Monday, August 27, 2012

Patience's Kitchen of Despair

Prompted by the arrival of Jon's brother, his wife, and their four children, my aspiring-chef son Seamus and I happily planned a feast of stuffed, bacon-wrapped dates, garlicky, cashew chicken, yogurt-curry rice, sauteed local vegetables, and homemade chocolate eclairs.

We got off to an efficient start by preparing the ground cashew-garlic-lime juice-cilantro-jalapeno paste for the chicken the night before, so it could marinate overnight.  Our enthusiasm had diminished by Friday afternoon, and in the cold light of a kitchen in which no one had remembered to run the dishwasher, the meal seemed a tad ambitious for a workday.

Seamus assembled the dates and started on the eclairs.  I have made profiteroles several times, from a recipe we found on  They have always turned out perfect, but this time I chose the eclairs recipe from the New York Times Cookbook, which I was sure would be better than the Profiteroles for Proles--it makes you separate the eggs, which I feel is an indication of a superior baked good.

The eclairs puffed up beautifully in the oven, but once on the cooling rack, they deflated into the most pathetic pastry ever seen.  For consolation, I poured myself a healthy amount of vodka, disguised in lemon soda.   No time to feel sorry for ourselves, our guests had arrived and we had to get the dates on the grill.  I hurriedly gulped the last of my vodka in order to partake of wine with the rest of the adults.

Twenty minutes later, Seamus and I were beating the flames out of the bacon-wrapped dates, which were burned to cinders.  I tried to console Seamus by saying that burned things are sometimes delicious, but the truth is, they were inedible.

Meanwhile, we were struggling with the custard that was supposed to be the filling for the eclairs.  I have made custards many times and never had a problem, but this custard had the taste, consistency, and color of boiled hooves.  Up to this point our guests had consumed nothing but wine and a small packet of Thai-lime potato chips.

Seamus turned his attention to the chicken, while I started the rice.  I hadn't bothered to read the recipe because, how hard is it to make rice?  Again, (you may be detecting a theme here) I have made rice hundreds of times and never had a problem.  The rice was cheerfully boiling, while I mixed yogurt, lime juice and curry powder.  I glanced at the recipe:

Wrap a clean kitchen towel around the pot lid so it completely covers the the inside of the lid; gather the corners on top so they do not fall anywhere near the heat, and place the lid on the pot, sealing it tightly...Cook undisturbed for about 30 minutes.

First of all, my kitchen towels, even when "clean" are in a shocking condition and should not come into contact with food.  Second, it seemed like a mighty tricky maneuver with the towel, which I would certainly drop into the rice.  And third, thirty more minutes?  For rice that was already mostly cooked?

I ignored the cookbook,  turned the heat under the rice to high, and started on the vegetables....and discovered that the fresh, local zucchini I'd bought the day before was rotten through the middle.  I seriously considered chucking the whole meal and ordering pizza.  But this was "move in weekend" when every street, sidewalk, restaurant, and parking lot is crammed with people from out of town who don't know what the hell they are doing.  My mental health was too fragile to face the crowds, so we soldiered on.

The chicken--every time I've made this chicken in the past it was spicy and garlicky and delicious--was as bland as if we'd grilled it with no marinade at all.  It was also, in contrast with the dates, ever-so-slighly underdone, although no reports of salmonella as of yet. The rice, despite being cooked without the benefit of the kitchen towel, was the only part of the meal that turned out OK.  Jon's brother and family insisted that everything was delicious, but they must have been trying to be tactful.  At least the wine was nice.

For consolation, we had the pathetic eclairs.  Seamus thought they could be re-inflated with pastry-bag action, which he loaded with the boiled hooves.  I abandoned the New York Times recipe and made a chocolate glaze that I know I can depend on (bittersweet chocolate chips melted in a little half-and-half).  And so our guests were treated to limp, hoof-filled pastry coated in a delicious chocolate glaze.

Tell me:  have you ever had a dinner party fail?


  1. Once I decided to make a green bean dish for dinner guests. It involved making a sauce with, God help me, eggs and bacon. I made the sauce a few hours in advance and let it sit out at room temperature. I was young and stupid. The bathroom in my tiny apartment was located right next to the kitchen. I could hear the sounds of a dinner guest in digestive distress as the rest of us sat there playing cards. I didn't realize my culinary catastrophe until a few hours after the guests left, when I experienced my own intestinal payback.

  2. I order good take out for dinner parties, but I don't really like to cook. I am in awe of your ambition, particularly on a work night.

  3. Ugh - the New York Times Cookbook fails me every time. At first I thought I was doing something wrong (every time) but after years of cooking I suspect that either that cookbook doesn't cater to my tastes or something is just off. As for the choux for the eclairs, if you tried this weekend, I'll bet the rain was the culprit. Humidity is their worst enemy. Finally, I cannot tell you how much I love this sentence, "Seamus thought they could be re-inflated with pastry-bag action, which he loaded with the boiled hooves." If there was an award for today, you've won it!

  4. Dinner fail is quite common here believe it or not, but I don't think I could ever be quite as eloquent as you are about it.

    My father once had a dinner fail so epic that I am still to this day haunted by it, some 30 plus years later.

  5. I don't entertain much anymore but a good rule is, never serve anything you haven't made before. If you DO decide on a new dish, make sure you have plenty of other stuff so the new thing can be a lucky-bonus-if-it-works. Limit complicated dishes to one or two. Some events (like rotten zucchini) can't be helped. Have plenty of liquor on hand and only invite people who love you no matter what happens to the food!

    (Ditto on the NY Times recipes--I'll add Martha Stewart's to that list!)

  6. Ah, don't worry about it.

    It's the company that makes a meal special..
    Sometime I must recount the tragic tale of the banquet of the uncooked chicken and the horrendous aftermath of large-group food poisoning.

  7. yum...... I once messed up the timing on an aubergine parmigiana, my signature dish at the time, I was making for my boyfriend. He gamefully chewed through some very under-cooked aubergine until I finally admited it was inedible and whisked it away from him.... and so dear reader I maarried that man.... amd then i divorced him!!

  8. So far not to that degree--I admire you for trying NEW recipes for company! Risky!

  9. Oh, honey. You've had quite a week.

    Kudos to you for being brave and ambitious. That's worth huge points in my book.

    As for dinner party fails? Ohhhh, yes. I've had a few. I think the worst was this horrible soup I made for a guy I'd just started dating ... he ended up eating the broth and leaving the rest of the barely edible bits in the bottom of his bowl. Strangely, that relationship didn't work out.

  10. This might be the wrong time to say that my husband does all the cooking when we entertain.

    I have certainly had plenty of cooking failure, though. On the other hand, I am considerably less ambitious than you were on this occasion. Ambition should be rewarded! I'm sorry it turned out poorly. :(

  11. OMG, finally catching up on some reading and laughed so hard reading this I have tears coming down my face!

    In my family, there was the pot of mushroom barley soup that my poor daughter gagged which point I yelled, "Stop eating!" and made everyone sandwiches for dinner.

  12. Deb, that is hilarious. And usually mushroom barley soup is delicious!