Sunday, October 12, 2008

roll out my coffin/drink poison in my chalice/pride begins to fade/ and y'all feel my malice

Yes, those (lyrics to Dr. John's "I Walk on Gilded Splinters") are the most appropriate food-sounding lines I can find to express the usual consequences of my cooking. I think my culinary skills are, on the whole, less potent than the Night Tripper's musical voodoo curses, but just as malevolent.

Hmm... perhaps we should start from the beginning.

Have you ever wondered what happens when I try and cook even the simplest things? Many of you have seen my comments, here and elsewhere, expressing my fear and horror at the mere idea of preparing any food more complicated than a peanut butter and jelly sandwich (once, I tried to upgrade the PBJ to an orange marmalade and nutella sandwich: it didn't work).

Well, tonight I decided to cook pasta. Without just pouring a can of tomato sauce in a saucepan. I even, for the first time in my 29 years (!!), decided to operate a frying pan unsupervised.

The plan (borrowed, but modified heavily by my own innovations and incompetence at following directions) was something like the following: boil a mess of farfalle. Prepare in some magical fashion the following things to go along with it: 2 chicken sausages -- with mango! -- bought precooked from trader joe's! -- a bad idea!, 1/4 onion, a chunk 'o garlic, parsley (fresh), bay leaves (not fresh), oregano (not fresh -- stupid grocery store), basil (ditto), salt, pepper. Toss some lemon juice on top, because everything tastes better with lemon juice. Add parmesan. Num num.

Things didn't quite work out as planned, though they turned out OK in the end.

Step 1: boil the pasta. As it turns out, the pasta would boil for a good 20 minutes, because it took me much longer than planned to handle the other steps. Whoops.

Step 2: Cut the vegetables up. Alas, this means cutting an onion:

So, story time. I'm so sensitive to the pain-generating properties of onions that I have actually violated the prime evolutionary imperative for sake of one. This was in my second year of law school. I'd gone to a halloween party, where I met this extremely attractive member of the opposite sex. She was dressed as a mermaid. It suited her. She was a student in the education school! Eventually, I got invited back to her place. Unfortunately, she had a housemate, who had also invited a gentleman home. More unfortunately, on this turn of events, some fool decided to cook stir fry. The moment the onions went on, my eyes started burning and watering. Pretty soon, I was basically curled up in a corner moaning. I finally fled. And never saw the girl again. Onions, you can see, are my enemy. But they're so yummy...

This also means trying to cut up the parsley. Unfortunately, I'm very bad at cutting up herbs, so I tried (against wise advice) deploying a flashy device that I found at target: a menacing looking multi-bladed herb mincer:

Alas, it did not work quite as advertised:

I decided that would have to be satisfactory.

3. After cutting everything up,

put in frying pan with a mess of olive oil. Cook it up. Given that it's a frying pan, and it used oil, I suppose what I was doing was frying it. But, really, I could have been fricaseeing it or poaching it or doing any number of the other cooking verbs that apply to unknown behaviors.

4. Toss in random quantities of tasty things.

Continue cooking.

5. At entirely arbitrary time when you realize the pasta's been on for what, now, seems like hours and hours, turn that off and remove it. Mix it in with the yummy stuff so it picks up the flavor.

6. Realize that you are now frying pasta. Become markedly alarmed.

7. Also realize that you've made far too much food. Oh well.

8. Attempt to grate the 3-week old parmesan cheese that one of your friends has assured you will still be good. Find that it's as hard as a rock. Persevere.

9. Combine on plate. Squeeze half a lemon over it. Consume far too much food:

VERDICT: passable. I certainly wouldn't pay anyone to feed me food like that. But it was edible.

The main problem was that it was far too sweet. Mango sausage sounds delicious in the store, but it's really not for pasta. I think I'll have the rest of those sausages for breakfast. And the lemon juice didn't help matters. Nor did the fact that I used waaaayyyy too much olive oil -- between those three ingredients, I couldn't taste the herbs at all. Nor even the massive quantities of pepper I put in. Poor yummy herbs. I should have tossed in some cayennes or something just to make SOMETHING stand out from the mango/lemon/olive oil madness.

I probably did lots of other things wrong too, but I'm not super sure what.

Lessons learned:
- Some ingredients taste stronger than others: it's important to know the relative strengths of your ingredients; you don't know the relative strengths of your ingredients.
- Timing is everything: it's important to know how long each step takes; you don't know how long each step takes.
- doom. DOOM!!!

This will be a series. You, yes you, will be able to track Childe Paul's adventures through the culinary land of the Giants.


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