"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Annual Moose Pass Community Christmas Potluck Dinner, or, Why I Quit Cooking and Started Enjoying Life

A couple blogs I follow have wonderful cooking sections. My pal Beth at Switched at Birth features fabulous food at her Longleaf Grille. Her specialty is fresh fish and shellfish.

And, at The Pioneer Woman, Ree’s cooking section has lots of step by step photos leading up to the finished product. Her cooking is so popular, she’s just returned home from a book signing tour for her new cookbook.

Shoot, I thought, I could do something like that. If I wanted to. But, why would I want to?

Anyway, last night was the annual Moose Pass community Christmas potluck. I had decided to break my no-cooking rule and make Halibut Florentine. As I took ingredients out of freezers, refrigerators, and cabinets, I figured this was as good a time as any to follow in the footsteps of Beth and Ree, so I added my Nikon Cool Pix to the mix.

Thus, here is the recipe for Halibut Florentine, complete with step by step instructions. Because there are a lot of photos, I am going to post them in small format, but remember you can click on them to enlarge them to full screen.

The ingredients. Frozen cut spinach, halibut, American cheese, olive oil, butter, salt pepper, cooking sherry, and paprika.

Thaw the spinach in water because you forgot to take it out of the freezer in time. Then, place it in a colander to drain.

Photograph the lemon juice separately because you forgot it for the first photo.

Place halibut in a clean sink and rinse.

Start pressing water out of spinach.

If there’s still some ice in the spinach, so you will need to warm your hand over the woodstove to get it working again.

Nuke a slice of left-over pizza to tide you over.

Cut halibut into bite sized pieces. If you were making this for your dinner, you can leave the pieces bigger, but this is for a potluck and you want it to serve many.

Note—halibut is not pink. It’s white. These wretched compact fluorescent lights make it and everything else look pink.

Smell the little bottle of olive oil. If it smells rancid, go down to the pantry in the crawl space and get a new bottle. While you’re down there, remember that the jeans you are going to wear tonight are in the laundry. Start a load of wash. Back upstairs, warm the cold olive oil under hot water until its thinned enough to pour.

Squeeze the spinach some more.

Warm hands over woodstove again.

Remember that you didn’t include the ingredients for the cheese sauce in the first ingredient picture, so get them out and shoot the shot: flour, butter, American cheese, and milk, salt and pepper.

Reconstitute the powdered milk. Use the real stuff if you have it.

Get out your largest sauté pans. Pour some olive oil and heat. When the oil is hot, add a bit of butter because butter makes everything taste better. Don’t forget that butter has a low burn point. This photo works best if you’ve started with a clean cooktop. It’s less embarrassing that way.

Consider making a whiskey sour to give you strength to get through the next part. Try to choose between the Chivas Regal and the lifetime supply of Canadian that you bought for making Christmas whiskey cookies, because you really felt guilty using Chivas last year for cookies even though the recipe only calls for a half cup and nobody drinks this stuff around your house.

Instead, fill your favorite Winchester Mystery House mug with cold water. You need to stay hydrated.

Wear an apron for this next part, otherwise you’ll get oil spatter all over the only long-sleeved tee shirt the parrot will let you wear.

Put a few chunks of halibut in the sauté pans. Cook until just opaque. Browning isn’t necessary here. Just before you remove the halibut from the pan, add a splash of lemon juice and a splash of cooking sherry. Stir and remove fish to a plate.

Go down to the pantry under the house and get your 2” hotel pan. This is a big batch of Florentine. Put a layer of drained and squeezed spinach in the pan.

Heat more oil and butter for the rest of the halibut.

Oops. You forgot about the low burn point of butter. Get the broom out of the broom closet and wave it at the smoke detector that has set off every alarm in the house because you neglected to turn on the cooktop fan. Turn on fan.

Note that you need a new broom.

Oh, crunchy bits? Don’t worry, they’ll think they’re the secret ingredient.

When the halibut is all sautéd, nuke another small slice of pizza to tide you over.

Share with Pablo.

Place a layer of sautéed halibut over the spinach in the hotel pan.

For Pete’s sakes, don’t pour the used oil in the sauté pans down the sink drain. Pour it into the garbage, or you’ll soon have plugged drains.

Get out another pan for the cheese sauce, and begin melting a stick of butter. You can melt it in the microwave, too.

By this time, your kitchen is a mess.

Reconsider that whiskey sour.

Start cleaning up by putting the paper plate for the pizza in the woodstove.

Forget what I said earlier about starting with a clean, less-embarassing cooktop. It would be a waste of time.

When the butter for the sauce is melted…

…begin adding small amounts of flour. This is making a roux. Now you know a real cooking term, and can impress your friends with it.

Stir constantly for a lump-free roux. Do this while adding flour, stirring, and taking a picture.

Don‘t let the roux brown. We’re making a basic white sauce here, not gravy. Let it cook a bit, but not brown. Slowly add milk, stirring constantly until a smooth consistency. We’re using roughly equal portions of flour and butter. Cookbooks get all anal about the proper proportions of flour to butter, but, hey, if it works it works. Don't fix it if it ain't broke.

Add more milk for a medium sauce. We don’t want biscuits and gravy thick, or cheese soup. We want a nice velvety sauce. Add salt and pepper. Technically, since we’re making a white sauce, you should use ground white pepper, but since I don’t have any, I’ll go for the whole grain look and use black pepper.

Oops. For got to turn on the oven. 350 degrees, please. Oh, criminy, the pot luck starts at 6 p.m.

Now, begin adding pieces of real American cheese. I’m a cheese snob, and cheese food product isn’t cheese.

Continue adding pieces of cheese while stirring until the sauce is yellow like cheese. Adjust seasonings.

Pour cheese sauce uniformly over halibut and spinach.

Sprinkle lightly with paprika. I said lightly! Hard to do with Costco-sized paprika containers, I know.

Run down to the laundry room and put the jeans in the dryer. Oh, crikey! Twenty minutes isn’t enough time. Run back up to the kitchen. Check to see if oven is hot yet. Take a look at your totally trashed kitchen…

You now have decisions to make. But first, reconsider that whiskey sour:

Sigh. Back to the options.

1. Skip the potluck. Stay home and clean up the kitchen. This option has the additional benefit of allowing yourself to indulge in that whiskey sour...or three.

2. Go to the potluck. The kitchen will be here when you get back. This option has absolutely no benefits, and will make you want to run away from home.


3. Stuff everything in the dishwasher to make the kitchen look clean.

That’ll do. Now you can enjoy the potluck and not think about running away from home because the kitchen is destroyed.

Place pan in oven to heat until cheese is bubbly, but not browning.

Yeah, now go get dressed while the Halibut Florentine heats.

Try to find something to wear because your favorite jeans are still sopping wet. Oh, here’s a pair of black jeans and they stretch, too. Yes! Come on, you can get them buttoned. Now, squat down, push your belly out as far as you can. Feel that fabric stretch? Stand up. Can you breathe? Great, you’re good to go. Find something Christmas-y for the top part.

Wrap some lilac colored painter’s masking tape around the handle of the serving spoon so you will recognize it later.

Remember to put a towel on the carpet of your car before you set the hot pan on it, or you will melt the carpet. When you get to the school gymnasium, place your pan on the table, and unwrap it.

Voila! Halibut Florentine.

And that, dear friends, is why I gave up cooking and started eating Microwave Magic instead.

Except at potlucks.

And then, guess who showed up when all the little kids sat quietly and well-behaved on the floor?

And whispered secrets to Santa? Who would have guessed that Santa wore the same kind of footwear everyday Alaskans wear. As for the lad's footwear? Anybody's guess.

And played with the toy he gave them...

And went back a second time...and a third...

Or needed a lot of persuasion (to no avail)...

Or, left their newest fav book on the floor while they sat on Santa's knee?

Or who thought their Christmas dress was ever so pretty?

The annual Christmas dinner and Santa's appearance is sponsored by the Moose Pass Sportsman's Club, which actually is our community club. It's been called the Sportsmen's Club for so many years no one remembers why anymore. With the lack of local government, it's also our ad hoc community voice.


  1. Look out Beth, Gully's a coming! Very entertaining way to cook ya got there Gully. Now about that Whiskey Sour, tell the truth, how many did you have before the potluck?

  2. I love it! I bet your dish was popular at the dinner.

  3. It was, Shaddy. Had several people compliment me on it. But then, they knew I used to own the Lodge in Moose Pass, and they remembered the food we served.


  4. Absolutely delicious post.
    Please Ma'am, could I have some more?

  5. Oh what fun this was to read! I would have given up and had a whiskey sour, then again, do I need an excuse?