There’s a rule in our house – when a recipe goes wrong, we order pizza. Or whatever takeout is going to be easy, quick and painless. I try not to take each failure personally, but it’s hard, and especially painful if I’ve committed expensive ingredients, or hours of time, or if I’m trying to hit a deadline.
We’ve had an annual wine party at our house for about 8 years now, and it’s great fun, but I always go a little berserk making food for it. The first year I attempted California Rolls. I’d taken a cooking class and wanted to show off my mad skilz, so I sourced sushi rice, cooked it on the stove top (Word to the wise – buy a damn rice cooker. One of the best investments EVER.), then cooled it, added vinegar… all these steps and I wasn’t even ready to make the rolls yet. While the rice cooled in my tiny apartment kitchen, I sliced krab and cucumber, and got prepped at the dining room table. I whipped back into the kitchen, picked up the cooled rice, and turned to walk over to the table… and hit the container against the counter. Rice flew. A huge, sticky blob of rice launched into the air and landed on the kitchen floor… And I burst into tears. I didn’t have time to make more, so I bawled for a few minutes, then cleaned up the mess and made about 2 rolls with the little bit of rice that was left.
I found a great recipe for honey whole wheat bread, and baked it successfully. I went back to the same recipe to make more, and suddenly my bowl was filled with a horrid, gloppy mess. It was the consistency of brownies, not anything kneadable. In a fit of pique, I threw it down the drain… and came to realize that putting a floury mess down the drain is a really, really bad idea. About a week later I tried again, and again got a gloppy mess. At this point I’d wasted two entire jars of honey, and was furious. I picked up the cookbook and confronted the recipe… and realized that I was using about 1/2 a cup too much honey. That’s when I realized that it was important to read when reading a recipe.
A friend of mine is a hunter, and he gave me a venison backstrap as a gift. The backstrap is allegedly a lovely piece of meat… I killed it. I tried slow cooking it like a pork tenderloin (generally following a recipe) and it was the toughest, stringiest, gnarliest thing… into the trash. I’ve still never cooked backstrap properly, but I learned that it’s important to know the properties of a new ingredient.
So while I’m not afraid of experimenting, and I occasionally “wing it”, I’ve learned to take my time, read, and research.