There’s no use pretending anymore. It’s time to hang my ego up in the pantry and admit something. Something entirely contrary to the carefully cultivated image I’ve presented to my friends and family all my life. The ugly truth is…
I SUCK AT COOKING!
It’s true and my head is lowered in shame as I type. The reality is, I am an average cook made horrible by the delusion of so called “expertise” garnered from years of watching food network shows and collecting cookbooks. Cause we all learn by watching right?
Some friends might say to me,”But I’ve had your cooking before” or “I’ve been to your house for dinner before and it was good.” Open your eyes, it was all an illusion. If you were paying attention while dining at my abode, you would notice that everytime I’ve had people over, it’s either a potluck in which my dishes are camouflaged by other peoples offerings or it’s hot pot where people cook the food themselves. Kind of hard to mess that one up.
Granted, there are some things I am quite handy with like tortilla española, potstickers, roasted meats of various ilk, and flan (this is true, I have witnesses). I can follow a recipe and turn out some decent grub. However, my downfall is my tendency for inspired, off-the-cuff cooking where I shun recipes in the name of “creativity” simply because I think I know how to cook, I mean really cook. And that is when bad things happen.
People I care about have suffered at the hands of my creative cooking. Some of you might still recall with stark terror, the Apple Pie Incident of ’96 when I tried to make apple pie with only one apple and one pear and no flour. To be precise, I tried to make an apple custard pie (do these things exist?) with one apple, one pear, and no flour. By way, Chex Mix does not make a good substitute for pie crust even if you crush it up to tiny bits. Not only is it too salty but it’s also porous and cannot contain a custard. In my defense, it was cold outside and no one was around to drive me to the grocery store.
Other massive failures include the time I tried to make burnt sugar cookies, which did not turn out like I had envisioned. Or when I tried to make buttermilk fried chicken and ended up with a batter coating thick enough to cause a concussion. Once I tried to make Mexican rice with a jar of spaghetti sauce because I didn’t have tomatoes or tomato paste. Actually, I don’t know what I didn’t have because I didn’t use a recipe and I thought spaghetti sauce would get me results. That one was almost as bad as the pie incident but thankfully, no one else was around to gag at it.
You would think that given my track record, I would have learned my lessons many times over and use recipes all the time right? No. Of course not because I always tell myself that past mistakes were just one-time aberrations.
So, I got a gorgeous 6Qt Staub Cocotte over Christmas and yesterday I decided I wanted to make a stew of some sort to annoint my gadget and decided to just throw things in a pot without consulting a recipe. The logic was I have Staub, ergo I am a good cook. My hearty stew was going to contain lamb, veal, smoked duck sausage, great northern beans rapini, onions, garlic, carrots, and potatoes. They were all going to simmer in a stock of red wine and chicken broth, spiced with oregano and smoky pimenton. On paper, the ingredients had the makings of something awesome. But in the end, it was only edible, and barely so.
Here are the two critical things I did wrong and my ego considers them to be mistakes made by novice cooks . For one, I threw in too much salt without tasting how much I had already added along the process because I read somewhere (I think it was Zuni Cafe Cookbook) that you can’t have too much salt, or at least that’s what I recall. Then I didn’t add enough liquid because I forgot that beans absorb a lot of liquid and liquid evaporates under high heat, resulting in some of the meat being dry and not enough broth for me to sop up with some bread. What I ended up with was a really salty dish with tough meat. Also, the rapini had turned into diarrhea-looking mush because I couldn’t be bothered to wait and add them in towards the end of the cooking time (mistake number 3). Besides the waste of a meal I’ll never get back, those ingredients cost $$. I bought them at frickin Berkeley Bowl for crying out loud! If you can’t tell, I’m slightly bitter about how my stew turned out. Hence this post.
So after chasing my stew down with loads of water, I’ve decided that my new years resolution is to approach cooking with (some) humility and look up a recipe whenever I feel the itch to cook with abandon. Save my creativity for the keyboard and the sewing machine. Although I have been craving mac n cheese…the recipe calls for fontina and gruyere but I only have cheddar and parmasean….