Friday, January 20, 2012

Making-Shit-Up-As-We-Go Night

I decided to surprise my family tonight with a dinner I'd never made before - nor, I'd wager, has anyone else - but it turns out I was the one most surprised. One of my key ingredients was something other than I believed, and I made an unintentional almost-dessert while testing to see if cute cordial glasses could withstand a ban marie.

First, the side. I had a bunch of what I thought were lovely blushing turnips that in fact were rutabagas. Yes, I know, they are entirely different shapes, but it's been a long week. In the middle of a deadline work project today, I found myself thinking about some heavy cream lounging in my refrigerator. Which led, believe it or not, to thoughts of my not-turnips. Which inspired - still with me? - the notion of a gratin.

I trimmed and peeled four big actually-rutabagas and sliced them into thin discs with a mandoline. They seemed too firm to yield a lush gratin, so I added a splash of water, covered with plastic wrap and zapped on high for three minutes. While letting them steam for a few minutes more, I remembered I had a bag of pesto cubes in the freezer. I defrosted three cubes in the mike, as my mother-in-law calls it, and blended with 1/2 cup of heavy cream and an egg.

When cool enough to handle, I layered the drained rutabagas slices into a buttered 9x9 casserole - alternate direction between layers - and sprinkled about a half-cup of feta between the layers, reserving most of it to scatter on top. I then poured the cream mix over the slices, pressing down to compress layers into liquid, and dotted with butter. Bake uncovered at 375 degrees about 45-50 minutes or until tender, browned and bubbly.

Meanwhile, mix about 1/2 cup of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt, 2 tablespoons honey mustard, 1 tablespoon honey and the juice of half a juicy lemon until well blended. Arrange four six-ounce, liberally salt-and-peppered salmon portions on a roasting pan - Whole Foods had Alaskan salmon on sale for $7.99 today! - top each with a generous tablespoon of sauce and ignore for about 30 minutes. Refrigerate remaining sauce. Tuck salmon into oven with gratin and bake 15-18 minutes or until done. Remove from oven and rest on cooktop. 

Ideally, salmon and gratin will finish at about the same time. Let gratin set at least five minutes before serving. I thought it was a bit underdone, but Tim and Graham liked that it was still a tad al dente. For the salmon, serve chilled yogurt-mustard sauce on the side, though you likely won't need it, along with a slice of fresh lemon, which I think you will. Pretty damn good for a throw-together dinner.

So the biggest surprise of the night was my experiment to see if I could safely cook in cordial glasses. To simulate a somewhat realistic cooking situation, I filled a 3.75-ounce glass with the same Greek yogurt, tucked it into a pot filled about halfway with water and covered tightly with foil. The recipe I was testing for bakes at 350 degrees, but I went ahead and popped it in the 375 degree oven for the entire cooking time.

The result was an intact glass and a concoction the consistency of, dare I say, faux cheesecake. I drained the accumulated steam, brought to room temperature and then covered the glass with plastic wrap and stashed it in the fridge. An hour later, I topped it with a dollop of homemade orange curd and gave it try. A bit tart, but promising.

Next time - in other words, tomorrow - I'll intentionally stir in some honey and maybe a splash of vanilla or citrus zest, or both.

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