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Sep 17, 2005 08:53 PM

Lunch Disaster and Rebirth

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Friends came over for lunch today and I got into some kind of paralyzed state (since yesterday afternoon) and could NOT decide what to make. It had to be pretty healthy - no deep-fried breaded pork loaf - and something I could whip up by 1 p.m. without having to get up really early on a beloved sleep-in day like Saturday.

At first I was going to do the Chicken with Honey, Vinegar and Figs from Zuni, and even borrowed my friend's cookbook. Then I decided that was too rich so I floundered around until 4 p.m. yesterday, when I went to Berkeley Bowl. I bought the ingredients for the Chick/Fig dish. I also bought some nice-looking pears that I thought I'd poach and serve with sweetened yoghurt (that good Fage sheep and goats' milk stuff).

I found a recipe for pears poached in verjus. Luckily, I had a full bottle of verjus a friend in Mendo County brought me from Navarro Winery. I poached the pears with the verjus and some sugar until they were tender. Then I drained off the liquid and put them in the fridge.

This morning when I tried one, it tasted as if it'd been left overnight in a can - horribly tinny. I cut into another one and found the same thing.

So now I think, well maybe if I reduce the verjus liquid, it'll transform the pears -- and served with the yoghurt, how could it be bad? I put the verjust on the stove to reduce but leave it too long and it burns when it's still liquid! So now, not only do I have no dessert, the whole house smells of burned sugar. I open all the doors and windows. Now I think that I'll make a carmelly sauce from brown sugar and butter. I turn around for what seems to be 2 seconds, and suddenly smell the familiar burning sugar. This time I catch it before it really begins to smoke, but it's ruined. It's now 11:45 and they're coming at 1.

I abandon the idea of serving the pears at all. Luckily, we got a couple of good melons from Full Belly Farm yesterday, and I figure I can make some quick cookies to serve with coffee and melon slices. This is usually a recipe for disaster but this time it works out.

My husband keeps coming into the kitchen, looking at me, and then tiptoeing backwards out of the room. I fantasize I hear him calling 911..."Yes, officer, she's totally lost her mind."

I look on the Epicurious site and find my salvation! Pistachio, Apricot Oatmeal Cookies. I actually HAVE a tub of shelled pistachios. The dough takes about 10 minutes to make - no chilling necessary and I also used regular oatmeal instead of the quick-cooking type called for. The cookies are a snap (sorry) and turn out perfectly.

So I ended up making a sort-of North African soup with garbanzos, French lentils, onions, garlic, celery, peppers (sweet), yams and tomatoes. Another bit of luck was that I had a large container of recently-made chicken stock for a base.

I seasoned it with cumin, cinnamon, a few squirts of harissa from a tube, and a pinch of something in a jar I ground up for a dish a few weeks ago that smelled good. Served it with the yoghurt mixed with shredded fresh mint and pita bread (white and whole wheat) I sprinkled with the same spice mix, salt, crushed cumin seeds and brushed with a little butter. Crumbled into the soup, they were really good.

I served a salad with chopped Armenian cuke (looked like a French Horn - all curly), tomatoes, arugula, green onions and slices of red daikon. Sherry/mustard/olive oil dressing.

It was a big success. The main drawbacks are twofold: (1) I have 2 nice stainless pans with black, tarry gunk stuck to the bottom on the back porch; and (2) 8 poached pears sitting in the fridge, and I just want to sit in a chair and eat potato chips for the next year and a half....wait, that's 3 things!

Anyway, the cookie recipe is great. Crispy, buttery, deelish.

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  1. Clean up those pans by either spraying with oven cleaner, if they are stainless that will be a snap to clean up, and a little stronger than Dawn Powerdissolver or you could put them in a plastic bag with straight ammonia and seal it up and let them sit over night. That should soften the black gunk too for easy removal.

    1. I read this with a knowing smile, a few giggles that were totally with love and all the affection I have! Great post. Thanks for sharing it with humor. Disasters make the BEST stories!! What fun is it so say 'I made fantastic pears tonight' - story over. This one you can tell over and over again....think of it as the disaster that keeps on giving.

      Enjoy your chips!

      1. A natural remedy for your condition would be to have an invitation to dinner from somebody else, then all you need to do is make sure your hair is in place.

        Sit and enjoy a lovely meal and a glass of wine while someone else scrambles around in the kitchen!
        Dr. Funwithfood

        1. Thanks for a great story. I do wonder why your pears tasted tinny though. Did you leave them in the poaching pan overnight or move to nonreactive container? Would be nice to rework them so you don't have to toss them out, but I'm not coming up w/ anything...

          The Zuni chicken w/ figs isn't really a rich dish IMO, but I can see how it might be too heavy for lunch.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Carb Lover

            I cooked the pears in a stainless steel pot and removed them, after they'd cooled a bit, to a ceramic dish to refrigerate overnight.

            I still have them. Am going to try serving with the yoghurt sauce I'd originally planned and possibly with a spoonful or two of brown sugar/butter melted together and cooked down WITHOUT BURNING AND TURNING THE WHOLE PLACE INTO A SMOKE-FILLED CRETIN DEN.

            Btw, I really recommend those oatmeal, pistach, apricot cookies. They're a snap to make and are spectac.