Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Saving Dinner

How many times have you gotten started making dinner and then discovered you were missing a key ingredient? I'm sure there are plenty of us out there that have had that problem.

No? So, it is just me after all.

As stressful as a sudden cooking challenge can be, it can also be an opportunity to test your cooking skills.

This last weekend, I'd planned to make a vegetarian dinner of cornbread stuffed acorn squash, garlic mashed potatoes, and a green side salad. No problem. It was the weekend and there were no other plans. I had all day to work on dinner. I could prep some things early and then finishing up dinner would be a snap.

The first part of the plan was executed flawlessly. I composed a quick salad of fresh green lettuce, cucumber, and sweet bell peppers. The mashed potatoes and stuffing both came from a box.

Hey, I'm a foodie, not some over-zealous gourmand. Even I don't cook everything from scratch.

The acorn squash would take about an hour or so to prepare so, I stowed everything in the refrigerator for later. Thinking myself safe, I headed off to play Tomb Raider Anniversary on the Wii until I was needed back in the kitchen. I needed a bit of jumping and running and grabbing and flipping and shooting for a few hours.

Well, I was actually just pushing buttons and waving the controllers around like an idiot, but it still looked cool on the TV screen.

Once it got closer to dinner time, I sent one of my house elves, a.k.a. my nine year old daughter, down to the pantry to retrieve the acorn squash. We’d had the squash for a little while but, winter squash keeps pretty well so we should be fine, right?

Not on your life. After cutting into them I realized they’d deteriorated to the point where they had nearly as much skin as flesh. They had  an odd odor as well. Not bad, really, just not right. Being the paranoid food-safety conscious twit that I am, and not wanting to eat, let alone serve, bad tasting crap food, I threw them out.

Now what? I had a starch dish (potatoes) and a veggie dish (green salad), but no main dish to throw the other starchy bits (the stuffing) into. No focus for the meal. That’s just boring.

Boring dinner? Not in my house, Mister.

Whenever I’m in a lurch for ideas, I consult my true blue kitchen friends, my cook books. Even if I don’t find an immediate solution, at least they give me ideas.

Okay, what else did I have in the fridge? Maybe some protein. Ham? Eggs? Onions? More green peppers? They were possibilities, but what should I do with the stuffing?

Flipping back to my mainstay cookbook, inspiration struck. I decided to make a perverse version of a quiche using the cornbread stuffing as the crust. The eggs should hold it together, nicely. I might have made stuffed green peppers but I didn't have enough of them.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how it would come out. I decided to make it in a spring-form pan to help make presentation a little more interesting. I wanted a perverted quiche, not a perverted casserole.

I do wish I’d greased the bottom of the pan better, though. The stuffing stuck fast to it. Fortunately I was able to cut it away with a long slicing knife after I removed the sides of the pan.

I wish I could say I’d better planned this dish because it turned out to be quite a hit. Only my six year old, who won’t eat much except macaroni and cheese and peanut butter sandwiches anyway, didn’t have seconds.

Unexpected cooking challenges will happen from time to time, no matter how well you plan out your meals. They don’t have to be tragedies, thank goodness. Instead, they can be opportunities to improvise new dishes. Sometimes those dishes will be terrible and only fit for the garbage can. Other times, they can turn out to be new family recipes that may just become a staple in your cooking repertoire.

Now if I could just remember how much of what ingredient I put in that darned thing, then I could share it with you.

Illustration credit: Yarik Mishin

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