A Challenge, Declared. A Doldrum, Broken. Let It Be Done.

johnliu_gwOctober 16, 2012

The thread about cooking doldrums has got me thinking.

The best way I know to break free from the doldrums has always been to identify and take on a cooking challenge. A dish that you want to make, have never made, are frightened of making, lack the skills to make, and may well be unable to ever make.

Assault the castle, struggle and burn and swear, labor mightily and bring forth to the table your culinary bete noire, edible or not. At the end of it all, you will have broken something - maybe a nail, maybe crockery, or your heart, but surely your cooking doldrum as well.

I suggest, for those of us twisting in the doldrums, that we each declare and accept such a cooking challenge. The precise dish will be different for each of us. I'm not yet sure what mine will be. It must be worthy. Give it some thought, and come back here and post your own personal challenge. We can then follow our ups and downs as we each battle our declared dish.

Success will be sweet and effusively celebrated with full photographic documentation. Failure must be glorious, I mean Charge Of The Light Brigade style glorious, shining sabers plunging at a wall of cannon. As the great Eddy Merckx declared before one of his early victories, his plan that day was to mourir sur le velo, to die in the saddle. If your creation bursts into flame on the burner, collapses at the table, or achieves total inedibility, for our purposes that will be a moral victory. Our ultimate target, after all, is not a dish, but a doldrum.

Will any join me? Face your deepest fears in the kitchen? Enter the valley of Isengard and bake Orthanc as a four foot layer cake?

"Your mission, Jim, should you decide to accept it,

is . . . As always, should you or any member of your I.M.

Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow

any knowledge of your actions. This tape will

self-destruct in five seconds."

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lindac

My cooking doldrums are always cured by an audience....company for dinner!!..What to serve?.....and I am off and dreaming!

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 11:06PM
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centralcacyclist

Dinner for twenty using only a hot plate and a toaster oven. Game on.

;)

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 11:09PM
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EATREALFOOD

john I have read your posts on the kitchen forum and you always crack me up ! I'm going to spend tomorrow meditating on this. Maybe I'll meditate in front of my cookbook bookcase, while burning sage...
I can't start the challenge yet since I just bought a massive quantity of farmer's market vegetables which need to be cooked and I don't think the chicken/vegetable stew that I was planning quite falls into this category unless of course someone has never made a stew.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 11:12PM
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annie1992

I'm too busy to have the doldrums right now, LOL, I have birthday cakes to bake and decorate for bud and Makayla. She wants hula girls, he wants sharks. I'm thinking the sharks should be trying to eat the hula girls. (grin) Maybe I'll have the doldrums next week.

No, not then either, because I have 50 chickens that need to be killed, plucked, cleaned and packaged. 50. I don't have someone else do it, I do it myself. I don't know what the heck I was thinking. (sigh)

I think maybe all that chicken will put me in the doldrums, and then I'll take on the challenge. I have yet to conquer phyllo/filo dough. Ugh.

i had to smile at your "Lord of the Rings" reference to Isengard, though, I read that trilogy chapter by chapter to my girls when they were small.

Annie

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 11:14PM
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dcarch7

I have already been challenged by friends to come up with Halloween ideas.

Not sure what to make yet.

dcarch

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 11:36PM
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johnliu_gw

Thinking . . . I'm afraid of pastry baking. So maybe a Paris-Brest? A real one, with the outer ring, the praline cream, and the inner ring? Most recipes omit the inner ring. It is important. The dish was invented to celebrate the 1892 Paris-Brest bicycle race, and to race a bicycle you need not only the tire but also the inner tube . . . Still thinking. Where's that sage? In a hotel now, tommorrow I get home to my cookbooks.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2012 at 11:44PM
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mabeldingeldine_gw

This cracks me up! OK, as soon as I finish my budget I'll start thinking about this -- I am traveling this weekend and should have time to think about it and make a decision. Perhaps a meal fit for a Hobbit? Rabbit Pie, cheese plate, tea cakes, some fine ale? Served at a party? I've never cooked rabbit before. Hmmm, I'll have to think more upon this. In other words: Challenge accepted!

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:42AM
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centralcacyclist

I was kidding about dinner for 20. I've been wanting to make coq au vin but every time I look at Julia's recipe my eyes glaze over. Perhaps I should tackle that just to get it over with.

Eileen

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 8:47AM
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rob333

I with you. My challenge is get my highly picky son into eating what I am eating at the same time I am eating it. He's finally decided he doesn't want the same food every night. Which means, instead of him cooking his meal, we'll cook together and eat together. He's already started. Earlier this summer, he decided he'd try my dry rub hot chicken wings and loved them. Devours them. So I got him to try pork ribs with the same seasoning on them, when we ate out one night. Loved it. Went to friends house and ate pork chops. This is the first time he's eaten something that isn't chicken or fish. He says he's ready. Wish me luck! I don't wanna kill that adventure spirit that can so easily die in picky eaters! I want to cultivate.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 9:43AM
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sally2_gw

Okay, I'll admit it. I watch and enjoy the show, Masterchef. It kills me, but just the same, I do like it. For those that haven't ever seen it, it's a cooking competition with home cooks as the contestants, rather than professional chefs. It's actually the only Gordan Ramsey show where he's half way civil, even nice to people.

Why am I going on about that show? Well, in the 2 seasons I've watched it, at some point towards the finals, the few remaining contestants have to make a "stunning" souffle. (One could get totally snockered if one was into drinking games and took a swig every time they said the word, "stunning.") I have never made one. I've never even eaten one. Sounds like a fitting challenge to me. All I have to decide is what kind of souffle to make, sweet or savory?

What a fun post, and game, John!

Sally

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 9:47AM
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oasisowner

Company this weekend - always a challenge. Two vegetarians, several meat lovers, one lactose intolerant, one gluten intolerant, picky 8 & 14 year olds, and the list goes on.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 9:54AM
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arley_gw

Sally, I had souffle-phobia for a while. Once I made one, though, I didn't see what all the fuss was about. If you have a mixer and can beat egg whites, you can make a souffle. Really.

A simple one to start with would be a cheese souffle. (I've never bothered with a sweet souffle, simply because I don't like sweets very much, but the technique is basically the same.) Plus, even if it fails to rise, it's still tasty.

A couple of notes: you can make a collar out of foil or parchment paper to go around a souffle dish to allow it to go upwards. Unless you have a helper, it's a PITA to tie a piece of string around the paper to hold it in place. You can use a couple of straight pins to hold it. By the way, Julia preferred not to use a souffle dish, preferring instead to use a charlotte mold. Not that I have one hanging around the kitchen, mind you.

One challenge I might make for myself--if I can find the ingredient--is roasting a suckling pig. The local grocery store can order a pig big enough for a barbecue, but it's hard to find a little one. (Why are the tastiest animals often cute? I've long felt that animal scientists really should try to breed ugly rabbits so people won't recoil from eating them.)

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:15AM
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jojoco

I am putting croissants on notice. :) I've been saying for years that I will make them, but never have. The dough, with all that turning and reforming, always intimidated me.

What's the worst that can happen? A butter rich product that might not look like pretty? I can live with that.

I'm heading to NYC and Eataly this weekend, so my slay list may change, given all the eye candy there.

Jo

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:28AM
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centralcacyclist

Croissants and a souffle are on my list, too. I'll get to them when I have eaters around.

Eileen

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 11:57AM
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johnliu_gw

Croissants. It is hard to understand how a cute fluffy thing can be so intimidating. Then I tear one open, look at the airy spiral layers, and wonder "how did they do that?". Definitely worthy.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 12:06PM
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booberry85

I've always wanted to make Doro Wat & injera bread. My uncle is Ethiopian (He is a BAD cook. So is my aunt. My cousins survived because my granny made good breads and good stews with dumplings).

I had the dish at an Ethiopian restaurant in Boston & loved it. So I've wanted to make it ever since then.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 6:37PM
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johnliu_gw

That sounds like your doldrum-breaking challenge! A pretty exotic one too.

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 7:30PM
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jkom51

I think lindac and the others are right. Cooking for other people besides family gets the creative juices humming. I belong to a monthly 'movie group', where five of us come together regularly to see movies we have missed in the theatre. Sometimes we just get together and talk, or exchange books to read. Last month we took a tour of a local museum because I found out we could schedule a private high, or afternoon, tea for our group, and we had a great time.

This month time is flying by and I just realized that our movie group is meeting again this Sat. We set the menu via round-robin emails, so I have to do my shopping today to get ready. It does shake any doldrums off, for sure.

booberry85, that is SO funny! We just had Ethiopian food last night. We love it spicy and adore injera. I finally sat down this morning to count how many we had tried in the last three years, and how many more to go, just within our own city. Looks like seven down, six to go - and there's another eight injera restaurants in the next city over, LOL.

The Ethiopian/Eritrean communities first sprang up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1970's but there's been a huge increase in their numbers over the last twenty years. For the enjoyment of others here, below is a link to the menu of one of Ethiopian restaurants near our home (actually, they're all near our home as they seem to like to cluster together). Good for tasty reading!

Here is a link that might be useful: Enssaro: Ethiopian menu page

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 2:01PM
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sally2_gw

When we were up in Portland visiting our kids and visiting John, we ate at an Ethiopian restaurant, called Sengatera Restaurant, where our daughter performed piano at the time. I have never eaten anything like it. I'd love to learn how to make the collard greens they served. They were delicious. Here's the description from their menu, "Ye'abesha Gomen: Fresh collard greens cooked in oil with onion, garlic, ginger, green pepper." I noticed a similar dish on the menu you posted, Jkom.

Sorry if this hijacks your thread, John

Sally

    Bookmark   October 21, 2012 at 1:45PM
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bbstx

What a great challenge, John! I'm going to give it some thought. I'm told it isn't hard, but I've never made anything "en papillote."

    Bookmark   October 21, 2012 at 2:20PM
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dedtired

I have never cooked a beet. For my challenge, I will cook a beet.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2012 at 2:30PM
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triciae

Alright. I'll join your challenge, John. I don't like mayo so, of course, I've never made it homemade. DH likes mayo. There's never any in our house.

So, I will make DH homemade mayo. But I might make it with my eyes closed & I'll let him taste for seasoning. (grin)

/tricia

    Bookmark   October 21, 2012 at 2:38PM
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Bumblebeez SC Zone 7

I should join you ded, but would have to include...and like a beet.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2012 at 7:18PM
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dedtired

Mmmm, I love a beet salad with goat cheese. Especially if someone else makes it.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2012 at 9:53PM
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pink_warm_mama_1

If you want a real challenge - come and use my new kitchen! We have moved from a house to an apartment, and there is such a small amount of counter space I have yet to figure out how I can cook anything in this tiny kitchen. Suggestions?

    Bookmark   October 22, 2012 at 12:15PM
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pink_warm_mama_1

Scratch my notation. Will enter it somewhere else.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2012 at 12:30PM
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rob333

I did it! I made my son pork chops and we ate them together at the same time. He said he'd never like others any more since he now knew how they should taste! He wasn't serious, he just was saying he enjoyed it. So glad I tried it. One step on the road, but at least one is done. Whew.

Anyone else have anything they've done yet?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 8:28AM
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booberry85

I've been sick, so I haven't made the doro wat & injera bread yet, but I have what looks like a good recipe marked.

Pink Warm Momma, I never have enough counter space either, so I have some folding tables that I use. That way when I need it,I have more space and when I don't the tables are folded and put out of the way.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 8:44AM
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sally2_gw

No, I haven't done my challenge yet, either. We've had the stomach flu going through the family, so there wasn't much point in cooking. Between that, and plumbing problems with the kitchen drain and faucet (why does everything happen at once?), there hasn't been much cooking happening at my house this past week/weekend. I hope to try the souffle this next weekend.

Good going, Rob! I'm glad your son enjoyed your chops! Back when I used to make them, a very long time ago, they always turned out like shoe leather.

Sally

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 9:43AM
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johnliu_gw

Hurray, Rob!

That is great progress with your son. If participating in the cooking gets his taste buds going, then I think you'll be able to introduce him to all sorts of other foods. What is your next target? Some sort of vegetable, maybe?

I have been distracted with meat pies, but have settled on my specific challenge. Declaration: I will make a proper Paris-Brest. Off to find a recipe and a pastry bag!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 11:18AM
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mabeldingeldine_gw

Budget successfully submitted, I'm ready to start on my doldrum buster. Just in time, at my workplace there is a baking contest on Friday for a baked dessert that features a fruit or vegetable. They will offer bonus points for items with local ingredients.

I'm planning to enter my Maple Pumpkin Pecan Pie recipe. Then this weekend, I will try an Indian meal, yet to be decided but it must feature spinach.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 11:51AM
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dedtired

I guess I better get going on my beet. I wonder what a good beet looks like? I don't want to buy a dud.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 12:11PM
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centralcacyclist

Pam, get a golden beet.

E

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 12:15PM
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johnliu_gw

I love beets! Boiled, cubed, marinated in vinegar, salt, pepper. I don't know any fancier way to prepare them, and would be interested in learning.

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 7:58PM
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centralcacyclist

And cook the greens. They are even better than the beet. Saute in a bit of butter and garlic.

Eileen

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 8:21PM
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johnliu_gw

Eileen, may we put you down for a croissant?

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 9:16PM
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centralcacyclist

No croissants this week. Maybe next week or after.

Eileen

    Bookmark   October 23, 2012 at 10:14PM
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sally2_gw

Roasted beets are delicious and easy.

Scrub the beets well. Coat with olive oil, and stick into a 400 degree oven, or there abouts. Roast until tender when pierced with a fork. Take out of the oven, let cool till you can handle them, and the skins will peel off easily. Then serve them as a salad, or however you wish.

Here's a recipe that Lpink posted a while back. I love it. The recipe calls for boiling the beets, which works well, but roasting adds that extra mmph of flavor.

Syrian Beet Salad
from the "Moosewood Restaurant Daily Special" cookbook
(from LPinkmountain)
2 quarts water
3 large beets
1 TBLSP chopped chives (I used dried because I have them to use up, not as good as fresh though)
2 TBLSP chopped fresh cilantro (I'll bet you could use parsley in a pinch)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 fresh chile, seeded for a milder "hot" and minced (about 1 TBLSP) Note: I didn't have fresh chilis on hand so I used canned.
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 TBLSP lemon juice
3 TBLSP olive oil or other veg. oil
1 tsp. salt or to taste

I think I added a couple scallions to this too. Sometimes I made it with a TBLSP or so of minced red onion.

Bring water to boil in a large pot. Scrub beets and remove top leaves (save for other yummy applications) and also remove bottom root end. The recipe says to peel the beets and cut into 1/2 inch cubes, but I cut the beets up into big chunks, boiled, cooled and then peeled and cut into small pieces.

When the beets are ready, drain well and transfer to the serving bowl. Combine dressing ingredients and pour over the beets. Chill for at least 30 min. before serving.

Sally

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 9:35AM
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dedtired

Okay, the gauntlet has been thrown down. There are beets in my future. I thought there was some kind of problem with the color leaking out of them?

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 12:04PM
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annie1992

Pam, the color will bleed out of a beet if you cut the tops off or the root before boiling them.

I like them nearly any way, but just boiled is good for me. Leave about an inch of the stalks on the top and don't trim the roots, scrub well with a brush then put in a pan with water and boil until it's tender. Dunk it into cold water and rub the skin off, then slice or cube and eat it however you like.

They are also good roasted and good in Harvard beets and good in salad and good pickled. Yes, indeed, I like beets. (grin)

A good beet is firm and not soft or rubbery. I get them with the tops still on if I can because, as Eileen mentioned, the greens are delicious. I just saute them in a bit of olive oil with salt and pepper but you can use them as you do any green. With the greens still attached you can tell the beet is fresh.

Annie

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 1:58PM
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mabeldingeldine_gw

Roasted beets are great in a salad with a mix of bitter greens and lettuce, goat cheese and the following dressing:

3 T oil
2 T white wine vinegar
2 T orange juice
1 1/2 t orange zest

Mmmmmmm gotta get beets at the farmer's market on Saturday!

    Bookmark   October 24, 2012 at 4:36PM
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