Archive for Monday, August 20, 2012


Dinnertime disaster

The plan was foolproof … or so it seemed

August 20, 2012


Phil Wilke

Phil Wilke

It was my night to cook. That’s usually not a cause concern, but tonight would be different.

My wife, a marvelous, adventurous cook who can improvise in the kitchen the way Don Rickles can on stage, was working late. So being the gracious husband I am, I said I’d make dinner.

I’m no Iron Chef, but I can get by, especially with gentle, loving guidance and a well-tested recipe.

I was in the mood for pasta tonight. No problem. No one can screw up pasta. No one.

The only reason I wanted to make pasta was the baguette I had purchased. It’s perfect for garlic bread. Maybe structuring the entire meal around a tall, skinny loaf of gluten isn’t such a great idea, but I was going to run with it.

Because I was told we didn’t have any pasta sauce in the pantry, I was using company time to research easy and flavorful cream sauce recipes on cooking websites. I found one I thought I could handle, which would also stretch my culinary chops, so to speak: Roasted Garlic Peppercorn Sauce. Rated four stars out of five by users of the site. “Fast, easy and delicious,” raved workingmom49 of Schenectady, N.Y. No one can screw up this sauce. No one.

First, cut the tops off two cloves of garlic, drizzle them in olive oil and roast them at 325 degrees for 45 minutes. So far, so good. Flash forward to taking the garlic out of the oven. Maybe I left them in for a few minutes too long or maybe our oven bakes a little too hot, but they were certainly usable. Onward to the much-awaited cream sauce.

The recipe calls for a standard butter, flour, milk mixture. Let that come to a boil. It looked a little thin, but it’ll thicken. Just follow the recipe.

Time for the garlic bread. One of my favorite foods in the entire universe. Baguette split, butter melted, garlic minced, bread buttered, spices spread and into the oven. Bake it for a few minutes, then a moment of browning under the broiler. I’ve done this before. No one can screw up garlic bread. No one.

For the sauce, I’m supposed to crush a tablespoon of peppercorns. After several minutes of looking in every drawer in the kitchen and finding every single kitchen implement conceivable EXCEPT a mortar and pestle (Why do we have three peelers? How many melon ballers does one family really need?), I decided to use the back of a large spoon. It was supposed to produce the same result, except now the peppercorns shoot out from underneath the spoon at warp speed if I hold the spoon slightly askew. Within a few moments, the countertop looks like an accident site at a ball bearing factory. Peppercorns are flying thick and fast.

Time to start the bowtie pasta. Bowties, the cutest of all the pasta shapes.

Unfortunately, the sauce isn’t quite thickening up. Maybe a little higher heat. I mean, I’m following the recipe exactly. I added the roasted garlic, now smashed under my peppercorn-encrusted spoon, and let the flavors meld. A little taste should give me direction on seasoning.

Now, I’m sure all of us had tasted library paste at some time. The library paste at my grade school was a Dom Perignon ’53 compared to the witches brew I had going. After adding salt and the peppercorns, it tasted like library paste with salt and peppercorns. Actually, actual library paste would have been an improvement.


When I opened the oven door, there was a cloud of smoke thick enough to show up on weather radar. I grabbed the pan and ran it to the back porch to vent the house. I let it sit on the patio table, where it would hopefully decay into chunks of carbon thick enough to form charcoal briquettes. Oh well, another good baguette down the epicurean crapper.

Then the smoke detector went off … on the second floor.

Several minutes of waving a large bath towel to freshen the air around the smoke detector finally quieted the ear-splitting, seizure-inducing whine of the smoke detector’s piercing, wake-the-dead scream.

This is when I see the pasta boiling over. The bowties have come unknotted and are as unkempt as a drunken high school senior the morning after prom. They’ve gone from cute little pasta bowties to glutinous little ragged rectangles of death.

Let’s review. Bread: ruined. Sauce: ruined. Pasta: ruined. I’ve hit the trifecta. We went out for Mexican food. They didn’t ruin anything.

I think I’m going to burn that recipe. It shouldn’t be hard. No one can screw that up. No one.

— Phil Wilke is a writer and public radio fundraiser who lives in Lawrence.


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