Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Instinctual Cooking


      Anybody that is a true chef will tell you, upon occasion, there will be failures. I learned this the hard way in my younger years, many a time. Although I have gotten a lot more savvy about what works and what doesn't, occasionally I am blind-sided. This was such the case with a recipe I decided to so diligently follow for a Cajun 15-bean soup I found on the back of a 1.5 pound package of beans I picked up.
     Sounded pretty good, at first glance. As I was soaking the beans, I started doing the math of what they were telling me to do. To make a long story short, the people behind this recipe seemed to think that covering the soaked 1.5 pounds of beans with 2 quarts of water was sufficient to cook said beans for 2.5 hours at a low simmer, uncovered. This totally rubbed me the wrong way, but then I heard my mother's screams from my youth as I experimented with "deviations" of traditional family recipes, in my usual "mad scientist" way.
      "You have to follow the recipe!!!" she hollered as one concoction blew up in the oven, while another boiled over into a foamy mess all over the floor. I told her I just wanted a chemistry set for Christmas, year after year. I guess I took it upon myself to make own chemistry set in the kitchen when my Wish List was repeatedly stamped, "Denied." (Psht! Blow up the house? What's the worst that could happen?... Don't answer that.)
     Anyway, getting back to the bean soup, I decided to fudge on the side of caution and added an extra pint of water. Just as I suspected, about one hour into the long simmer, the soup was starting to look more like lava than soup meaning the water was running out. With a quick stir, I could feel the thickness starting to collect at the bottom of the pot with the spoon, too. Grrrr. I knew it!!!
      Although the process of "reduction" when making soups and sauces is a hallmark of many a great recipe, there was no WAY this was going to go the distance for the amount of time they told me. In went another pint of water, and on went a half-cocked lid. Skip ahead to 30 minutes before time to add the browned meat and onions the recipe called for. It was getting way too thick again, and started to stick at the bottom. went more water and some vigorous stirring to keep the bottom from burning. Now I stopped to think, as I'm browning the meat and onions to seal the deal. Something seemed off about this process. I made navy bean and split-pea soup many times as a little girl with my grandma. I miss the days when I could just call her and say, "What am I supposed to do, again?" She worked on auto-pilot. It was a hand-full of this and a chunk of that, a pinch of one thing and a dash of another. Learning to cook from grandma was an exercise in observation and memory. Today, my now middle-aged memory was failing me. Something just wasn't right. But what?
     Added the meat and onions into the brew, just like the recipe said, being such a "good girl". The nagging feeling of unease persisted. As I cleaned up the kitchen, the lava-like sound returned to the pot. I raced over to stir, but it was too late. The bottom had officially started to burn. I pulled the pot from the stove, swearing the whole way to the sink. I pulled another pot that was still drying from a different dish prepared earlier. In went the lava, but not without leaving a good 1/2 inch of burn on the bottom. "F*#K! S#^T!" After I got over my surly sailor expletive session, I tasted the remaining lava.
       Oh. It was good, really good. A few "consumers" of my household passed by, tasted, and concurred; it was really, really good. Well, I hope they enjoy it. I now stare at the mess for the 'morrow, as the burnt-on pot soaks overnight. I sigh deeply, still knowing this could have been avoided. Grandma never constantly stirred her bean soup. What did I forget to do? Suddenly, I quietly heard her cackling from the great beyond.
      In her Hungarian-American accent I heard her say, "You brown the meat een the pot, silly mokush! You brown the meat und the onions in lard or oleo een the pot first, my dear. I luff you!" Her laughter echoed gently away. Yep. That was it. I will try it "our" way next time. Love you and miss you, Grandma. Thank you. Meanwhile, I have a pot to scrub.

       Have a Happy and Healthy Day! Bright Blessings!

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  1. I think that may have been the best story I have read in a some time, and it was about cooking, sort of. Thank you,

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Tim. That means a lot! I love to cook. Rather than continuing to curse around the kitchen with the near "fail", I decided I best just sit my butt down, let the pot soak, and write. lol. :)


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