Friday, January 23, 2009

Mixed Vegetable Carnage

What to make for dinner? Hmmm.... let's rummage through the fridge. At 4pm yesterday, there was no meat thawed. Argh. There was however, an assortment of vegetables left from the box (we get an excellent box of fresh local veggies delivered to the door every Friday from an outfit called Planet Organics) This time of year, there are a lot of root vegetables -- I was left with turnips, beets, potatoes, carrots, and leeks, so the obvious choice was vegetable soup. And I found a delightful-looking recipe for a spiced Moroccan vegetable stew that had an ingredient list that vaguely approximated what I was trying to get rid of. If one actually followed the recipe, it was supposed to take about 30 minutes. So far, so good.

However, I must've been inadvertantly channelling the "let's make everything difficult" chef vibe. Instead of using the boxed stock that was in the pantry, I decided it was finally time to get rid of the frozen turkey carcass that's been falling out of the freezer on my head since Thanksgiving. At 4 pm I got a pot of stock going. Homemade stock is not an unusual thing in our household as I like to get as much out of a piece of meat as I can -- but I'm still getting used to the kingly new stock pot we got as a wedding gift. It's larger than my old one. Much larger. The beast is an excellent heavyweight 16-quart pot about 12" in diameter and 12" tall, and I need to remember that it does not need to be filled all the way -- or even halfway -- up for normal use. With a lot of water, the frozen carcass, and a handful of stock vegetables, this naturally took forever to boil.

I figured it was going to take a while, so instead of just chopping the vegetables into a rough dice, I decided to experiment with the mandoline slicer I got for Christmas. I really got this device for slicing and julienning things, but hadn't had a chance to try it out yet. It also has a dicing option that seemed dubious, but since I was killing time waiting for the stock to boil, I thought I'd try it out on the soup veggies just for jollies.

Never, ever try the most difficult use of a new tool on the first attempt to use it. Especially one with attachments that look like rows of shark's teeth pointing up at you when you're holding slippery lumpy things. And the cat is meowing underfoot. Once I figured out that I was pushing too hard, it got better, but my take on the dicing option is that it cuts a little too deep, leaving some residual cuts from the previous layer that turn into little shreddie bits on the next layer unless you happen to have rotated your potato, beet, or turnip by exactly 90 degrees on each pass. You all know my accuracy isn't generally that good... By the time I got to the carrots, I was annoyed and switched over to the julienne blade, which blessedly worked just like a charm.

The upshot -- the device is very good for slicing and julienning; dicing takes just the right touch, which I lack. One very large bowl of shredded turnips, beets, and potatoes, with assorted beet carnage everywhere (the cookbook now looks bloodstained, though no actual fingers were maimed). One very satisfying tidy pile of uniform carrot strips.

Back to the pot o' stock. Now it needed to be strained. My big strainer fell apart a couple of months ago due to sheer the amount of use, and the remaining strainer in the house is about 4" in diameter and has a broken handle. Clearly wasn't going to work no matter the excellence of my improvisational skills. Fortunately the things that needed to be strained out were big, so I just put my big ugly plastic colander in a large metal bowl. Now all I had to do was dump the stock in. Out of a very large, very hot, very heavy pot. And the volume of stock in the pot exceeded that of the bowl, plus that of a second bowl. The cat is still meowing wildly underfoot.

I did manage to get it all out with a relatively minor amount of splooshing, but now the counter was covered in bowls of turkey stock and collateral spillage in addition to the vegetable shreds and board of tidy carrot strips. I miraculously managed not to get anything on the cooling racks of cookies that Nimue and I made earlier in the afternoon. Home free, right?

So it seemed. I was back on track to just follow the recipe, and got everything happily burbling away. That cat got fed and stopped meowing. Yummy spicy soupy smells filled the house. At this point it was after 6:00, so I nixed the cheese quickbread that I had been planning on making to go with it, and turned the oven on and tossed a couple of tortillas figuring they'd crisp up nicely into something we could dip in the soup. At this point, Chad got home.

Note to self: 400F is too hot for crisping tortillas unless you're in the room watching them. Shortly after arriving home, Chad said, "I smell something burning". I hadn't noticed yet, being a few feet further from the kitchen at that point. Sure enough, those pesky tortillas had decided to self-incinerate while I dared walk out of the kitchen. I'm sure they were just waiting for me to step away. "Mua ha ha ha! We can add to the general chaos of the simple turnip soup." A big black cloud of smoke billowed out of the oven, revealing glossy, carbonized, formerly-but-no-longer edible tortillas. Very crispy. Who needs it? For the first time, I felt the need to use the super-duper kitchen fan that sucks all air straight out the roof.

Enough smoke had wafted over to the living room that Chad got to point out the flow visualization patterns visible in the smoke wafting over the lamp to Nimue while I set the table and gently warmed the remaining tortillas. The time now? 7:00. The state of the kitchen? Complete vegetable carnage. Covered in vegetable bits, stock, blackened tortilla debris and dirty bowls. For what in my head was a simple soup dinner.

The upside: after all that, the soup was indeed delicious, and the shreds gave it a unanticipated delightful texture. The gigantic pot is still sitting dirty on the stove glaring balefully at me this morning, but all the bowls and mandoline parts have all gone back to their hiding places, awaiting their next chance.

1 comment:

Di said...

What, no pictures? Surely a mess that big should be immortalized. =)