September 6, 2007

Cold reboot (and how)

I can hardly believe it's been over a month since my last post. It hasn't been for lack of eating. I've done some of the best eating in my life, let me tell you. Babbo is an ultimate gustatory experience. Eat at Babbo. If you have to wait for three hours, it's still worth it. Nothing has tasted the same since. No joke.

But this post isn't about Babbo. I know you'd all like to hear about the sardines with lobster reduction oil, linguine with clams, the roasted octopus salad, the beef cheek ravioli with crushed squab liver, or the saffron panna cotta (but not the rabbit), but that's not what I'm here to talk about today.

That's because I'm no longer in New York City. And while Birmingham, Alabama does have its culinary high points, Babbo's not in the cards. My Gourmetro writing is returning to my nearly counterless kitchen. It's for the best. Y'all have lots of people writing about New York restaurants anyway.

So, last night was the first time I'd cooked for myself since I left Apple Fifth Avenue (August 8). I was really busy packing, saying goodbye, driving 1200 miles, unpacking and beginning a new life for myself in the Deep South. It's been an interesting transition.

Since I arrived here on the 22nd I'd felt no desire to cook for myself. In the beginning it was natural, since all of my supplies were either in boxes or still in-transit, but it didn't abate as I settled down. It worked out, in a way, since I got to [heavily] patronize the local establishments and learn about the neighborhood, but I knew that I couldn't make such a habit of eating out. And why would I want to? After one and a half years of Gourmetro, I am confident that I can make very decent food at a fraction of the restaurant prices.

For the occasion, I gave my new Cooking Light All-New Complete cookbook a try with their curried chicken salad and vegetable couscous. It's really hot down here (92 degrees at night), so I opted for the Whole Foods rotisserie chicken. It was a good choice, I think, because one 3-pound bird was enough to double the recipe (to about four servings, as far as I can tell).

When I finally sat down to eat the salad, I was let down. And a bit pissed. In my three or four years of cooking, I can think of only a few times when I'd been completely dissatisfied with something I'd prepared (the $80 scallop dinner for two is still probably the most disappointing). Bland, sticky and sweet.

In addition to the chicken, the recipe calls for pineapple, grapes, apples, and currents. The grapes completely overpowered everything else and I could hardly detect any curry. Lame. I'd omit the grapes next time, and up the curry. Hell, I might double the curry. And the currents -- a good idea -- were much too chewy. Not so distracting that I'd leave them out, though.

As a postscript, I had the chicken salad again today for lunch as a wrap with lettuce. It was much, much better. The grapeyness was mellowed out by the lettuce/radicchio and the whole wheat wrap. Perhaps the salad belongs in a wrap.

The couscous salad was another story. Really excellent. It came together quickly, seems healthful, and tasted quite good. The one real issue I had with the recipe was that it called for a packet of 'Italian Dressing Mix,' and that, I couldn't abide. I converted the .6 ounce package details to 3.6 teaspoons (which I upped to 4) of dried basil, oregano, rosemary, and parsley. It worked out quite well, I think. (and when am I ever going to use up those dried parsley flakes...) The end result was moist and just tender enough, though next time I may bring the boiling water down from 1 1/2 cups to 1 1/4 (as it recommends on the box).

We'll see how the couscous fares tomorrow at lunch, but I expect it'll only get better.

**pre-post update**
So as I wrote this post, I hadn't realized that I'd forgotten to add the feta. So I added it, and today at lunch I was quite disappointed to discover that it made the salad worse. Yes, adding cheese made the couscous worse. It's bizarre. Try it without the feta first.


Joanie said...

I really love curried chicken salad, especially with grapes. That said, I think having grapes, apples, and pineapple is too much sweetness for the dish. No wonder you were so displeased.

skip said...

Bleh. It was the grapes. The texture was a factor, too. Too watery.