Kitchen Mishaps

I have burned dinner almost every night this week.

It's true. Burned it. Totally charred, "do I have to throw out this pot?", beyond redemption, "okay, I guess we're going out for dinner" ruined. My biceps are bulging from all the heavy-duty pot scrubbing I've had to do recently. I have been a complete and total kitchen disaster.

I'm blaming it on the "blood moon," the lunar eclipse that's going on at the moment. It's plausible, trust me. I've always had insomnia around full moons. So does my dad, and I think my daughter might be inheriting this tendency. So this super special full moon is (in my estimation) wreaking havoc on my sleep patterns, and that's made me a bit incompetent.

I suppose I could also blame it on the fact that I seem to be distracted by springtime; that I'm constantly slipping away to do some work on the computer while things simmer (and then forgetting about that whole cooking thing going on in the other room); and that I'm also just plain getting stupider as I age. Okay wait -- that last part's not quite right. I'm getting better at seeing the big picture, and worse at seeing the details. Like remembering to turn off the stove.

When I burn things on a regular evening it's annoying and frustrating, but last week I did it during my cooking class. I hope I managed remain graceful in the face of culinary disaster, and the food was salvageable, but I was so embarrassed. The dish was one I've made a million times -- Saag Ghosh, or Lamb with Greens. How I managed to mess it up I have no actual idea. I mean, even with the insomnia. I could cook that dish in my sleep. I felt so bad about it that I made the dish again to give to all the students, just so they know how it's supposed to taste when I'm paying attention. And then forgot to give it to them before they left.

Every time I've burned something lately my daughter has helpfully pointed out something along the lines of "Mom, how can you write a food blog if you ruin dinner all the time?!?" Worse still when it happens when I'm pretending to be a pro.

Of course, pros make mistakes, too, as Julia Child was happy to remind us -- one of her great contributions to the education of the home cook, as far as I'm concerned. She even talked about making mistakes and learning from them -- a "try, try again attitude" -- as part of the strength that comes with women's liberation.

So, I am currently trying to convince myself, if I end up ordering pizza every once in a while, no tragedy. Comes with the territory.

(The relevant section starts at 1:57.)

Saag Ghosh (Lamb with Greens)
Serves 4

Indians prefer to cook with meat on the bone, because of the extra flavor the bones impart to the sauce. This can be made with bone-in or boneless lamb; I prefer Australian or (even better) New Zealand lamb, as I find American lamb to be quite gamy, often. You can vary the greens according to what's fresh and what you prefer, but use some spinach as part of the mix.

1 bunch spinach and 1 bunch of another green (kale, mustard greens, even collards), or use all spinach
1 TB canola oil
1 bay leaf
1 black or 2 green cardamoms
3 cloves
1 small cinnamon stick
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 large onion, chopped
¾” knob of ginger
2 plump garlic cloves
1-2 green chilies
1.5 lbs boneless lamb stew meat or boneless leg of lamb cut into 1" cubes, or 1.75 lbs shoulder chops or bone-in lamb stew meat
1.5 tsp coriander powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 c chopped tomatoes, canned or fresh

Wash the greens and drain, allowing some water to remain on the leaves. In a large skillet, heat ¼ c water over medium-high heat. When boiling, add greens and a pinch of salt. Allow to wilt and become tender – just a few minutes, longer if using kale. Remove from heat. When cool enough to handle, roughly puree in a food processor.

Wipe out the skillet. Add the oil and let heat over medium-high heat. When hot, add the whole spices. When these sizzle and become fragrant, add the onion and sauté until golden brown. Add ginger, garlic, and green chilies and stir for half a minute or so, then add the lamb and “bhuna” it – toss it with the onion mixture until it loses its pink color.

Now add the powdered spices and sauté for an additional minute or two. Add the tomatoes and 1 c water, along with ½ tsp salt. Allow to simmer at a steady bubble (medium-low), partly covered, for 45 minutes, adding water if necessary. It shouldn’t scorch, but it shouldn’t get too watery – the greens will make more gravy.

Add pureed greens to the pan, and allow the flavors to meld at a simmer for about 10 minutes. Taste for salt and serve hot.

Channa Saag (Chickpeas with Greens)

In case you're looking for a vegetarian version.

Leave out lamb. Add spices directly to onion mixture and sauté. Add tomatoes and salt and allow the mixture to bubble and cook until you see the oil separating from the mixture. Add 1 c water along with 2 c cooked chick peas and the pureed greens. Allow to simmer 20 minutes until flavors have melded.