Thursday, January 21, 2010

Try, Try Again: Part One

I think it's time to own up to one of my kitchen fails. And it's only because I have something glorious to share as a result of the fail.

This year Sam, Bria, and I spent Christmas all by ourselves. Every year up until now, we have spent Christmas with one of our families, but since we just moved, and plane tickets cost approximately one arm and half a leg, and because we're starting to be adults, we decided to start our own family traditions by staying home. In my family, we ate our big Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, and I wanted to continue this tradition-- but I wanted to put my own twist on it. I wanted to create some magnificent feast that was atypical for a holiday dinner and make that our traditional Christmas dinner. After some drool-inducing brainstorming, Sam and I thought it would be fun to make homemade pasta with marinara and meatballs.
As luck would have it, I didn't get any of my Christmas shopping or other holiday to-dos done before the big blizzard, so I was left with somewhere around one million things to do the week of Christmas. When it came down to Christmas Eve, I was still running around very much like unto a decapitated chicken. By 5:00, starting dinner was the last thing on my radar. Tears of unmet expectations and homesickness ensued, followed by Sam saving the day. In short: for Christmas Eve, we ordered takeout from Outback.

Still wanting a special holiday dinner, we planned the homemade pasta for the Sunday after Christmas. I rolled out the pasta dough according to Pioneer Woman's directions. And I used a pizza cutter to cut the noodles, which was hilarious, because I do not have a steady even hand. It turned into a combination of angel hair, spaghetti, and linguine. No matter. Let's say the varied sizes of noodles just made the dish more visually appealing.

Then came the sauce. It was the first recipe I tried from Smitten Kitchen, and with a blog name like that, I really, really wanted to like it. But no. No, no, no, a thousand times no. It was awful. The sauce was easy to make, and it looked absolutely beautiful. It also popped and sputtered a lot and burned Sam's hand, and he took pictures of his own hand because he wanted to document it for the world,but that's beside the point.

The point is that is was gross. Since I don't drink alcohol, I rarely cook with it, but this special recipe called for the occasion. The friendly people at Trader Joe's helped me pick a red wine suitable for cooking. And, since we don't drink alcohol, we nearly destroyed the cork trying to remove it without a corkscrew (thank goodness our noisy upstairs neighbors are heavy drinkers and lent us one). And, then, when the sauce was coming together, and I started to smell it, I realized, that, since I don't drink alcohol, I didn't know that I think red wine is disgusting.

The basic sadness of this recipe is that all we could taste was red wine. There was no tomato flavor or herby-spicy-deliciousness. It was all wine. I think even if we were wine-drinkers we wouldn't have liked it. The wine overpowered every other flavor of the dish, and it was so incredibly unpalatable, we threw it all away. Talk about a disappointment.

The happier part of it all, however, was the pasta. Homemade pasta has the potential to change your life. And because I could sense this beautiful potential beneath all that horrific wine, I was inspired to try another pasta dish. And this one, my friends, was glorious. Stay tuned for part two, when I recount my culinary redemption found in Scarpetta's Spaghetti with Fresh Tomato Sauce and Garlic Basil Oil.


  1. crap. i just wrote a long old comment about how i heard on the splendid table that fish sauce is a good replacement for alcohol in cooking. something about how alcohol is supposed to bring out other flavors rather than overpower it (frankly, both wine AND fish sauce sound gross to me in pasta?) and you can replace it with non-alcoholic substitutions but whatever. anyway, rob can tell you about it sometime.

  2. and the point about my writing of the comment was that i accidentally deleted it.

  3. I hate when I delete comments. Doesn't it seem that it only happens when you write long comments and never the short simple ones?

    I am going to ask Rob about this, and I am particularly horrified and intrigued by using fish sauce instead of alcohol. I wonder if I could have used grape juice? That sounds pretty bad too.

  4. I like how the plate of pasta looks HUGE because of how teeny Bria is in the background.

    Also, I've had a similar experience almost every time I've cooked with alcohol. I feel like it's all I can taste.

  5. How interesting! I've always wondered about the taste of red wine...I suppose I'll pass based on your review here. :)
    I still have to make pasta. As of this moment, I've been too lazy - though I sense your blog has changed all of that...
    (Miss you!)

  6. (Oh - and can I just say what a fabulous writer you are? I SO enjoy how you express yourself!)