A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Look Back at Today's Meals

I'm feeling paradoxically better and worse today.  My energy level has improved and nothing hurts today, but my nose will not stop running.  (I am so blog-crazed that I actually just now contemplated including a photo of my tissue-filled trashcan.  You can breathe a sigh of relief that I decided you would probably be happier with a shot of Freddy and Willy.)

Better than a hot water bottle!
Anyhow, I'm still eating like a sick person today.  Had my breakfast fruit/nuts sans yogurt again and made a kind of tea that doesn't require milk.  (By the way, the tenses are all over the place in this posting because I wrote part of it during the day it describes (yesterday, in fact) and part of it the following day (today).)

At lunch, I generously gave Peter the last few pieces of leftover kim-bob, even though he'd eaten up all the eggs but one the previous day.  I got creative with the single remaining egg, stirring it into my leftover spicy Korean soup as it heated.  The egg actually improved the soup as well as eking out the tiny amount left into a substantial portion — I'll have to keep this trick in mind the next time I am faced with insufficient egg or soup in the future.  (Ha! What used to be "running out of food" is now "an interesting culinary challenge to blog about.")

For second lunch — I told you yesterday that I eat a LOT when I'm sick — I had an old comfy favorite of mine which has been reviled by many who have seen me preparing it.  (Without tasting it, I might add.)  This favorite is bread with peanut butter and butter.  With the butter on TOP of the PB.  Otherwise, the delicate flavor of the (preferably salted) butter gets drowned out by the PB.  This technique also works great on saltines, but be aware if you decide to try it that your friends will turn their noses up at you.  Until they try it themselves.  (In the crazy hedonistic days of my youth, I would often add a top layer of spun honey to the mix.  If you're sufficiently young, crazy, and/or hedonistic, feel free to try this yourself.  If you pack it in a sack lunch to eat later, the honey will have formed a delicately crunchy texture which might make you swoon.  That's one of my only fond memories of 7th grade, by the way.)

And now, the moment we've all been anticipating. . .the serving of the eggplant/pasta bake!

Ta da!  Isn't that pretty?  Peter was kind enough to leave a generously appreciative comment on my blog after dinner, but I am not considering this attempt as among my most successful creations.  I will share with you several changes I would make when repeating this dish, but I think my lack of enthusiasm about the eggplant bake comes primarily from non-culinary circumstances.

First off, still feeling under the weather, I arrived at the table rather too exhausted from my cooking/photographing/blowing my nose 2 zillion times to even want to eat.  I would have been just as happy with a crust of bread and a nap.

Then, like me, the dish arrived at the table in less-than-optimal condition.  

Both because I underestimated the cooking time in my convection oven — I started with 35 min @ 350 degrees — and because the photo session that intervened between plating and serving went on a little too long, our portions were decidedly luke in their warmth and not gooey at all.   I was too tired to return to the kitchen and would have just choked down the partially baked meal, but Peter (the darling) grabbed up our plates and dumped everything back in the convection oven for an additional 10 minutes.  (For those keeping track, that would make 45 minutes in all.)

In the meantime, I just slumped at my seat, staring at my fork and sipping idly at my glass of 2008 Torre del Falasco Valpolicella:

I think this wine was pretty good, but I will abstain — not from wine, heavens forfend! — from writing a full-blown wine review, since in my condition my taste buds were not at their discerning peak and because I was drinking more for medicinal than oenological reasons.  Anyway, back to the now-reheated dish. . . .

If you are a cook, you are probably familiar with the disappointing phenomena that makes you — after spending hours thinking about, planning for, assembling the ingredients for, then preparing a particular dish — not want to even look at the damn food when it's finally ready to serve.  Well, add blogging about the dish and photographing the dish to the mix and you can imagine how much interest in my eggplant bake had survived all that preparatory hoopla.

So, keep in mind when reading the following tasting notes that your reviewer was suffering from illness, initially insufficient temperatures (of the food — my fever was fine), and apathy during the tasting.

All of you who feared that I added my herbs too early in the cooking of the sauce have been vindicated: there was nary an herbal note to be picked up in the final dish.  (Well, there was a subtle undertone of oregano, but not the heady punch I'd hoped for.)  Sometimes flavors emerge as a dish sits in the fridge — one of the reasons I adore leftovers — so I will be interested to see how the dish tastes upon reheating.  There was also in my opinion insufficient goo to the dish, even with its extra 10 minutes in the oven, so I'd add more mozzarella next time and probably ricotta or cottage cheese as well.  Finally, I'm not sure whether the rather bland eggplant was capable of carrying this dish alone.  It probably would have been more interesting with red peppers and mushrooms.  (Not to mention ground beef.)

Oh, by the way, the burnt bits of Asiago cheese on the top made me briefly forget I was sick — delicious!

Thoughts to ponder: Do you generally enjoy your own cooking as much as the other people eating it do?  What factors interfere with your full enjoyment?

A toast to all of you who have accompanied me and my pasta bake through our tortuous journey!

Peter raises a glass to your health


  1. Butter on top of PB? The idea doesn't sound unappealing, but the act of getting it layered in that order sounds difficult.

    Yes, I enjoy my own cooking. Too much. That and you inspired my post today. Mostly you, because I wouldn't have been taking pics of my dinner last night if I had not been reading your blog while it was baking.

    Hope today is your healing day, Michael, and that tomorrow you're back to yourself.

    Oh, and details please on that oven. It looks straight out of Lost In Space. lol

  2. Hi Debbie. I really appreciate the prominent mention on your (popular) blog. Stuffed cabbage appeals to my German and Czech heritage very much, although I am too lazy to make it very often. (I tend to worry excessively about the little packets falling apart when I am cooking them, which stresses me out.)

    Don't worry, I plan to dedicate a whole post soon to my snazzy little space-age cooker!

  3. You had me all keyed up on this pasta bake thing until I saw the word "eggplant". I vote for red peppers!

  4. Hey, Michael. I found you through Peter. I'm enjoying your blog. I have my family well trained to tell me how wonderful my cooking is, even when I taste it and it doesn't measure up to my expectations ;-) I am most definitely my worst food critic. Enjoy blogging and hope you feel better soon. Lane

  5. @quiltfool: Thanks for the wishes of health. I am feeling OK at this point, but have very little energy. (Perhaps I'm over-blogging?) I know where your family is coming from.....I always say that my favorite dish is whatever someone else has made for me!

  6. @Kristin: I promise that my next food demo will not include any vegetables starting with "E"!

  7. And I thought peanut butter, butter, and honey was my own personal invention. Especially lovely when the bread is dense and toasted! Perfect for dunking into hot tea! I am absolutely loving your blog!

  8. @pikojiko: I am willing to share credit for this invention! I prefer a mushier final product, so I don't normally toast. That variation can be YOUR trademark. Thanks for visiting.

  9. I'm a follower of Peter's blog and found you through him. After sewing,cooking is my next favorite thing, so you two are the perfect blog team.
    After cooking a meal, I sometimes don't enjoy it as much as I would if someone else has prepared it. When my husband cooks, I enjoy the meal more. Not only did I not cook it and therefore didn't have the "in between" tastes but he also uses different spices and herbs which keeps things interesting. What most interferes with my cooking enjoyment is my super picky daughter who prefers plain pasta without anything on it to any meal in the world- a big challenge.
    I plan to try a modified version of you eggplant dish this weekend and am really enjoying your blog.

  10. Hi Stefanie: Thank you for hopping from Peter's blog over to mine! What are you doing in Germany? I lived there for a total of 10 years, most recently, and with fondest memories, in Berlin.

    Cooking for picky people can be a real bummer. I once had a boyfriend whose idea of haute cuisine was steak-ums. (Yes, Ed, this means you!) I would put together elaborate meals — once I did a whole feast with all white foods to precede a white party — and he would reach for the ketchup. On the other hand, I do enjoy the challenge of trying to make a good meal while taking into consideration all the diners' food preferences, allergies, and dietary restrictions. Sometimes my creative really kicks in when I am faced with an impossible task.

  11. I don't enjoy my own cooking very much, maybe the simpler dishes I make. I like cooking, but once I spend time and effort putting something together and tasting, I often find I have very little appetite when I sit down. That's fine, I keep everyone else company.

  12. Nice blog! I'm glad to read that you're starting to feel better.

    I don't always enjoy my cooking as much as others do because I analyse it and think of how I would do things differently next time. My enjoyment of a dish is qualified by how I intended it to be, not just how it turned out - I don't often use recipes, and when I do it's mostly for ideas rather than exact measurements.

  13. Thank you, p&b! I love what you said about judging your cooking according to your intentions. I wonder how much pain we cause ourselves by wishing things in general were other than what they actually are? Your ideas could be worked up into a doctoral thesis!

  14. @Steph: I'm curious to know more about the simpler and more complex dishes you make. I wonder which I would find more appealing. As far as tasting as I cook goes, I know you are supposed to do it, but I like to be surprised how it all turns out in the end, so I often avoid tasting intermittently. I guess a meal to me is a little like a murder mystery — I don't want to peek at the ending and spoil it all!

  15. I love my own cooking more than anyone else's. I discourage my husband from cooking because, as the cook, I have exactly what I feel like every meal. Also, as the non-cook, he cleans up the kitchen! Cooking is much more fun than cleaning.
    I have a convection oven just like yours and I love it. I also have a new Smeg multifunction oven, but there are some things I prefer to cook in the convection oven- roasts, tandoori chicken, all sorts of marinated meats, vegetables tossed in herbs and olive oil for a start. Have you tried using a ring-shaped cake tin as a casserole dish in your convection oven? I find that a dish without a central opening disrupts the air currents and things cook less efficiently.

  16. @mae: We have an unofficial rule in my house that the cook shouldn't have to wash the dishes after cooking a meal. It's a good rule, but in our case, not an even trade, as I tend to anally tidy up as I go along, leaving usually only the actual serving dishes to attend to.

    Your suggestion about the ring-shaped pan is brilliant, and I'm tempted to claim it as my own idea. Nah, my guilt would override any sense of satisfaction from that lie. I've put a r-s pan on my thrift shop "look-for" list and will credit you when I do a write-up on it.

    It sounds like you and your husband are the perfect match!

  17. Hi Michael, I too wandered over from Peter's. Mention food and I am there! I totally hear you on the thinking/planning/making a recipe and then being underwhelmed at the end of it. I once spent most of a sunday afternoon making Minestrone; it was a huge batch from a Martha Stewart recipe (so lots of uniform/fancy chopping, tons of ingredients and stock from scratch) and my husband thought it was amazing. I thought meh.

    I am excited to follow the next adventure! And if you get eggplant again, have you ever had Pasta alla Norma? Sicilian pasta dish with ricotta salata (a pressed ricotta)...it's pretty tasty!

  18. @Maggie: Mmmmmm—ricotta salata. I will have to try out Pasta alla Norma. Besides, as a voice teacher, I am particularly drawn to foods named after operas!

    I wish I had been there for a bowl of your Minestrone. (Perhaps we should call it Minnie-strone and then it would be named after a Puccini heroine!)

  19. P.S. I bet it wasn't Meh-nestrone at all.

  20. Ha! Why didn't I come up with that one!! ;)