In Week Twenty-Six I started to feel sad. The kind of sadness that comes with being overwhelmed and not sure how anything is ever going to get better. The kind of sadness that looks around and hears a tiny voice whisper from the darkness of a fear-filled mind, “How will you ever pull this off?” The kind of sadness that expresses itself in angry tears, full of exhaustion, confusion, and doubt.
This was me as I rounded the half-way point of this project. To add insult to injury, I had originally planned to make a big deal about cresting the fifty percent mark, to celebrate it and start the downhill coast. There was no celebrating, no announcement, and no coasting.
I was spending fifteen hours a day at Hurley House to get everything done. The Kitchen Manager job was drowning me as I attempted to completely overhaul our operation. The cooking was grueling, and I had moments where I literally cussed out loud at a dessert because I thought it was the dumbest dessert in the world. Have you ever cussed at sorbet? It’s not a proud moment.
As it turns out, the dessert was the hit of the lunch the next day, and I just needed a good night’s sleep. But these are the moments that I remember. Alone in the kitchen at midnight, up to my wrists in mango sorbet, wanting to fling the whole contraption across the room and walk out. But I didn’t fling, and I didn’t walk out. I kept going.
WHAT I COOKED
Penne with Five Cheeses, Family Style
WHAT I LEARNED
GRILLED NEW YORK STRIP STEAKS.
At first glance, I thought this recipe was too fussy and a way for Ina to fill a page. Everyone knows the only “recipe” you need for steak is olive oil, and plenty of salt and pepper. Fancy rubs have no place on a thick New York strip steak, right? Wrong. The flavor of this rub, with its list of odd ingredients including brown sugar, chili powder, and coffee, is spot on. This recipe yields a fantastic version of grilled steak, transforming the finished dish into something equally delicious as the classic, but with more interesting flavors. I found it insanely satisfying.
PEAR, APPLE, AND CRANBERRY CRISP.
To quote my husband Timm, “This is one of the best desserts from this project so far.” It’s the basic formula of Ina’s apple crisp with the addition of pears and cranberries. The depth of flavor is subtle, but the added ingredients transform this dish into an amalgam of notes that compliment one another and make the others shine. Kind of like a good marriage.
PAN FRIED ONION DIP.
I have a memory from my childhood of sitting on the beach under an umbrella with a bag of Fritos and a can of onion dip from the gas station. Not my classiest moment, but it stuck with me. Good onion dip is hard to find, until now. THIS is the onion dip of my dreams. Richly caramelized onions, golden brown and sweet, are mixed with cream cheese and sour cream, and the perfect amount of salt. I could eat this for days. I served it with kettle potato chips, and there was nothing low-brow about it. Everyone likes onion dip, and I will be serving this at parties for years.
This!!! I served Ina’s Morrocon Couscous at an Ina Lunch, and it was the star of the show. The broth is infused with saffron and cumin. The vegetables are roasted until caramelized and sweet. The finished dish is nothing short of a show-stopper. Couscous recipes can tend to border on bland, but this one is full of flavor. I ate the leftovers for lunch the next day, and it was equally as good served cold out of a Tupperware container.
ICE CREAM BOMBE.
This was the dessert that had me cussing at sorbet late at night. I was angry and sad when I made it, slapping sorbet in the bowl, my fingers numb, melting sorbet mess all over the counter. Who makes bombes? Who thinks this is a good idea? No one. I put the finished contraption in the freezer overnight and expected it to be a bomb (pun intended). I even had my speech ready for what I was going to say to our lunch guests when it didn’t turn out. The next day, to my surprise and the sheet delight of everyone who got to enjoy this masterpiece, it turned out spectacularly. I regret not capturing the moment on video. It was a triple wow moment, and I think I almost cussed (again) out of disbelief. Not only did this dessert look beautiful, but the combination of mango sorbet, raspberry sorbet, and strawberry ice cream is crazy good. It’s cold, tart, beautiful, interesting, and such a cool presentation. I seriously still cannot believe it worked.