Saturday, August 15, 2009

Necessity is the mother of...a big (but tasty) mess

This morning I was flipping through the current issue of Better Homes and Gardens, and saw this recipe for Spiced Beef Kabobs with Mashed Carrots .

It sounded good, and also like a good way to use up some of the yellow squash and zucchini we have lying around. Frankly, those get old fast. And we skipped the mashed carrots, since those don't sound good any time of year, but especially not on a hot August day.

While I was out running errands this afternoon, I stopped by the Giant Eagle and picked up some beef, some mushrooms, and some grape tomatoes, and went home and spent an hour or so making the marinade, cutting up the beef, and chopping vegetables.

A couple hours later, I returned to the kitchen planning to start soaking the wooden skewers so they wouldn't burn up on the grill. I looked in the drawer where I thought they were. Nothing there. I rooted through a few other drawers and cabinets. No skewers anywhere.

Suddenly, I had one of those post-move realizations I figured we were done with after two years: they were in that drawer in Greeley, but they didn't make the move to Morgantown.

Not that you can't find shish-kabob skewers in Morgantown. But I really didn't want to go out to the grocery store again (you have to drive, and it's a guaranteed half hour out of your life even to just pick up one thing). And I was mad at myself for not checking before I went to the grocery store earlier. What was I thinking?! Why did I just assume that I still had them?!

Tom gallantly offered to go to the store with me to buy some. (You'll note that he didn't just volunteer to go himself. This still meant getting in the car and making a second trip to the store, this time with the guy whose chief pleasure in going to the grocery is ogling the potato chips and donuts.)

We started looking around for possible skewer substitutes. One pair of wooden chopsticks in the drawer--that'll work.

Twizzlers? Nah.

Then Tom remembered: how about cutting some of the longer branches off our rosemary plant and using those? Great! Unfortunately, the longest stems on our scraggly bush are only about five inches long.

Still looking around, I came across a package of rice noodles.

"Hey, if this works, would you be embarrased to put your name to it and send it in for the Cook's Illustrated tips page?" I asked.

If you're not familiar with the magazine, each month Cook's Illustrated has a two-page spread of tips sent in by readers. While most of them are useful, there's always one that's either so obvious or so weirdly compulsive that you have to wonder if it wasn't planted there as a joke.

As an example: the current issue includes the following tip for "Sponge on a Rope": "1) Poke a small hole in the sponge. 2) Thread a string through the hole and loop the sponge over the neck of a spray bottle filled with vinegar and water or any cleaning solution."

How, I can hear you asking yourself, did you ever keep your kitchen clean before?

But no matter how dumb the tip, each reader who has one accepted gets a year's subscription free, which is no small deal, since the regular rate is $25.

Well, long story short: we don't recommend using rice noodles in place of shish-kabob skewers. Back to the drawing board.


Erica said...

Aw man, I was hoping the rice noodles would work! (Maybe a handful of spaghetti -- not just one strand, that wouldn't have enough strength...)

You may have started me on a dangerous trend of experimenting with food stuck on other food. Never tantalize an engineer/cook like this! Argh...

Erica said...

(Oh, and you may want to submit the noodle-skewer idea to Cook's Illustrated anyway... maybe they don't test them before printing them!)

Historiann said...

Ha-ha. Those tips for toads in Cooks magazine are written for people with sub-functional I.Q.s. Dr. Mister and I have a good laugh each time the new Cook's comes, and we vote on which of the "tips" are the assiest or the most boneheaded. (Or which, as you say, is the one that MUST have been written as a prank to see if it would get published.)

Thanks for test-driving the rice noodles, though. You should get those giant metal skewers--no soaking required!

Rosemary said...

Erica, the sad part is I didn't even have spaghetti in the house, either. Clearly, my pantry is woefully unprepared for these emergencies! But if you try that (or anything else) out, I'd definitely be interested in knowing how your experiments go!

@Ann--my favorite tip from this issue was the brilliant suggestion that, to keep one's coffee hotter, one could put warm water in the cup beforehand, then dump it out before pouring the coffee in.

Um, that's a "tip"? If I'd known those kinds of things could win, I'd have written in to suggest something like, I dunno, putting ice in a glass before adding a beverage to make it *colder*.

And BTW, I always assumed that the editors published the dumb tips just to amuse themselves. Maybe they actually *write* them themselves, though; I could definitely imagine that as a way to lighten up editorial meetings--to pitch ideas for this issue's most ridiculous tip.

Christy said...

I've had the same emergency in my house, and though it doesn't have quite the same romance as shish kabob, you can marinade all your veggies in olive oil, salt, pepper, and herbs, then pop it in a tight foil pack and grill away. I've never tried this with meat in the packets, but I bet it'd work like a charm (separate foil packs might be even better -- plus it would trap in the juices).

Try to avoid the hottest parts of the grill because the veggies can carbonize pretty quick. The coolest part may lead to steaming but no browning. Whatever you do, don't open the foil packs to check on them during cooking: we do about 5 minutes with the lid off and another 8-10 with the lid on. If you're open to experimentation and uneven results, this is a workable plan in a pinch.