31 July, 2013

To Bridget, who cannot cook, but who we love

There is a short list of things in this life that hold sway over my willpower like Kryptonite.  It consists of things like Doritos, elephants, anything or anyone British, and cooking shows.  I've been watching too many cooking shows recently, leading me to buy rhubarb on an impulse, simply because I saw it in the produce section and thought, "Oh! Those Brits on UK Masterchef sure do love their rhubarb.  Obviously I should buy some."

With rhubarb sitting in the fridge awaiting a purpose, I made plans to have my friend P over for dinner last Friday.  She offered to make this summery cocktail and I brashly planned the rest of the menu.  I wanted to make something slightly spicy to play off the sweet cocktail.  I also wanted to somehow incorporate the rhubarb into dessert.  And I wanted the whole menu to be gluten- and dairy-free, since P is trying to avoid those in her diet.

My plan:
Cucumber coleslaw (substituting butter lettuce for cabbage and omitting chili flakes)
Fresh cantalope
Rhubarb compote with vanilla sorbet and toasted coconut crumble (loosely inspired by this)

Considering that my dinners are fairly cheap and simple these days, I have to admit that I was feeling incredibly inspired and creative as I set to work.  However, the results were more on par with Bridget Jones's blue soup than with a Masterchef victory.

Not having a mandoline, my only option for quickly shredding the cucumber was to use a box grater.  This created strips that were too thin, and the result was an oozing, wet, translucent heap.  Despite my attempt to drain the whole mess in a colander, the cuke plus lettuce dug a watery grave for my crisp salad ambitions.  Thankfully the peanuts added some salt and crunch, but it fell far short of my aspirations.

Cantalope: I completely forgot it, despite stopping at the grocery store with P to pick up a watermelon.  You know, from the MELON section where all the melons live.   

At least there was fancy dessert at the end of the evening.  I had great hopes that rhubarb would salvage the menu, a crowning glory to make us forget all the disappointment of the previous courses.  But oh, no; this was my Blue Soup Moment.  The grocery store had no vanilla sorbet, so I had to get soy ice cream.  In theory I have nothing against soy milk, but as ice cream it's just barely satisfactory.  Oh well; the tart rhubarb and coconut crumble would make it glorious.  I chopped the rhubarb and tossed it into a saucepan with sparkling wine and seasonings, and walked away while it stewed for a while.  I went to check it expecting to find a gleaming ruby compote.  What stared back at me looked more akin to stringy grey chunks of beef, oozing bubble-gum pink juices.  Did you know that rhubarb can double as stringy beef?  Well, now you do.  In no way, shape, or form was it appealing.  It tasted only tart, with none of the complexity and sweetness I'd thought my seasonings would coax out of it.  It was inedible.  So, my last resort was to toast the coconut flakes and sprinkle them over the ice cream with chocolate chips.  It's a great combination if you don't burn the coconut, but of course I burned the coconut.   

All this is to say, my Food Network-fueled delusions of grandeur got the better of me.  But P and I are big girls.  In the spirit of Bridget Jones we ate everything (except the rhubarb) and laughed a lot and tucked a few more "what not to do-s" into our cooking arsenals.  

(The only relative success was the chicken.  I decided to brine the thighs for a couple of hours before cooking them, and this went a long way to ensure moist, flavorful chicken.  The honey and spice mixture seemed alarmingly sweet to me when I tasted it on its own, but after everything roasted in the oven the balance of flavors was really nice.  This dish paired quite well with the "coleslaw," thanks to the refreshing lightness of the cuke and cilantro.  I do actually recommend both of those recipes!)

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