Thursday, July 31, 2008

Project Cook-Along: Spaghetti alla Ceci

AKA Baby Barf. Well, that's what it looked like, anyways. Thank goodness it didn't taste like that!

Last night, I prepared the Spaghetti alla Ceci, from Racheal Ray's "Express Lane Meals". Here are my thoughts on the subject...

Overall, the dish was interesting. There was a nice kick to it, thanks to the red pepper flakes. I think I used a bit too much garlic, which had a taste-altering effect on things, but it was unpleasant and I would most-definitely eat it again (with a few variations, of course...). It was extremely quick and easy - although, in the book, it is made to seem like you can cook the main dish while the pasta is cooking. This may be true if everything is prep'ed and chopped as needed prior to starting the pasta. I was in a hurry, didn't pre-plan well, and ended up having the pasta sit on the stove for a good ten minutes before the rest was done. Cost was minimal - I had a lot of the ingredients on hand, so my total cost was $9.86. Not bad for a meal that would feed three or four people. I added a couple slices of Five Cheese Texas Toast, and half a bottle of a nice red wine from a local winery, and dinner was served.

Lessons learned:
1. Garlic. I love it. But I realized last night that I know nothing about how to use it! How to peel it, how to get the freggin' cloves off the bunch. What constitutes a clove (I think I used twice as much as suggested!). How to chop it without getting it everywhere, including in my hair (don't ask!). And how to get rid of the smell once dinner is over. Yeah, I have some research to do before I will venture down that road again. But it sheds some light early on, too. While I am comfortable in the kitchen, and can make-do with just about anything, this opens my eyes to the fact that I am merely an amateur and might need to research techniques, skills and practices prior to attempting a new recipe.
2. Chick peas have an earthy taste to them. That could've been because the food processor I used ground them to a paste-like pulp, instead of just chopping them as suggested (hence the baby barf appearance...) or maybe I just didn't rinse them well enough.
3. I substituted the crushed tomatoes for diced tomatoes, simply because I forgot to buy the crushed ones. It worked out ok. However, if I were to do this again, I would not strain the tomato juice off and then just use a smaller amount of the chicken broth. That should give the sauce more of a tomato flavor, something I personally enjoy.
4. Patience is a virtue I need to keep working at. Even if I'm in a hurry, I need to take the time to prepare all the ingredients prior to starting to cook, unless told specifically to do differently. This will save time in the long run and help ensure that nothing is over-cooked. It's very easy to overlook the pan on the stove while preparing the next ingredient.
5. Along those same lines, I realized that if I am going to do much chopping at all, I need to either get some non-slip material to place under the cutting board, or I need one of those nice cutting boards with the rubber on the corners. Every time I went to chop, the board would just move across the counter, making it nearly impossible to get even cuts.

All in all, not bad for my first trip down the cookbook express way. But vampires beware - I can still taste the garlic!

Coming soon! Cowboy Spaghetti.
I am going out of town this weekend, but I will be sure to get back to the stove next week...