In all of these cases, the food was salvageable. The pound cake went back into the oven, the chicken was edible if not exactly crunchy, and the blueberry innards tasted OK over ice cream. But last week I made a dinner so repulsive, so awful, it could only go one place: the garbage disposal. Here’s what happened.
Look, I’m going to level with you. These are pretty pictures I took last weekend, on a Sunday morning, after I’d made coffee for myself and read the Sunday New York Times and decided I wanted some breakfast. In the refrigerator, I had leftover English Porridge from April Bloomfield’s cookbook, with its great salty sweet kick. Instead of heating it back up, I thought: “What if I turn it into pancakes? Oatmeal pancakes?” Seemed reasonable enough.
I’ve been doing this blog for almost five years–FIVE YEARS!–and in those five years I have never, not even once, made myself sick from something I cooked.
Look at that lovely autumnal duck dish, above. It comes from a famous chef’s cookbook, but he’s not such a famous chef that I want to blame him publicly for the torturous night that followed this dinner. All I will say is that if you come across a recipe that tells you to cook duck pieces in a pot, finish cooking in the oven ’til brown, to remove the duck and add to the pan white wine and then lots of dried fruit–dried apricots, dried cranberries, dried currants, raisins–and Christmasy spices like nutmeg and Allspice along with orange juice and some stock which you cook and serve with the duck on a bed of wild rice in an explosion of bewitching colors and smells that’d make you kick the ripest summer tomato away for love of all things fall, don’t!
At least, that’s my perspective: I was the one who suffered. But Craig, who ate the exact same thing, did not get sick and he says it wasn’t the duck. He and I ate everything exactly the same that day–I made eggs and oatmeal for breakfast, though in mid-afternoon I stuck a spoon into a jar of homemade currant jam for a pick-me-up. Could the jam’ve been the culprit? I doubt it.
I also snacked on lots of the dried fruit before putting it in the pot; maybe the dried fruit did me in? Maybe the heat killed all their diseases and that’s why Craig didn’t get sick?
But now we both have nasty colds, so no matter what: this duck dish brings you bad luck. Plus, cooking the duck by itself in the oven for 40 minutes really dries it out; Craig could hardly cut through it and despite all the luscious colors and smells, I had to agree that the duck was a dud.
I love you and your book Sunday Suppers at Lucques. It’s the book I go to when I want to dazzle, when I want to blow my guests out of the water. On Friday, my guest would be none other than Lauren, a great friend and former roommate who was there at the dawn of my website: she knew me when “uh oh” was a more common cooking exclamation than “a-ha.” This would be the first time I’d cook for her in three years, years in which my cooking has improved immeasurably. I wanted to knock her socks off and so I turned to your book.
The recipe I went for was the “Spiced Pork Stew with Polenta, Root Vegetables, and Gremolata.” I decided to nix the root vegetables and gremolata and focus on the pork: Lauren is a big fan of chili and I wanted this to be a kind-of highbrow chili experience. Well not highbrow, necessarily, just impressive. And I know it’s not really that chili-like, but slow-cooked pork shoulder with coriander seeds, cumin seeds and fennel seeds should please any chili-lover, shouldn’t it?
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” I thought, “if instead of making a complicated fancy-schmancy-my-name-is-Nancy dessert I made something really simple like a pound cake? And used really good butter? And fresh farmer’s market eggs? And served it with raspberries and whipped cream? And used Martha Stewart’s recipe?”
That was the plan. I bought Plugra style butter which looked impressive and European. I got those farmer’s market eggs. And I whipped everything up in a jiffy: it’s normally a pound of butter, a pound of sugar and a pound of flour (that’s how pound cake got its name) but this one had better proportions. It looked promising. Into the oven it went and I sat there patiently watching the minutes tick by, filing my nails, dreaming of a better life, when the 50 minutes were up and it was time to insert the tester. I used a dry spaghetti strand as I normally do. It came out clean. (Was that my mistake? Diana said I should’ve used something with more surface area.) On a cooling rack it sat in the pan for 10 minutes. And then it was time to turn it out and that’s when disaster struck…
My pound cake threw up. You can see it in the picture: as I flipped it over, the top cracked open and hot batter oozed out. I felt the way a new parent might feel when the doctor says, “Don’t touch the baby’s head, it’s soft” and you do anyway. Ha. Ok, that was a bad example. But look how beautiful that cake looks on the outside and how sad it is that it decided to not be cooked on the inside. Diana tried to comfort me by saying that it was like a molten chocolate cake except without the chocolate. “Mmmm,” she said, dipping a pieced of cooked cake into the uncooked batter and eating. “I actually like it.”
Ignoring Diana’s good cheer, I cut the ends off and tried to assemble a semi-decent looking dessert:
And, surprisingly, it worked. I guess that only proves the adage: when life throws you a vomiting pound cake, cut the ends off, and top it with whipped cream and raspberries. Truer words have never been spoken.