Friday, September 16, 2011

Disaster Week

I had big plans for this week.

I came across a cookbook called A Taste of Provence: Classic Recipes from the South of France. Aim high, right? That's what I thought, too. So I put together a few recipes that I thought might complement each other well, and didn't involve buying an entire lamb to roast in my fireplace or something. I had most of the ingredients already, so off I went, naively. Funny how that's a French word.

First, I made Olive Bread. It sounds like one of those rustic loaves that go well with everything, including the extra olives and tiny bit of Gruyère I bought. It turned out to have a nice crust, as the recipe promised, but the interior was way too dense for, well, anything practical. It also had an overly, um, earthy, flavor, which I think is due to the "2 generous handfuls" of buckwheat flour in the dough. Normally I love directions such as these, since my favorite way to cook is to throw in aliddulladis and aliddulladat. But in this case, the buckwheat flour seemed to outflavor everything else-- not that there is much else in bread to add flavor-- and so in essence I made olive-studded hockey pucks.

While the bread rose about 20 times, I made an onion chutney to add a little spicy sweetness to the plate of olive bread, cheese, and little nibbly vegetables I wanted for lunch. This was no chutney, I am sure. The recipe calls for WAY too much cayenne pepper, which makes the entire concoction super-hot and not at all calming the way fruit chutneys should be. The onions never stopped tasting oniony and just stunk up my house all day. The honey did nothing to sweeten the deal for me, and while the whole thing could have made the perfect liquid to soften the hockey pucks, the taste was vile enough to make me eat the bread plain.

The next day, I made roasted chicken and a Provençal reduction with lemon, white wine vinegar, and honey. In theory, all those things go well with poultry. Lemon chicken, after all, is practically a new classic. But this sauce was a bit too vinegary and didn't taste at all like something that just came out of an oven in the South of France. Edible, I suppose, but not great. I made a pumpkin gratin but with butternut squash as a side. This bizarre dish turned out to be little more than rice and chunks of squash baked in a dish in the oven for a while. Barely edible, and ugly to boot. The recipe swore the squash would get all caramelized and gooey and the whole thing would be soft and lovely. It was so not lovely.

To use up the other half of the squash, I tried a new recipe from Vegetarian Times. So far, I've had pretty good luck with their dessert recipes, which makes sense since most desserts don't call for a side of beef. This was an Indian Pudding recipe, which the recipe says isn't very pretty but tastes great and has been made in New England for ages. Which figures, since Native Americans have lived there for about that long. Anyway. Cinnamon, nutmeg, a dash of ginger, a little molasses and brown sugar would all add up to a pumpkin pie-esque dessert, or so I thought. Instead of bread or flour, the recipe calls for cornmeal. I only had blue cornmeal, which worked fine and is indeed ugly as promised. But since making this dessert, I've decided that everything made with cornmeal turns into cornmeal mush. So Mush Pudding became Disaster Number 5 this week. 

The cookbook is now listed for sale on This might be the culinary equivalent of selling a car you know is a lemon to some unsuspecting schmuck, but hey, that's what reviews are for.


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