While I am having a great, great time writing this blog and cooking for family and friends, it is also a bit of an education. And it is sometimes humbling. Part of my goal is to expand my cooking skills and overall understanding of how good dishes are made. It is easy to cook the same ten dishes all the time, it gets harder when we try new things. This means living with failure, sometimes epic, failure.
Firstly, we have “just OK” dishes. Let’s start with a well-known tomato sauce recipe from Marcella Hazan (who is 10x the cook I will ever be, just to be clear) using canned tomatoes, butter and an onion. A whole host of food bloggers have raved about this dish. (here are links to Smittenkitchen and Amateur Gourmet). I made it a few times, with slavish dedication to the recipe, and the consensus here was “nice texture, kinda bland”. Finally we added some herbs and it became “better”, but all of us at Putney Farm would prefer our pasta with butter, parm, salt and pepper to this tomato sauce. Maybe it is because we usually make red sauce with our tomatoes in season and expect better. (I know this sounds snobby, but your tomatoes will make a better sauce too). Either way, the sauce was “just OK”. Sigh.
Secondly, there is the pure “fail”. This week I made cast-iron skillet cornbread, southern-style, using a recipe from Homesick Texan and food.com (they are exactly he same). I was looking forward to some nice pics and an article where I could wax poetic about my cast iron skillet. Nope, not to be. I am no baker, but when I read the recipe, my first thought was “too dry, needs more bacon fat”. But I used the recipe anyway. Fail. The cornbread was dry, not browned enough on top and lacking in flavor. My kids even said, “Dad, is this right? And doesn’t Mom usually bake?” Ouch. Luckily, we made White Bean, Smoked Ham and Kale Soup and we slathered butter on the cornbread, grilled it in the sandwich press and made it into a large-format crouton (Tony Bourdain would call this “using the system D”). It worked, but it was a “hack” at best, and even my kids knew it. Fail. Argh.
But then there is the Caramel Foam from global culinary icon, Ferran Adria. Few home cooks can make his restaurant dishes. But Adria did publish “The Family Meal”. The cookbook is based on the “staff meals” cooked at el Bulli. A twist on the cookbook is that they give recipes for small, medium and large groups. And thus the Epic Fail when you get to the “small” servings- the recipes are often off. Way off. And I guess that makes sense, the staff meal at el Bulli was for 20+. But I assumed (as in “ass, out of u and me”) that the recipes would be adjusted. Nope, at least not this one. I made, or tried to make, the Caramel Foam. We have the whipped cream charger, we have been using it, and we make caramel and ice cream regularly. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. Not enough sugar, wrong pan, too much egg (omelet foam anyone?), no charger instructions, bad times, no heat info and too much general f*&cked-upness. My youngest, Ben, tried the outcome (I cannot call it a “dish”) and asked for water to wash his mouth out. I had to do the same. I am sure it was “just me” (but no Ferran, it was you!). Epic Fail. Deep breath. Use cookbook pages for kindling.
After I had a private “moment” to collect myself, Ben and I decided to go work on some origami. It turned out better, much better. He thought the whole episode was funny, “but no more foams dad”.
Grumble. Cocktail. Try again tomorrow.