Category Archives: Disasters

How not to make carbonara, in 12 steps

Do you ever have a moment of insanity where you think, “I should make ___, but I think I will change the formula in these 6 ways and also not look at any recipes,” and then when you do exactly that you’re shocked when the results are less than perfect? Yeah, me too. Last night, for instance. Here’s how this went:

1. While reading last month’s Real Simple, notice a 1-line “recipe” suggesting a pasta dish with shredded brussels sprouts sautéed in butter and combined with fettucine and bacon.

2. Remember the stalk of brussels sprouts aging in the fridge; think you can probably make things more interesting than just combining the pasta with the sprouts and bacon.

3. Carbonara!

4. Don’t look up a recipe from carbonara, except to see that one online says “beaten eggs” and one in a cookbook says “egg yolks.” Do not read any of the rest of either recipe. Just start cooking, even though the one other time you made carbonara (following a recipe to the letter) you got it wrong and the eggs scrambled.

5. Proceed smugly, shredding the sprouts, cutting bacon into lardons and frying them, cooking the sprouts, separating eggs, cooking spaghetti.



6. Frantically call husband into kitchen to grate parmesan as the pasta finishes cooking; combine sprouts/bacon with pasta; assume the pasta is cooling down too much, dump eggs into pasta in a panic.

7. Pasta and pan are still too hot. Eggs sort of scramble.

8. Fling pot holder on the floor, while cursing.

9. Rip off apron and fling it against a cupboard, while cursing.

10. Storm out of the kitchen in a cursing, flinging fit.

11. Return to kitchen and mumble profanities while seasoning the pasta, meanwhile breaking it into smaller and smaller strands while husband silently pours large glasses of wine.

12. Eat giant mounded bowl of pasta (plus seconds), which looks horrible but tastes pretty damn good. Say a silent thanks for candlelight. Drink wine.


Lessons learned:

— For the LOVE, make sure the pasta is hot enough but not too hot when mixing in the egg.

— Keep in mind that things can only go so badly when the ingredients involved are: Bacon, brussels sprouts, parmesan, garlic, pasta.


I’m in a panic about cocktail party for 40 tomorrow night. It is sleeting and I need to grocery shop but I feel like I don’t have a very solid menu. Wish me luck, please! And if you’re feeling upset by that sad pasta up, let me offer you the following condolence prize:

I visited Bridge in NYC this weekend, and we celebrated her boyfriend Matt’s birthday at the unbelievably awesome Fette Sau (“fat pig”) in Williamsburg. Witness the glory of the Tray Of Meat:

9:29 p.m.
Weekend in NYC

9:55 p.m.
Weekend in NYC

We also drank cider and beer out of half-gallon jugs:
Weekend in NYC

It was a good weekend for food. We ate at Perbacco and had mince-meat-stuffed deep-fried cerignola olives (!!) (Bridge saw them on the menu and just looked at me, all “wow, they know your soft underbelly…”), and we visited my favorite bodega tacqueria on 10th Avenue. We spent an afternoon in my beloved old neighborhood, saw great apartments, and spent a lovely time with friends. Good times and at least a five-pound weight gain, I’m guessing.

CSA week 13: Bruschetta, beets, and creative reuse

-New potatoes
-Zucchini/summer squash
-Hot pepper
-Heirloom tomatoes from the garden of the woman, Judy, who runs my pick-up location!
-… lemongrass?

Let’s address the last item first. I’m 99% sure this is young lemongrass. It sure smelled lemony. And grassy.

I chopped up the whole thing and made simple syrup (1-to-1 ratio of water to sugar, brought to a simmer and then cooled), but I kept the whole pot just below a simmer for a long time, trying to infuse the flavor into the syrup.

I’ve got kind of a lot of the strained results in the fridge in jars right now.

I used some to make really misguided cocktails and now Ben won’t touch the stuff. It wasn’t the syrup’s fault! It was me and my flat soda water! Drat. Maybe a citrus salad would benefit from it?

That night I roasted a whole tray of beets and spent ages cursing and peeling them once they were done. I can’t seem to get a grip on them if I wear gloves, so fuchsia fingers it was.

I sliced and dressed some for salad that night, then chunked up the rest and used them…for a while. In fact, we are still eating them. To go with the beets: Grilled sausage and salad made from most of the giant red heirloom tomato.

The next night I looked in the fridge and saw leftover sausage, beets, and feta cheese. My mom had recently been talking up bulgur wheat, which I loved as a kid, and I’d laid in a supply when she was here. But I forgot that what I bought with her was in a box, so I cooked…something similar looking. From an unmarked bulk-goods bag in the pantry. I also grilled up the pile of little zucchini and squash.

I followed the pilaf directions Mom had sent me, which I will post once I’ve actually used them properly. Here’s how my batch went:


I forged ahead and mixed the mass of….whatever it was…with the other stuff, which of course turned pink from the beets, and called it a night.

Ben said something about Alpo when I handed him his plate, but then he liked it that night and in leftover form. (Of COURSE, whenever I cook something weird I end up with tons and tons of it.) I don’t think he’s ever had bulgur, so he wasn’t expecting the separate grains and drier texture I was looking for.


You guys, do you think those were steel-cut oats? Did I try to make pilaf out of oatmeal? This is why bulk bags are dangerous. I really need to label things; I have a whole container full of tiny bags of bulk spices, and all the different cayennes/paprikas/etc. have gotten confused.


So yet another night, I wanted to use the rest of the red tomato, along with the yellow tomato, and I was feeling incredibly lazy. Bruschetta time! I chunked up the tomatoes, dressed them with sherry vinegar and oil, salt and pepper, and some basil, and then smashed them up really with with my hands (not shown).

But what about protein? I decided I’d also make a batch of the white bean spread I made for our Christmas party. I use rosemary and lemon zest plus lemon juice at the end to brighten it up. It’s explained over at the older post–if you haven’t tried that yet, do; it is SO simple and you can use it as a sandwich spread, bruschetta topping, dip… (Uuugh, revisiting that post reminded me that all my old posts are full of weirdly sized images. I fixed the ones there, but there are so many left to do!)

The key to tomato bruschetta, I think, is in the hand-smashing of the tomatoes and then further smashing as you put them on the bread (which I toasted, rubbed with garlic, and drizzled with olive oil). That helps them hold together and stay on the bread as you eat, instead of toppling off and rolling around, like you sometimes get in restaurants.

We ate more beets, too.

Garlic can explode.

(I am currently in Italy (Venice, today!), but I thought I’d leave a couple entries for you while I’m gone.)

I think a lot of food blogs make it seem like the author is incredibly talented and perfect and never has an off night. It’s hard, when you’re putting yourself out there for the world to see, to present the failures in addition to the successes (and maybe readers don’t care to see the grim results), but posting my pizza disaster was so therapeutic that I thought I’d give you another little window into my less-than-perfect world.

A couple weeks ago the temperature dropped suddenly, and we had a really chilly, wet, clammy day. I was feeling a bit clammy emotionally, too, so I thought tomato soup and grilled cheese would be just the ticket. I googled around a bit to find an easy recipe for tomato soup. One that I found suggested roasted the canned tomatoes with a little olive oil before making the soup, which seemed like a swell idea, so off I went, feeling a little smug and very domestic.

tomatoes pan

I tossed a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves on the sheet pan, thinking roasted garlic would be a nice addition to the soup, put the pan in a 400 degree oven, and went back to work in my office. 10 minutes later there was a very, very loud BANG! in the kitchen, followed by a strong scorching smell. One of the garlic cloves had EXPLODED. Violently. The entire oven was covered in shards of it. I pulled the other cloves out of the oven and dropped them on the stovetop (hot! ouch!), and eventually threw them in while I was softening onions and celery for the soup.

(Picture is blurry because it’s very hard to take a photo of an oven without it being all oven light, plus my hand was shaking.)

If you look closely, you can see that the garlic forced itself up to the lining that rims the outer edge of the door.

Meanwhile the tomatoes weren’t looking remotely roasted at 15 minutes (which was when the recipe said to take them out), so I set the timer for 15 more and walked away. The house was full of burned-garlic smoke, by the way. And then I forgot to come back and check the tomatoes’ progress before the buzzer went off.

When I did pull them out, I found this:


The tops of the tomatoes never roasted. The bottoms scorched and welded themselves to the pan. I popped the minuscule unscorched remainders off and tossed them in with the juice from the can, and set the pan to soak for a couple hours. Meanwhile I figured I might as well still make soup.

soup ingredients

Using the immersion blender improved my mood, and thanks to the remaining semi-roasted garlic the soup was plenty creamy without any cream added:


It was kind of bland. I should have grated parmesan into it.

By the way, I had bacon to add to our grilled cheese, and I was so dismayed by the Garlic Explosion that I decided to cook it in the microwave instead of hassling with it on the stove. I have done that before and it works ok, normally (nothing to write home about but fine for a sandwich). Not this time. Somehow all the salt was drained out and we were left with what I imagine those Beggin’ Strips dog snacks taste and feel like. I erased the photos.

soup sandwich


(Hopefully I am eating unbelievably delicious soup Canal-side, as you read this.)

One-stop-shop for amazing messes

Ok, so. I have spoken before about my unending love for Jamie at Home, and back in February I watched the pizza episode and promptly felt the urge to make dough from scratch. Hurray! It’s so easy! (Note: I had a tremendously bad day leading up to this attempt.)

Pizza Dough
adapted from Jamie Oliver‘s Jamie at Home
7 cups strong white bread flour or 5 cups strong white bread flour plus 2 cups finely ground semolina flour (next time I want to try it w/ semolina)
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 (1/4-ounce) packets active dried yeast
1 tablespoon raw sugar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups lukewarm water

pizza ingredients

Ok. So you’re supposed to sift the flour and salt together into a mountain on the counter. No sweat! I am a brave person who will go ahead and work straight on the butcher block. No fear! Mountain, ahoy!


Now, that photo does not accurately depict the towering majesty of the 7-cup flour mountain. It was tall and steep. Back to the recipe:

“In a large measuring cup, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.”

Sounds easy enough, and Jamie made it look like a cakewalk on the show. Proceed: Liquids mixed with sugar and yeast:


Commence whisking, while feeling extremely smug and craftsmanlike:

whisking flour

Here’s the important part: Get cocky and pour in too much liquid at once, collapsing the walls of the too-tall mountain and flooding yeasty-oil-water down the dishwasher and your pants. And socks. And under the baseboards. Stand stock still while it gushes over, before fitfully trying to shove flour into the liquid to stop the onslaught. Grab paper towels to make a moat, then take a photo that doesn’t come close to portraying the chaos:


(Aren’t I brave, giving you the warts-and-all view into my kitchen?)

Take stock, recognizing that you have used nearly all of the flour in the house, all the yeast, and you don’t have an alternate plan for dinner. Decide to soldier on, mixing what liquid is left on the counter into the flour and then adding additional water and kneading until, miracle beyond miracles, the dough pulls together into a gorgeous, silky smooth ball.

Set it to rise while you pry off the baseboards and scrub yeasty flour paste off the inside of the cabinet doors.

Now, back to the original plan!

“Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about 1 hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called punching down the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straightaway, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas. “

Fine! The dough rose, though maybe not quite as much as normal:

I froze half and made the other half into four pizzas:

dough balls

It rolled out like a dream, not sticky like store-bought dough:

I made half with flat edges and half with pinched crusts like my mom does, to see which I preferred. (Note: The Food Network version of the recipe doesn’t specify baking time or temp. I cranked my oven to around 450 and just watched the pizzas carefully; I think they took about 10 minutes but I could be wrong.)

Pinched won:

And dinner did eventually get served. Without the 45 minutes of cleaning up the kitchen, it would have been a really easy process.

(BTW I think I’m over white pies, at least with the slightly-dry cheese blend I have been using. The other half of the dough got slathered with various sauces, to be explained in a future post.)

(Also, I’m totally uninspired and haven’t been cooking much. Is it just the late-winter doldrums? Anyone else feeling it, too?)

CSA: Week 12, fortune favors the foolish

OMG, you guys. First of all, I’m only 1 week behind once I finish this post! But more important to note is that this is my biggest PSA post ever. I almost got pretty badly hurt but lucked out and am just fine, so READ ON to find out how not to be a jackass.

First of all, the week’s goodies:

-1 bunch basil
-1 enormous (slightly overgrown) japanese eggplant
-3 bell peppers; 2 red and 1 albino
-1 large, 1 medium, 1 small heirloom tomatoes, including a stripy Green Zebra
-3 onions
-1 hot pepper (I didn’t use it, ooops)
-1 head garlic
-1 pound potatoes

I had half a loaf of rather dull french bread sitting around getting stale, which led to a hankering for panzanella. I was on the phone with my mom, so she gave me a recipe for dressing that she usually uses; I dug out a cucumber that was still languishing in the produce drawer, and I decided to adapt her recipe by replacing fresh bell peppers with roasted. Because….I thought it would be fun, I guess.

I fired up the broiler, which in the Viking all-gas stove is quite a sight to behold. It’s infrared or something, and gets CRAZY hot, with a solid panel of tiny flames, etc. I daydreamed about croutons while I washed my peppers and popped them in a dish.

Does anyone spot the oncoming apocalypse?

Into the oven they went, where they blackened a hell of a lot faster than I expected–I think instructions that say to place your peppers 4 inches from the broiler do not take into account the CRAZY FLAMES of my oven. Next time I will stick to the middle rack so the peppers can soften a bit more before totally blackening.

I checked them a couple times, flipping them around to turn sooty on all sides, and then when they seemed about right I pulled them out, set the pan down on a baking sheet that was waiting on the stove for croutons, and stepped back towards the counter to grab my tongs.

And then:

Note that one pepper is missing. That is because it blasted a few feet away in the explosion. Seriously, you guys. EXPLOSION. HUGE shards of glass were scattered about 6 feet out to the left; tiny splinters coated everything within reach; Ben came running from the front of the apartment unsure of what he’d find… And what he found was me standing barefoot and perfectly still a few feet away from the stove, completely in shock at the fact that I wasn’t even scratched. He got my flip flops and the vacuum and we spent 45 minutes cleaning before I was able to return to making my humble little salad.

Anyway, I’m sure some of you have done this before, but a note from the idiot who did it most recently: PYREX DOES NOT GO IN THE BROILER. NO NO NO. IT WILL EXPLODE AND SCARE THE LIVING CRAP OUT OF YOU.

I’ll have you know, however, that after careful inspection I found that the peppers were salvageable, dammit! I peeled them and chopped up most of one of them for the salad (which would have been better off with the fresh, I think!) and sliced the other one up and put it in olive oil in a ziplock in the fridge for future consumption.

ANYWAY, the salad. The dressing included anchovies, capers, garlic, red wine vinegar and olive oil (and salt/pepper, of course), and I made it in the little mini-prep attachment to my stick blender, which worked great.

In the salad I included a cucumber, the three tomatoes, some finely chopped onion and the stupid roasted pepper (not pictured here).

I cut up the bread and started by pan-frying it, per mom’s suggestion, but I got bored and the croutons weren’t hardening enough so I threw them in the oven to dry out more. Added them to the vegetables (which I’d prepped first and salted so they’d get nice and juicy), holding back enough vegetables and croutons (separately) for lunch the next day, since you don’t want to mix them too far ahead of serving.


Quite soothing after the stressful and ridiculously prolonged prep.

I must say, I felt slightly better about my ridiculous mistake considering that Ben had acquired a new dome for the exposed light in the kitchen while I was in London, and when I came back I said “Um, I don’t think that is big enough; also won’t plastic melt if it’s pretty much touching light bulbs?” and he said “No, no, it’s fine,” and the same night as the pepper incident we looked up and the dome looked like this:


Common sense, you guys. I recommend it. And I’m looking for some, if you have extra.