Monday, July 20, 2009

Kitchen perspective

When I started getting seriously interested in cooking, ten years ago or more, I remember my early encounters with the “authoritarian” style of cookbook writing. You know the type: when the author states that you must make the recipe using exactly these ingredients (preferably in season, locally sourced, and organic) and exactly this method, or else a hole will open up in the space-time continuum and all humanity will be doomed.

Okay, I might have exaggerated that last part a little bit. But you get my drift.

I remember reading these treatises and getting panicky—and embarrassed, if I had already made the dish in question and done some part of it “incorrectly.” As if the Kitchen Police were even now on their way to come and get me. (Apple crumble in summer?! To the dungeons!)

Recently I came across one of these opinionated tomes and, leafing through it, was slightly surprised to find myself not only not getting flustered, but mentally rolling my eyes at page after page of personal experience and opinion presented as kitchen dogma.

Either I’m getting more confident as I get older, or more impatient. Maybe both.

Because here’s the thing: life isn’t like that, and cooking certainly isn’t like that. Rigid rules and systems are all very well, but the fact is they only give the illusion of control. Reality, in the kitchen and out, is dictated by the amount of time, energy, money, and space that people have available to do the things they need and want to do. And sometimes, no matter how much you plan and prepare, things go wrong. You don’t know why. It doesn’t matter how much you have or how much you know. And you can’t do anything about it. You just have to roll with whatever sucker punch the universe has decided to give you.

And in the kitchen, what matters, in the end, is taking the trouble to make good, nutritious, tasty food—for ourselves and other people—and remembering how lucky we are to have the wherewithal to do so.

Reluctant baked egg puff
Adapted from The Best American Recipes 2002-2003
Aka my most recent kitchen fail. I’ve made this recipe numerous times; the other night I prepared and baked it as usual. I took it out after what I thought was enough time, and put a knife into the middle to test it. The knife came out clean (in three places!), so I left it out. When I tried to cut it five minutes later, a large puddle of uncooked egg oozed out, and back into the oven it went. In the end, it took almost an hour to cook. Why did this happen? Is it my crappy oven? The dish I cooked it in? Who knows? Even with years of cooking experience, sometimes things still happen that mystify me. And in the end, even though it was ready 25 minutes after everything else, it was still good.

¼ cup plus 2 Tbsp all-purpose/plain flour
1 tsp salt
¾ tsp baking powder
9 large eggs
3 Tbsp butter, melted
1½ cups cheddar cheese, grated
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup pecorino romano, grated
3 scallions, chopped
½ cup salami, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Butter a pie dish or similar. Measure first three ingredients into a small bowl; whisk to combine, then set aside.

Beat eggs in a large bowl until doubled in size (this will take 3-5 minutes, depending on your mixer). Add dry ingredients, butter, and cheeses and continue to mix until combined. Fold in the scallions and salami, then pour into baking dish.

Bake until golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (make sure to double—or quintuple—check this). The recipe suggests 30-35 minutes, but it may take longer. Let stand for a few minutes before slicing, if you can.

Serves 6.

Dedicated to the memories of J. and M., who I never got the chance to meet.


Christie's Corner said... Best Blogger Tips

I hear you sister! Allow me to quote from Nigel Slater's Appetite.

"It it worth remembering that in its purest form a recipe was simply a cook's receipt written in a ledger to show where the housekeeping money had gone. At best, it was an account of someone's meal, an aide-memoire for the cook who might want to make a successful supper again. To use either as an unshakeable chemical formula is surely missing the point."

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks for the quote, Charmian! I'll take Nigel Slater over any number of well-known kitchen dictators.

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