My grown son announced at a recent family gathering that he never had really good food when he was growing up.
Did my son say that?
I looked at him in my stern mother fashion, demanding further explanation. Then with a mischievous grin, he reported that he always had to eat the food from the recipes I was testing for my cooking classes. Once the recipe was perfected, he never saw it again because I had moved on to testing other recipes for future classes. He explained that he always had to eat the tests and never the perfected recipe.
Granted, that did happen occasionally. After all, someone had to taste the food and give me feedback. Usually, my family was very eager to share their unvarnished opinions with me.
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My son delights in teasing me from time to time, but he actually has been one of my avid supporters and is always interested in what I’m cooking. However, his comment did bring a smile as I thought about the recipes I had tested through the years.
Even with a tested recipe, things can still go wrong in the kitchen.
Last week, my Cooking 101 students were intent on sauteing fish. Each had seasoned the fish filets, lightly dusted them in flour and had them sizzling away in the saute pans. On an adjacent burner, a pot of jasmine rice was simmering and soon would be the accompaniment to our fabulous fish dish.
However, one student accidentally turned up the burner under the rice instead of under his saute pan. Suddenly, we smelled something burning. Oh, no! It was the rice! What do you do now?
It was a perfect example to show the students how a mistake can be rectified. We did not stir the rice, but simply removed the pot from the heat and transferred it into another pan, being very careful not to scrape off any of the burnt rice on the bottom so the rice would not taste scorched.
Then there was the burnt pot to clean. That could have been another lesson. But Paula, my very capable kitchen assistant, took it off our hands and cheerfully cleaned it for us.
When things go wrong in the kitchen, don’t panic. If you measure something wrong or perhaps omit it, take a deep breath and then take stock of the situation to see if it can be corrected. If so, fix it. Can it be salvaged and used for something else? If the pie is too soft and won’t hold its shape, spoon it into a bowl and call it a pudding. It will still taste good.
If it is beyond repair, start over. This is not a life-and-death matter — we are just cooking! Granted, it can be an expensive lesson if more things are going in the trash than on your plate, but you are learning. Even if the recipe turns out perfect, no doubt you will think of ways to adapt it or make it better next time. That is what cooking is all about: being creative and enjoying the process.