheet? Because I'm too sad about the bread to segue to a good fart joke, I'll link to Mary Roach's Modern History of Passing Gas instead. (Which I haven't read, but it's open in another tab for later. It's Mary Roach - you know it will be good.)

Oh wait, I do have a fart tie-in! This pin:

I always see this pin on Pinterest, and pinners are always "OMG!!! She farted in front of him!" Female pinners are saying this! Are there really so many of you going through your entire marriage with fart anxiety? That sounds so unpleasant. Mike and I have been rating each other's farts for timbre and duration for years. Don't settle for anything less than the fairy tale, people.

Roasted Poblano Bechamel with Goat Cheese Mac & Cheese Casarecce with Roasted Poblano Béchamel

(If it's not macaroni, it's not “mac and cheese.” I'm talking to the near-entirety of the “best mac ‘n cheese EVER!!!”-pinning Pinterest population here. We are better than this!)

This is the one Mike was really looking forward to, mostly (I think) because his poblanos would be the star.

Although this is the recipe where everything just stared feeling very overwhelming and pointless, I will say that we had a lot of fun roasting poblanos the day before.

Mike was especially happy to be able to offer a ripe red poblano from his box o' picked peppers in the fridge:

Mike's Box of Picked Peppers

(Hot cherry, Jamaican red, Thai, poblano, Anaheim, and jalapenos, I think.)

Roasting My First Poblano

Roasted Poblanos

Easy! Hold over flame. Let pepper turn black. Put in covered container for 15-20 minutes (or 30, if you forget). Peel. If only "How to roast peppers" had been one of my pins.

Looking back, I don't know what was so bad about making this dish. True, time was ticking strangly fast, and everything seemed to need doing at once, and man did I miss having a colander, but other than the vomity look of the sauce, was it really so hard to stand over the stove cooking Bechamel sauce in a wok (as one does)?

Poblano Bechamel

Maybe it was the stopping to rinse everything out over and over as I tried to do all of these five dishes using just the wok, the pot of the pressure cooker, and my one measuring cup. At least all of the casarecce (which you don't even get to see, and it's my fave pasta - LE SIGH) and sauce fit into the square baking dish.

Kitchen Mess

(The baking dish that Mike bought even though we have one just like it on the way with our stuff - the stuff that won't be fitting into this absurdly tiny kitchen as it is - and that, I should mention, he bought just because he saw some Adrian Zumbo brownie mix at the store. Men. But it did mean I didn't have to put the pasta and sauce into two small "free with purchase of microwave" Pyrex dishes, so I guess that worked out.)

The pasta and cheese was baking. The quinoa bites were cooling. The bread was rising (we know how that turned out). The salad needed assembling. But first...

Corsican Mousse au Citron

I don't know why, when I was logically and efficiently writing out the 86 steps for making these five items, I didn't put "juice and zest four lemons" somewhere near the beginning.

By the time it came to tackle the lemons, I was not so happy. I'd noticed the scratch on the teapot. The bread looked iffy. The Bechamel sauce tasted odd. The quinoa bites were bland. Now I had to "zest" these lemons with a vegetable peeler then try to chop the zest into tiny enough bits that it wouldn't matter that I didn't have a strainer?

I did zest them. I did start chopping. I did say "Screw this" and just juiced the lemons instead.

Hand juicing is unpleasant but do-able. Unless you knock over the dish with all the juice in it. Or keep dropping the lemons into the juice dish (with a big splash). Or have to keep picking seeds out.

It's even more unpleasant when - DESPITE HAVING GONE THROUGH A PROLONGED HOMEMADE PUDDING PHASE IN MY YOUNGER YEARS - (sorry, that's not shouting, it's wailing in disbelief), I turned my back on the simmering sugar and eggs while doing other things (which did not include, for some reason, constantly stirring the simmering sugar and eggs), and ended up with...

Lemony Scrambled Eggs

Mmmm. Lemony scrambled eggs.

Then I used that spoon to try to strain out the biggest egg chunks. Yes I did. What remained kind of tasted good, I thought (in my by-now-also-extremely-hungry-having-skipped-breakfast-and-lunch state).

The "not so very sordid" half went into the fridge to chill. I put it from my mind and began to mess with the salad. Sure, Mike wouldn't be home for a few hours (I'd forgotten he had a department meeting), but the recipe did say the salad could be served at room temperature instead of warm.

Okay, the salad? The salad called for one cup of uncooked orzo. I cooked said cup of uncooked orzo. I ended up with one thousands cups of orzo, to roughly estimate.

I knew the orzo would expand (see quinoa, above, plus many years of knocking together pasta dishes), but there was SO much. Way more than was shown in the salad I had pinned.

I just kept scooping the orzo onto the mere two cups of arugula, as directed, and soon I had what looked like a bowl of rice with some green bits sticking out.

So I added more arugula, and kept adding it, but this meant that all of my mix-ins - the fresh mozzarella, the sun-dried tomatoes, the semi-toasted walnuts, the lemon-oregano dressing - barely covered anything. (Why didn't I just STOP when I thought there was enough orzo and put the rest into the fridge? I don't know. The overriding need for the pressure cooker pot to be empty and out of my sight, perhaps.)

I stuck the "bowl of orzo plus a bit of whatever, maybe" onto the counter and returned to the mousse. The lemon curd (as I was optimistically calling it) hadn't had time to thoroughly chill, but I was ready to thoroughly chill, so I continued on with the mousse.

I tried adding cream and vanilla and egg whites and whatever, all now halved (as the hot lemon eggy bits sat squishy in the trash). But, as already noted, stiff peaks never formed. I don't know if it's because I had to use a fork instead of a whisk, or if my wrists aren't as whirly as they should be, or what, but it didn't happen. Still, I gamely continued, and I thought the end result tasted kind of nice. (But, again, I was still very hungry.)

A few days later, after it didn't quite ever set-up in the fridge and no one wanted to eat it, I took this photo:

Yucky Lemon Mousse Gone Wrong

Those little chunks are egg, not zest. After three spoonfuls of hope, each followed by a scrunchy face, I gave up. It all went down the drain.

Final Result

After wiping everything up and hiding all evidence of me daring to rise above my station in the dishwasher, I went to lie down. My feet were killing me. I was still hungry, but to hell with food. Food was mean. How did all those 1950s housewives do it? Why do people throw dinner parties?

(I haven't even bothered to mention the part where at mid-morning the fire alarm - not the smoke detector - went off in the building. Just one long long long eardrum-melting beep then nothing. No neighbours came out, no fire I could spot anywhere. I hadn't had the oven or stove on for at least half an hour. Eventually I returned to the apartment, packed an "in case I have to jump off the balcony later" bag, and returned to my Pinterest duties.)

Lying in bed and losing at Candy Crush Saga (level 135 is AWFUL!), I texted Mike: "Plan on leftovers."

I've shown you the mousse. I can't show you the bread, but I will say that I ate it all in the days that followed, but that's more a testimony to my subsequent avoidance of the kitchen than to how it tasted. Here's how the salad ended up:

Orzo Salad

Orzo Salad with Extra Orzo, and everything else on top. (The bit missing on the left side is evidence of Mike's loyalty.)

The quinoa bites looked better:

Quinoa Bites

The casarecce and Bechamel (can no longer be bothered to put an accent on the "e") looked okay-ish... but no one gets to see that because I didn't think to take a photo of the pan until a couple of days later when I was transferring the leftovers to Pyrex. Here it is, cold and congealed from the refrigerator:

Casarecce and Bechamel with Walnut Crumble

But, you can see that it has been eaten. So here's what happened when Mike came home (bearing buns for his leftover sausages).

"I'm home!"

(Me, monotoning from my refuge in the bed): "There's food on the counter. You can eat it if you want. But you don't have to. I don't want to."

Dinner Is Served

Mike tried an inch of the bread (visible in background) then said he didn't want to judge it because it was his "fault for not putting butter on it." (Then I went on to eat it all so he never got to try another bite.)

Mike tried a bit of the mousse then said it "seemed okay" but he didn't want to judge it because "you know I don't like mousse-y things." (This is true. I don't understand it, but my hope to convert him to the joys of puddingy stuff didn't happen with these smooth scrambled eggs.)

Mike tried the salad and said he "wasn't sure about the orzo," but then he ate it for two days like it had been written into our marriage vows before asking if it would be okay if he "just ate the stuff on top"? (I have yet to try any of it, and now that the good bits have been scavenged, so I think our trash will soon be heavy with orzo overflow regrets.)

Mike tried the casarecce and poblano sauce and was deligted (although he wouldn't mind amping up the chili), and he has now eaten it for dinner for the past three days since I don't like it. Three. Days. (If I haven't made it clear in the past that he's a keeper, now you know.)

Mike tried the quinoa bites and pronounced them "BLOODY AWESOME." He was actually upset that I don't like them because he wants me to make them "again and again." He wouldn't stop popping them into his mouth while putting together his plate of everything else.

Part of me thinks that some of this was scripted by Mike on his ride home from work... or while I was lying in bed, listening to him exclaim over the quinoa and the pasta. I wondered if he was practicing "Oooo! Yummy!" faces for later in the microwave door where I couldn't see him. But even if he was, well, that's pretty sweet, I guess.

First Aussie Lunch

(Snagging the best husband ever? NAILED IT.)

Mike has kept up his raves as the days pass, though, so maybe I'll attempt a fancypants dinner again some time. We just got word that our stuff has arrived in Perth from Sydney... perhaps all I need is a grater and a mixing bowl and a measuring cup and next time it will be a tasty, effortless feast - for two, even.

Never give up, never surrender. To the pinning board!

30 May 2013 |