Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The road to Hell is paved with my recipes

I love experimenting and trying new things, and I understand that with that comes the risk of things not turning out perfectly. And most of the time that's fine... you do your best to correct, end up with a so-so end result and likely learn a valuable lesson in the process. However every now and then, despite your best intentions and efforts, some recipes simply fail.

It is these failures I hate the most. There is nothing to salvage from them, other than to learn what *not* to do next time. Granted, this can be a valuable lesson in and of itself, yadda yadda, but I don't have to stick a fork in an electrical outlet to know I shouldn't do it :P

I've had a fair few failures recently... most had been destined to become posts here about some new recipe/adventure I'd tried. When they didn't turn out, I intended to write about them anyway, but of course having failed spectacularly, I sort of lost my desire to discuss them :P But in the spirit of sharing both triumphs and failures (and learning from both), I'll share a few of them here:

  • Fail #1 - Using gelatin instead of pectin: B likes rhubarb (I detest the stuff... it's just sour, pink celery as far as I'm concerned. Blech.) so I made a large batch of rhubarb compote for him to enjoy this summer. In my opinion, compote doesn't really require pectin, it's meant to be rather loose in texture, like applesauce. But I wanted to try out the idea of using unflavored gelatin instead of pectin to thicken it up and possibly help preserve it longer, since I was making such a big batch. I sprinkled it in, a little bit at a time and stirred the whole thing like mad to distribute it evenly. It did thicken the compote and didn't change the taste at all, but despite my mad stirring, we would randomly come across little gelatin blobs in the compote that were very unpleasant.
  • Fail #2 - Leaving a boiling pot of jam unattended: We've all done it... been in the kitchen and suddenly had to do something else (answer the phone/door, look something up, etc) and thought "The pot will be fine, I'll be right back". Never, ever leave a pot full of jam on the heat. Ever. Sugar is temperamental and seems to know when you step away... as soon as you do it will burn to the bottom of the pot and cling there for dear life. If you have to step away, do yourself a favor and take it off the heat. Scrubbing the bottom of many a burned pot has taught me this lesson the hard way. Side note: don't try to salvage the jam after you've stirred burned bits through it... even calling it "brûlée" will not save it... it just tastes like burned jam with a fancy name :P
  • Fail #3 - Think before you mix: Improvisational cooking means you often don't have your steps laid out in front of you as you cook. In mixing up an 'improv' quiche the other night, I grabbed some kale, ham and onions to make the filling. Normally I chop and mix the ingredients and put them in the quiche pan then pour the cheese and egg mixture over top, so I did the same here. Normally I use chopped raw spinach which works just fine... but this time i had raw kale, the leaves of which are much more ruffled, which means they take up a heck of a lot more space. As I put it in the dish, I realized my mistake... it didn't fit, I should have cooked it down first. I then had to pour the whole thing back into the bowl and pick out the kale bits so I could sauté them, then mix it all back together to cook. A major pain in the butt, to say the least.
  • Fail #4 - Never freeze raw vegetables: The stores are stocked with harvest goodies so it's a great time to buy things on sale and put them up for the winter months. I got a large batch of broccoli on sale a while back and spent an afternoon chopping it up to put into freezer bags so I could use it for soups and steamed veggies later on. A few weeks later I pulled a bag out to use in some soup, and as the florets thawed, they turned a weird sort of translucent brownish-green color, becoming mushy and unusable. Then, it dawned on me. Never freeze raw veggies... you must blanch your veg first to neutralize enzymes and microorganisms that will result in a discolored, mushy thawed product. Check out this article over at The Kitchn for some great info on getting the most out of your freezer.
  • Fail #5 - When in doubt, add more alcohol: I got a large batch of cherries at the market recently and brandied cherries seemed a neat way to use up some of them. So I blanched the fruit then into a mason jar they went with some cherry juice and a healthy amount of brandy. I also tried a second jar with the same process but using whiskey instead. I sealed them up, labelled them and set them aside to do their thing for a few weeks. Then one night we were sitting watching tv when we heard a pop and a fizzing sound. B checked all the jars of preserves, but nothing seemed amiss. Then he noticed the cherry jars on the other table... one of the lids was dented outwards. So we opened them carefully over the sink and sure enough... since the alcohol content was too low, the sugars had begun to ferment and turned fizzy. Sadly the cherries also had suspicious discolored spots on them as well, so the whole lot went in the trash. Note to self... next time add more booze!
These are not my only kitchen fails, there will surely be more. But, if nothing else, always try to learn from those failures... it sucks to have to throw something out or start over from scratch, and I'll be the first to admit I'm not the most gracious when it comes to learning things the hard way. But sometimes that's the best way to learn why you should (or shouldn't) do things a certain way. Though don't try that with the fork in the electrical outlet... just take my word on that one ;) 

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