It’s been two weeks since the last post, and I’ve been working every day but one of them, so there really hasn’t been a lot of downtime to sit, write, contemplate, etc. Still, I make time to cook. Since the Valentine’s Day post, I’ve had a birthday, and one of my gifts from my lady was a present from Turntable Kitchen.

It’s a gift basket, if you will. In it, there are three recipe cards, a themed ingredient, and a 45 record of music that corresponds to the theme of the dinner itself. This concept has been explored earlier with our dining, as in the CRUX undersea themed dinner set to the music of Isis.  For this box, the themed ingredient was a small sachet of smoked paprika, and the record was a 45 from the band Thousand. Included were recipes for roasted young carrots dusted with smoked paprika, a honey greek yogurt sauce and fresh chopped mint, white wine mussels with white beans and fresh parsley, and a pear and rosemary galette. Also included were small invitations to dinner for friends, if you so chose, and a heart shaped tool that you could snap in two with prongs at the end for scooping out the mussels from the shell.

Feeling a wave of hope for trying new recipes, I scoped the fridge to see what we had available. The recipes themselves seemed fairly simple. We had some dried zolfini beans that my mom left at our house from her most recent trip to Italy, and aside from picking up some basic staples, we had plenty of items there for a great start to the dinner.

About a week after my birthday, I was at the store, and I saw that the mussels were on sale. Perfect. The next day, I brought my recipe cards in, and it said for two, 1 pound of mussels would be sufficient. That’s never the case. I bought two pounds, knowing that 50% of the weight was left for shells. I bought a bunch of young carrots with greens that I’m planning on using in the next few days for another project, and a few different herbs, along with a nice bottle of table white.

At this point, I should note that the postcards themselves have highly styled and presented yet not entirely unattainable platings of their corresponding dishes. Although slightly intimidating, it gave me something to shoot for.

There’s something to be said for presentation. As I’m currently 85 posts deep into this blogging thing, I never know if I’m repeating myself, but presentation is a key component of the appetizing factor of a meal. Unless your meal is sloppy joes, where the smell and intoxicating hunger pangs take over anything that you could visualize, how your food looks on your plate often has as much to do with your enjoyment as how it tastes. If it comes to you looking like a hastily assembled mess with no eye catching contrasts between the color of the food and the plate, you’ve already started on the wrong foot. If it looks nice, and this goes for dinners out, at home, and especially served to kids, you’ve already passed the first round. Looks great. Then, smells great? Yes? Great.

The first dish was rather easy to assemble. Toss some young carrots in olive oil, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika, and roast them at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, turning once. While they’re in the oven, take 1/3 cup of greek yogurt and whisk it together with honey. That’s your sauce. Chop fresh mint for garnish, and serve on a bed of wilted spinach. Fast and easy. Boom. Roasted.

My big problem in cooking these days is beans. Dry beans. They never cook how I want them to. I’ve soaked them, quickboiled them, boiled them long, slow cooked them (that takes two days from dry. I don’t advise it), and everything else that you can imagine. Fortunately, the recipe told me to soak them overnight, then boil for one hour in two inches of water, uncovered, adding more water if it looked like they were running dry. In addition, it told me to salt the beans at the end, not the beginning, and that they should taste creamy after about an hour. They tasted good, but not creamy. I let them go for a little while longer, and then drained them, setting them aside for the mussel cooking part of the evening.

I sweat some minced garlic, as they recommended, in butter. I added a few sprigs of parsley and the now cooked beans, sauteed for a bit, and added two cups of my dry white wine. At this point, for my binder of a themed ingredient, I would have chosen to add another pinch of smoked paprika to tie one dish to the next, but it didn’t say that on the card. No paprika added.

Put the mussels in, covered them, let them cook for a few minutes until I could hear the click-clack of opening shells. Giving them a shake, I turned off the heat and let them rest for a minute or two.

When the time came to assemble the dishes (I didn’t make the pear and rosemary galette because as you may know, baking is the bane of my existence), I grabbed a bowl for the mussels, scooped them out, and threw a generous handful of parsley over the top. After that, I poured the liquid into the bowls, bringing out the green in the parsley with just a little bit of heat.

When all was said and done, I had two dishes per person. On the first, in the foreground, is the roasted carrots. We reacted similarly to the flavor- it was delicious. The smoked paprika complemented the sweetness of the carrots. I only want to buy those carrots from now on. The mint was fresh and crisp, the sauce was light and not overbearing, not to mention exceedingly simple, and the spinach, which they told me to wilt in a dry pan with nothing else? Well, it was just spinach, but it was good.

The mussels were alright. I’ve made them many times before, and for the novices out there, this may have seemed like a good recipe to start with, but the wine never fully cooked off. When I do mussels, I use vegetable broth and maybe a splash or two of white wine, but never two cups. Making it, or a similar recipe, in the future, I would substitute with 2 cups of broth rather than wine, so as not to feel so lightheaded after eating.

And as for the music? It’s difficult to put music to something that you hope people will enjoy eating. We put the little 45 on our record player and plopped the needle on side one. Not terribly thrilled.

“Does the singer have a speech impediment?” my lady asked.

I was too busy eating to ever really notice, but what I did take from it was that the music itself wasn’t really my cup of tea. Ah, well. It’s novel of the Turntable Kitchen to use this opportunity to expose people to new music, but somewhere in there, they had to know they’d meet a guy like me. However, it’s interesting to note that they have a broad target audience- those who love music, those who love food, and those who have a collective love of both. My position is somewhere in the mire of the last descriptor, but they put forth a valiant attempt to get me to enjoy my dinner.

Did I? Yes. Did my lady? Yes. Once again, dinner is about the total experience, and having a tiny turntable spinning a record while you eat simply yields yet another topic of conversation over which you can enjoy the company of your fellow diners. For the next experience with these recipes, I’m going to amend them to suit my tastes, along with the music. In that they are in the business of influencing the musical and culinary palates of those who choose to dine with them, Turntable Kitchen’s Musical Pairing was a success, and the same goes for the gift itself. Through introduction to new avenues for cooking and overall enjoyment of a meal, I’ve broadened my horizons, and have taken what I’ve learned to further shape my endeavors in the kitchen the next time I attempt a new recipe that we can savor together.