Celebrating New York with Mediocrity

Last night there was a lot to celebrate: my friend Lisa is in town from Wisconsin, and oh also by the way I’m moving to New York in like two weeks to go work in an ad agency (and possibly also to gay marry Zachary Quinto, but that’s still only at about a 50/50 probability). So, everything is very exciting! Also? TERRIFYING. I have so much to do in the next couple weeks (including, much to my chagrin, this project, the bane of my existence). My head may just burst into flames at any moment. Fun! I’ll be sure to document all my meltdowns on Twitter. Anyway, I made three recipes last night, because I need to get this train a-rollin’ and also because I am a masochist.

I picked three recipes that seemed like they would go well together, based on absolutely nothing: Bruschetta, Artichoke & Pine Nut Pesto, and Sole a la Grenoblaise. And it all turned out pretty mediocre! Sorry, Lisa, it’s the nature of the beast.

First, let’s talk about the bruschetta. The recipe calls for you to toast some bread, rub it with garlic, and drizzle olive oil on top. Now, Wikipedia tells me this is, in fact, the standard definition of bruschetta, but let’s face it: when you say “bruschetta” you mean toasted bread with some tomato mixture on top of it. Anyone who says otherwise is a snob (which, of course, explains everything about this recipe’s inclusion in the book). Hilariously, the full title for the recipe is “Bruschetta (or “garlic toast” as my daughter calls it),” which is just the best because A) she’s even condescending in regards to her daughter, and B) APPLE IS CORRECT TO CALL IT THAT. Don’t call this bruschetta, Gwyneth, even if it’s technically accurate. That’s just obnoxious, and it’s good to see that Apple has a firmer grasp on reality than her mother. Because that’s what this recipe is: garlic toast.

Anyway, I started by making the pesto, which was simple and rather unusual, seeing as there’s actually no basil in it whatsoever. I threw some artichoke hearts, pine nuts, olive oil, garlic, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, and fresh tarragon into the trusty Magic Bullet and blended it right up. And that, my friends, is pesto. I set the finished pesto aside and boiled a pot of water to cook our pasta (shells, to better trap the sauce, of course).

Pre-pesto. Say what you will about the Magic Bullet, it is MADE for pesto.

Kind of a gross close-up of the pesto.

After that, it was time to get to work on the fish, which was, really, very easy. And it should be, because listen to this hilarious origin story for the recipe: “One evening out at the beach my mother invited some of her friends over and I was assigned chef duties with not a lot of time to prepare. I made this flavorful, light sauteed fish, based on the classic French preparation. I didn’t let her down!” Haha. FALSE. This did not happen, not a chance in hell. Although I do love the image of Blythe Danner reclining on the beach, her wealthy, WASPy friends gathered around her, casually waving her martini glass in Gwyneth’s general direction and shouting, “Daughter! Make us some FISH. And don’t let me down.” A real high-stakes childhood in the Paltrow home.

Anyway, I dredged some beautiful Dover sole fillets in almond milk and flour, which seems to be Gwyneth’s preferred method of making batter (and which I, as a fried food connoisseur, find rather disappointing). I then heated a mixture of butter and olive oil on the stove and proceeded to sautee the fish for a few minutes on either side, until brown and crispy. Meanwhile, I melted butter in a small pot and mixed in a few scoops of capers. Once the butter had browned a bit, I removed it from the heat and added some slices of lemon to the sauce, completing possibly the easiest sauce ever.



A strangely shadowy photo of sole a la grenoblaise. Blythe Danner would be disappointed.

At this point, I strained the pasta, prepared the table, and realized I hadn’t made the “bruschetta” yet. Gwyneth says to grill it for a few seconds over a flame, until “just barely charred at spots.” I turned on the burner, dropped a slice of our (very fancy, very Gwyneth-approved) country Italian loaf atop the flame, and continued with the 800 other things I had going on: mixing the pesto with the pasta, plating the fish with the sauce, and, most importantly, drinking wine. So within 30 seconds, the kitchen was filling up with a noxious black smoke, and I had a flaming piece of bread on my stove. Whoops.

We opened the window, got rid of the failed bread (not out the window, although it was suggested), and I tried again. Once again, I forgot about the bread, and we had a second slice of flaming bread on the stove. The third time proved the charm, though, and eventually I managed to hold my attention on the bread until we had enough grilled slices. I then rubbed each slice with a clove of garlic, feeling vaguely sexual and strange about the whole procedure, and then drizzled some olive oil across the whole thing (using olive oil I brought back from my Italy trip, no less. Ooooooooooh!). The bread looked very unimpressive.

Now, this sounds like a lot to cook, but I should state that even with three recipes, this was one of the fastest cooking experiences I’ve had on this whole project. So that’s a huge plus. The finished plates, however, looked rather monochromatic:

So Katie brought a little life to the plate:

The end result was, well, just so-so. The “bruschetta” was stupid, and a total waste of a good loaf of bread. It tasted like slightly burnt bread, with a hint of garlic and olive oil. UNIMPRESSED. The pesto was actually pretty good, and I particularly liked the fact that the sauce had Parmesan in it, which turned the pesto into a cheesy, melty concoction when mixed with the warm noodles. So that was pleasant. And the sole was really good. Lightly fried, so as not to overshadow the tenderness of the fish, and the capers added a lot. The addition of the lemon slices, however? TERRIBLE idea. Each bite with lemon resulted in a lot of embarrassingly puckered faces, because that stuff was sour. What was the point of adding whole slices of lemon to this otherwise delicate dish? It completely overpowered it, and we all quickly resorted to eating the lemons separately, just to get it over with so we could go back to enjoying the fish. I don’t know why Gwyneth didn’t just have us squeeze some lemon juice over the fish, the way normal people usually do it. I also don’t know why, five months into this thing, I’m still expecting her to think like a normal person.

Overall, a pretty mediocre celebratory dinner. Hooray! And now begins a whirlwind couple of weeks, of finishing up a job, saying goodbye to everyone/everything I love in Portland, finding an apartment in New York, moving cross-country with a dog, and starting a new job in the craziest city in the world. Expect me to have completely lost my last vestiges of sanity by Thanksgiving.

(On a related note, if you know of anyone in New York who has an open room, wants to live with a dog, and DEFINITELY isn’t a serial killer, please email me. Whoever finds me a place to live will get a special delivery of Gwyneth’s grandma’s peanut butter cookies, baked by me!) (This may be the worst contest ever.)



Filed under Main Courses, Pasta, Sides

21 responses to “Celebrating New York with Mediocrity

  1. What if he is a serial killer, but in the kind of “O Only kill bad people” way a la Dexter? I mean, they are neat.

    • Ceri from Work

      OMG, Edhill reads and comments on this blog. I am amazed at how famous you are Danny. At least I can say I worked with that cool kid Danny who knows and blogs with all these other cool people. Not. worthy. (Shout out to edhill! I miss your lost recaps!)

  2. Ceri from Work

    ” I’m moving to New York in like two weeks to go work in an ad agency ”
    what?? Now I will have to change my name from “Ceri from work” to that girl Ceri who you used to work with. Now I will cyber stalk you from afar. I always knew you were too cool for us for long Danny. 😦

  3. Toasty Up

    You’re moving to NYC–this is amazing and wonderful! I recently left the agency world but still have contacts there. Shoot me a note if you need anything. 🙂 P.S. They sell duck bacon–lots of it–at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket in BK every Saturday. Just sayin’.

  4. Karen

    Congratulations on the new job!. Very exciting. Cooking grand, Gwyneth-approved recipes in a New York kitchen will be a challenge!

  5. Dana

    Sorry, the only people I know in NY are serial killers. Best of luck on your journey though, can’t wait to hear more about it! 🙂

  6. Congratulations!!! I hope you have a great time in NY and I look forward to reading about all of your culinary escapades there. I am so getting a magic bullet now.

  7. Kate

    I am strangely panicked at your move to NY, like they don’t have blogs there or something. Don’t let us down: keep up the good fight. And congratulations, btw. Also, thank you for saying it about the monochromatic food (I felt rude for even thinking it).

  8. Not Your Sister Nikki

    HAHA! Love this. Do have to defend bruschetta tho – I believe you may have cut it wrong (from what I can see in the pic). You need the bread to be on both sides, sliced rounds; don’t cut the loaf in half longways. Also, lots of olive oil and salt – and if you rub a half cut tomato on there, its even better (pan con tomate). Try it again!

    • That may all be true, but I still blame Gwyneth. If it isn’t clear what I’m supposed to do from the recipe as it’s laid out in the book, then it’s not a good recipe. I shouldn’t have to Google every recipe to find out what I REALLY should do.

  9. Traci from that Portland work place

    I’m still in awe and envious of your killer new job! As a pre-advertising major I heard endlessly about O&M. Hope your non-serial killer roommate doesn’t love Gwyneth and can share your love/hate relationship with this project with the right intensity. Much success to you Danny! We’ll miss you.

  10. Avonasea

    Should I get a magic bullet? It looks completely silly on TV, even at 3 a.m., but you are making me think it can be rather useful. Did you grate the Parmesan in the bullet? I buy large blocks of expensive Parmesan that just sit in the fridge unused because I refuse to grate the old-fashioned way (i.e. by hand).

    • I actually grated the Parmesan by hand (I’ll hold for applause). It is completely silly, although useful in some instances. I don’t know, it’s not a MUST-HAVE thing by any means, but it can cut down on some kitchen time for sure. It’s definitely not as life-saving as the psycho blonde lady and the fake British guy in the commercial would have you believe, though.

  11. chick110

    I LOVED the addition of candy to the bland picture. I don’t know if Blythe would have approved though…

  12. Congrats on the new job! I assume the move is motivated 50% by the job and 50% by the appeal of Gwyneth’s homeland. When you marry Zachary, insist on moving to England and building a wood-burning pizza oven.

  13. giu

    hilarious as usual!i have to say, though, that Gwyneth is right: I’m italian and here if you ask for a plain bruschetta, you’ll be given a garlic and oil piece of toasted bread!

  14. MissW

    I love your blog. Congrats on your move. You might be able to find duck bacon in NYC. Or maybe even Gwyneth herself. Good luck!

  15. Clair

    New York is so lucky.

  16. Clair, you are so right.
    Congrat’s on the move, you are so deserving.
    Good luck, and maybe blog about the move?

  17. For some horrible reason, I only just learned of this blog’s existence yesterday. And while I silently wept last night for all those previously ignorant and vacant months, I am happy to come across this particular post. See, I too am about to move to NYC and have the same sense of panic/fear/excitement/CurledInABallWeeping that you just described here. I have no idea what we’re doing and truth be told, rental agents in NYC scare the hell out of me, but this post brought me joy. So thank you for that!

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