One of the things I enjoy most about this whole endeavor is that it brings my friends together to enjoy some (usually) good food, sometimes food that they’re not familiar with, like the venison stew from The Last of the Mohicans dinner, or the court bouillon from The Awakening. When everyone always seems so busy and friendships sometimes fall to the wayside to make way for the less fun aspects of life, a small dinner between good friends is a blessing. And, had it not been for the damn pudding, it would have been an easy dinner to make, as well as a pleasant one. I should have known it was more trouble than it was worth when I found myself halving and de-seeding twelve ounces of cranberries the day before I even tried to make the pudding. I didn’t even know cranberries had seeds. But that’s what I love about cooking. If you try to make something new, you’re almost guaranteed to learn something new. What’s life for if not to continually learn new things and become better?
For the Wuthering Heights dinner, I was forced to use some artistic license, since the book failed to mention many specific foods other than hot applesauce (boring) and goose (a little excessive). So instead, I just imagined what they were eating in Heathcliff’s little hovel of discontent or in the slightly (and I mean slightly) more pleasant Linton household. What I came up with were the following dishes:
Mulled Wine (from Zoom Yummy)
Caramelized Carrots (from What’s For Dinner?)
Roasted Parsnip Puree (from Inspired Taste)
Herb-Roasted Cornish Game Hens (from Le Petit Pierogi)
And, what was supposed to be my pièce de résistance but turned out to be a pièce du merde: Cranberry Christmas Pudding (from A Couple Cooks)
All I can say is, in the end, it mostly worked. Overall, it was probably my most disaster-riddled dinner so far. I burned the carrots (next time I think I’ll either put foil in the pan or olive oil), the food processor I “borrowed” from the cafe started leaking cream everywhere, and my timing was all off. The entree was ready way before the sides were, the wine was done in the middle of dinner, and the pudding…well, I’ll just get to that later. Plus, I’ve never had to stuff anything’s cavity before. It didn’t really help that my veggie roommate was pretending to dry heave as I propped open the hen’s…nether regions…and stuffed them full of lemon and herbs. It’s not a very dignified way to go, is it?
Another slight setback was the fact that I didn’t have nearly as many cooking utensils as I thought I did. That’s one of the problems of moving a lot; things just tend to get lost along the way. So I found myself without a vegetable peeler for the parsnips. Not a huge problem, but I did find myself peeling parsnips with a small knife and imagining that this is what my great-grandmother Gladys must have done. Sometimes you forget that you don’t actually need most of the fancy kitchen gadgets you can get nowadays.
As any cook knows, there’s almost never a big dinner without some setbacks. But when everything was finally ready and we sat down, it was all pretty delicious. The mulled wine was really good, and it would be great for a cold night, especially because cooking the wine actually seems to make it more alcohol-forward. Game hen tastes pretty much exactly like chicken, but it’s kind of fun to have your own little mini-fowl on your plate.
The pureed parsnips were Suzu’s favorite till he realized, due to sudden ominous rumblings in his lacto-sensitive tummy, that there was dairy in them (oops!). They looked like slightly less solid mashed potatoes, but tasted sweeter, more like carrots.
The carrots themselves were loaded with butter and onions, so even though each carrot sported a charred backside, they still tasted as good as anything covered in butter tastes. I was happy with it, in short. I was happy that I was with a group of friends that hadn’t been all together in too long, and so I probably would have been happy no matter what.
The only damper on the whole night was that damn pudding.
I don’t know what exactly the problem was. Maybe it was simply that it was a different kind of dessert than I had ever tried to make before. I’ve never steamed anything in my life. It probably didn’t help that I didn’t have an actual steamer, but a makeshift one made up of a stock pot and a cake pan. Next time I make it (because I’ll never admit to failure), I think I’ll invest in a steamer. Whatever the problem, however, it was a disaster from start to finish.
So here’s what happened: Like I said, I halved and de-seeded almost a pound of frozen cranberries, which took just as long as you’d think. The next day, I mixed the flour and dark molasses (which took me about 45 minutes to find in Safeway since it wasn’t in baking supplies but next to the syrup…) and everything else, poured it into the pan, set the pan on top of a smaller dish inside of the stock pot that already had water in it, and then tried to pour more water in so that, as the directions instructed, the water reached halfway up the cake pan. So far, so good. And then… the water started boiling… and it submerged the fucking thing. Excuse my French. I burned my hands trying to get it out of the water, decided a little water probably wouldn’t hurt it, and tried again. This time the water didn’t boil over, but I did have to keep adding more. Two and a half hours later, it still wasn’t even close to done, but we had already finished dinner, and were ready to go out for a friend’s birthday. I added a little bit more water…and it boiled over again. So, I threw up my hands and admitted defeat. You can’t always win when you’re experimenting with cooking. And maybe it’s fitting. My pudding was just as unsuccessful as the love story of Heathcliff and Catherine, but at least, unlike Heathcliff, I didn’t force everyone to share in my failure. And at least in my case, the good far outweighed the bad.
Next up: Petals of Blood by Ngugi wa Thiongo, a Kenyan author who was imprisoned for writing this book. I’m hoping to be able to do the food portion while I’m IN Kenya in a few weeks. I really can’t tell you how excited I am. I’ll stop talking now 🙂