Thursday, February 25, 2010

Dinner Disasters and Nightmares

As our guests ooo-ed and aaw-ed in the middle of an elegant, multi-course dinner last Sunday (see previous entry), E confessed to one of them (Guest S) about a cooking disaster that had occurred about 20 years ago at a dinner he cooked and she attended. He could tell that something rang a bell by the look in her eyes but that she was not quite remembering what he had re-played in his mind a hundred times since. Two weeks before, E had fixed the same meal again (something he almost never does) in order to prove to himself that the 'jinx' was gone. (The guests at that dinner also ooo-ed and aaw-ed.)

The nightmare dish that hunted his dreams for years involved sea bass and shrimp cooked in parchment (along with various baby veggies, fresh thyme and fennel, saffron, wine, etc.). The recipe called for the packets to be cooked at a very high heat (475F) for a short 10 minutes. Since this was only one of several courses and was not the only time the electric oven was being used, E had decided to use "Pre-Heat" to get the temperature ready as quickly as possible. The problem was, he forgot to switch back to "Bake" (probably given the pre-dinner drinks and wine with all the previous courses). After about 5-7 minutes when he returned to the kitchen from the closed dining area, he noticed smoke coming from the oven. Upon opening the door, to his horror each of the packets was on fire. ("Pre-Heat" uses the broiler to heat the oven.) Panicked, he first stuffed towels under the door crack to the dining room so the other 7 dinner guests would not suspect anything. He then took out the packets, put out each flame (still relatively small ones, but 8 small ones and each growing), and looked in horror at the ashes floating in each dinner packet that were now quite charred. Meticulously and very quickly, he opened all windows and doors to the outside, hand picked out the ashes, cut the packets in a zigzag manner to look stylish and unburned, and tried to rearrange the fish and veggies in each packet to look presentable.

As the guests ate their dinner suspecting nothing (and not really missing the planned presentation of opening the packets in front of each to 'release the aromatic essence'), E noticed in the candlelit room that 'Guest S' next to him (who 20 years later was at our party last Sunday) was trying to push away subtly her shrimp and pieces of her fish and was looking uncomfortable while making glances at her husband. E looked at his own fish more closely (which was hard in the candlelight), and he noticed one of his shrimp was raw! Others did not seem too disturbed, so he remained quiet but did see there was some picking and choosing going on.

For a perfectionist cook like E, this was the worst day of his life. For 20 years he has been concerned every time this same couple has come over that another disaster might happen. Finally, on Sunday in the midst of his Chinese New Year feast, he decided to fess up to Guest S.

This story, told in all the above detail and more over yet another glass of wine all around, led to a whole slew of 'confessions' by our guests of their cooking disasters. One had fixed apple pies for Thanksgiving and had used baking powder instead of flour. Another had made cookies with her sisters for a big family occasion and had grabbed the wrong jar, whereby she put in a cup of salt instead of sugar.

E then told the story how his ex had been fooled into putting her finger in the hole of an ice cream maker by his southern Dad on her first visit to his home over a July 4th holiday. When his Dad walked away laughing at the funny New York girl, she 'out-smarted' him and put a rag in the hole ("I wasn't going to sit there all night and freeze my finger just because he had lost some cork or something"). The result was that his Mom's prized, fresh peach ice cream was served to 20 guests with a very distinct taste of salt because all the salted ice had melted and over-flowed into the ice cream.

But our good Friend D told the funniest story. At a Passover Seder with 30 guests, her homemade Matzo Ball Soup was served with a distinct and not very pleasant odor. (E was there and remembers it all.) Everyone (including lots of kids) gingerly tasted the soup. Most looked up and around at others, not knowing what to say or do. One guest then said, "How wonderful. You must have used a lot of lemon in the chicken soup. It is really different.") Friend D, as cook and hostess, looked perplexed. The rest of us ventured one more sip when all of a sudden Friend D's elderly grandmother shouted at the top of her lungs in a "Fruma-Sarah" like screech: "Don't eat. It's RANCID!" You can imagine every one's faces, especially the host and hostess. (Turns out it WAS rancid. Friend D had been told not to refrigerate her newly made, hot soup until it cooled. But since she finished making it well after bedtime, she left it out all night. Not a good thing for chicken soup. Soup like that does not make you well. It makes you dead.)

So, E's confession and story led to an hour of other stories of cooking disasters -- all in the midst of Course Number Three of the six-course feast we were having.

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...