Not all cooking projects go as planned. But even when things don’t work out, sometimes a dish can be salvaged. Other times you stumble into the happy accident of making something delicious. Raf had one of these in his repertoire. It was a failed fritata that turned into a lovely pasta and egg dish.
But sometimes it just goes dreadfully and horribly wrong. And in those instances, everything that you do to try to fix the situation seems somehow to make matters worse and worse.
Yesterday was one of those days. But truth be told, one of my earliest experiments with following a recipe was probably even a worse disaster. It’s hard to say. They both failed in their own unique ways. Anyhow, just because it’s Monday, I’ll tell you both stories.
I was in college, and I was invited over a friend’s house for a potluck. The food I was eating at the time wasn’t quite so refined as it is today. You can read all about my microwaved Velveeta fondue, which was really the apex of my collegiate culinary accomplishments. But against all odds I did have a Jacques Pépin cookbook. Thumbing through the recipes I found one that sounded perfect for the occasion. It was a potato and spinach galette.
The ingredients were cheap. The picture of the completed dish looked impressive. I thought with potatoes it would be hearty yet still satisfy the vegetarian requirement. And the book suggested that it was relatively quick and easy.
Maybe that was true if you had a modicum of skill and the proper tools.
With my cookbook in tow, I picked up all the ingredients at a local market and brought them all over to my friend’s place. Part of the fun of this dinner party was that we were all going to cook. So I had help. Lots and lots of help. People were peeling potatoes, washing spinach, and chopping spinach. We didn’t have a potato slicer, so people were cutting potatoes by hand.
Little bits of spinach were everywhere, as were little bits of potato.
Not reading ahead, we painstakingly assembled this dish in a nonstick skillet with a plastic handle. It took a ridiculous amount of time. The problem was that it was then supposed to go in the oven. Turns out that plastic handled pans aren’t oven safe. Who knew? Screw it. The pan went in the oven, and the handle didn’t melt, much. Maybe because we turned down the heat, which resulted in a significantly longer cooking time.
Flipping the galette was reasonably successful, even though it took a lot of consultation and hand-wringing. After all, this was going to be the centerpiece of the meal.
The meal for eight people.
Eight people who had been working on this damn thing for far too long. They were hungry. Really hungry. And they continued to wait while the second side cooked in a far too cool oven. And wait. And wait.
What came out of the oven was pretty. It tasted a lot like potatoes and spinach. Each person got a small little slice. But the centerpiece of the meal it was not. At the end of dinner everyone was still hungry. Did I mention that the woman who would eventually become Mrs. Fussy was one of the eight? She is never going to let me live it down.
But at least it was tasty and edible. If small.
Yesterday’s cooking project fell a bit short of that.
It started innocently enough with me trying to clear food out of the pantry and the fridge. We had both onions and cabbage from the CSA to use up before Tuesday, a bag of dried mung beans, and some aging Indian and Pakistani spices. Time for some curry.
I even had a mix of spices specially blended for mung bean dal.
There were really two problems. One, Mrs. Fussy doesn’t like cabbage. Two, Young Master Fussy has little tolerance for heat. Little Miss Fussy is still an unknown quantity in regards to heat levels of food, but I really didn’t want to make her cry.
After hours tending to simmering pots on a lovely summer afternoon, which was probably misguided in the first place, I tasted how the dishes were progressing. They were both hotter than expected. Much hotter. Blast! And it just how happened that we were out of potatoes, and yogurt wasn’t an option.
Luckily, a family friend stopped by and I was able to pawn a good bit of the food off on her.
Then I bit the bullet and decided to make yet another dish: a more mildly spiced dal with brown lentils, an onion and just a bit of garam masala. Except when I tasted that dish it was also too hot. Now the kitchen is a wreck, I’ve got four simmering pots on the stove, and nothing to feed the children.
The cabbage was the best part of the meal, but I was the only one who ate it. Mrs. Fussy and I ate both dals. And Little Miss Fussy ate a few tablespoons of the lentils with some basmati rice. Young Master Fussy tried a few bites, pronounced it too hot, and opted out for some plain rice with butter and soy sauce.
Despite the central air, I was a sweaty mess. The kitchen was a dirty mess. The kids were a cranky mess. Mrs. Fussy wouldn’t even take a nibble of the one thing that actually tasted good. Now the leftovers of the meal are sitting in the refrigerator taunting me. And despite two loads of dishes, there are still dirty pots sitting on the counter mocking me from yesterday.