4.10.2008

Learning From Mistakes


I gleefully post when I have a cooking success. Today, I'll post about my failure from yesterday evening. You'll see (or read, rather) that I am no cooking genius.
I got new pots and pans, so I wanted to make something nice that evening. I noted that I had some expensive salmon that had been in the freezer for probably over a year, I had some mushrooms that were starting to look a bit old, but still OK. However, I needed vegetables and maybe a little cream to do a cream sauce, so I put the yummy dinner on hold for the next night.
On the way home from work, I went to the grocery store and bought asparagus and shallots (which I understand are the cooking equivalent to black gold), fresh dill, and cream. This all sounds very thought out, don't you think? Well, it wasn't. I was working intuitively (aka by the seat of my pants) and while that works out a lot of the time, this time, it did not.

Mistake #1: I used old ingredients. The quality of the product is directly related to the quality of the ingredients. The salmon was dry and had freezer burn. As soon as I saw this, I should have ditched the project.
Mistake #2: I used a new (to me) ingredient in the same way I would have used one more familiar to me. I thought using shallots would be just like using onion. It's not. I think I used too much, possibly should not have added garlic (emphasized the wrong flavors), and definitely let it cook at too high a heat. Which leads me to my next...
Mistake #3: I was using new pans with the same amount of attention as I used with my old pans. New pans are going to to cook differently and therefore needed closer attention to monitor how quickly the food was cooking. I tried to do a mise en place so I wouldn't be distracted, but it was incomplete and I was off mincing garlic when the shallots were browning (didn't want that!).
Mistake #4: I didn't taste often enough along the way. This is where I can't believe I messed up. My usual success is tied to my palate. I taste along the way, can adjust seasoning or cooking time -- usually adding an ingredient for flavor or color that brings the dish up from just adequate. This time, I guess I was resting on my laurels, because though my intention was to add only as much of the chopped dill as I needed, I ended up dumping the entire amount in without even thinking.
Mistake #5: I screwed up the cooking time. Ultimately, this was tied to the other mistakes -- the freeze-dried fish and the improper temperature control, but ultimately I tried to do it all in one pan and it probably should have been done in more than one, or possibly separate steps in one pan. Having everything cooking in one pan made the timing nearly impossible to control.

The dish was not inedible. The biggest success was not something I can take credit for -- I had the salmon and shallot-mushroom sauce on a bed of wild rice. That was a detail I would not have thought of, except my co-worker, Rachel, suggested it. Her husband was a chef (now he's in finance) and so she eats divinely 9 days out of 10. Her thoughts upon hearing about the fiasco described above was that I used too many ingredients with strong flavors. I'm not sure that I agree, but I do know that I did not use enough caution portioning out the flavors relative to each other. (It was like I was on auto-pilot!)

I think my biggest weakness, at this point, in cooking is that I'm not very experienced at making sauces (except Hollandaise). So, if I have no solid foundation for my experimentations, how can I expect success? I can't, not the intentional kind anyway. So, I'm going to go through the chapter on sauces in one of my cookbooks, Cookwise, by Shirley O. Corriher, and try to learn to make each of the basic sauces. It should give me something to start from next time I want to try this dish.

The combination of the disappointment last night and a crappy day at work today, meant that when I got home, I cooked a Marie Callender Pot Pie in the microwave and sat in front of the TV, knitting and watching Wallace & Grommit.

And now I'll try to repair things with a good night's sleep.
Buenas noches!

11 comments:

Anne C. said...

And a drink -- Pot Pie, Wallace and Grommit, knitting, and a drink.

Pepsi and Vanilla Vodka, if you must ask. Plus I had a shot of vodka to prime the pump, as they say.

Yes, I had a crappy day.

Michelle K said...

Sorry you had a crappy day.

But at leas you had relaxation when you got home!

And if you like Cookwise (which I love) you may also want a copy of Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything"

That's the book my husband turns to first in the kitchen. And if it's not vegetarian, it's something I check first as well. Cookwise is good for the science and theiry which I love, but Bittman is good for taking the basics and how to move on from there.

Nathan said...

You're absolutely right about new pots and pans behaving differently. I really recommend cooking things you already know for the first week or so.

And just a personal foible, but go easy on the dill.

Janiece Murphy said...

Sorry for your crappy day.

I still think you're a fabu cook (at least from your descriptions).

And you had Wallace and Gromit!

"Gromit! It's the wrong trousers!!"

The Grabill Family said...

Anne - I must say that I cracked up at the ending of this post - it was the perfect punch line. :-) But seriously, the silver lining are that failures are what make you better at things. You are a fantastic chef and this will only make you a better one.

Anne C. said...

Now you tell me, Nathan! ;)

Michelle, I've considered getting that books several times, and I think I'm going to go ahead and get it. Interestingly enough, my co-worker just lent me another Bittman cookbook, "Simple to Spectacular." Looks really interesting.

Thanks for your support, Aileen and Janiece. You're right, this will make me a better cook. And it was so nice to have W&G. I love "The Wrong Trousers." I had to replace the DVD (last one was stolen) and had to make sure to buy an old version. More recent versions have the organ music changed (possibly because of copyright issues?), and I couldn't bear watching a version without "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window."

vince said...

"Cheeeese, Grommit!"

Wallace and Grommit and Vodka, oh my! A good way to wind down from a crappy day. Or perhaps spend the day during a blizzard, as we are having today.

Stacey said...

As Edison said, "Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won't work, I haven't failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward.." So I raise my Jack and Coke to you and say - more steps forward! As a matter of fact, feel free to come to my house w/ your pans and take great strides forward ;)

Michelle K said...

I highly recommend How to Cook Everything. I reach for it more than any other non-Baking cookbook.

I have another of his books, but How to Cook Everything is THE book. I use it far more often than I use Joy.

Of course the majority of my cookbooks are for baking and desserts, but, one knows what is important!

Nathan said...

"Now you tell me, Nathan! ;)"


I actually almost ended my comment by predicting you'd say that.

ROTFLMAO

Anne C. said...

I aim to please. :)