Cookbook author Mindy Toomay's blog about eating for health, cooking with spirit, and celebrating life in northern California. Here she dishes up food rants and raves, recipes, and plenty of kitchen wisdom.

By your own efforts, waken yourself, watch yourself, and live joyfully.
-- The Dhammapada

Why not make a daily pleasure out of a daily necessity?
-- Peter Mayle


Smile and error

When we're beginning cooks, we almost always work from recipes, carefully following instructions, measuring every ingredient. But as our skills and confidence grow, we want to break out of that box, to take some culinary risks, to wing it now and then. And so we become creative cooks, true artists in the kitchen.

The art of cooking is a fantastic practice, and we get to eat the results. But of course we're not always at our most brilliant. Occasionally our creative efforts fall a little bit short. This is the story of one such occasion.

Last night had to be a "whatever's in the fridge" night. There were bits and pieces of various things in there that I wanted to use up. And I thought I was up to the task. Why not make a saute using half an onion, oyster and shiitake mushrooms, kale, a bit of leftover veggie stock, and a half-can of garbanzo beans? Throw in some curry powder and freshly grated ginger, salt and pepper of course, and let it simmer a while.

So far, so good. But then I had a bad idea. The veggies were all cooked, but there was quite a bit of liquid left in the pan. I hadn't cooked any kind of starch, because I was going to serve sweet potatoes on the side. But seeing that liquid made me think of couscous, those little pearls of pasta that are sponges for any kind of liquid and cook in about 5 minutes. Sounded like a good idea at the time.

In the pantry, I found some very fine couscous. I bought it at an Indian market a while back, wanting to experiment with the tiny variety. So I sprinkled a few tablespoons into the liquid in the pan, without removing the veggies first, put the lid on, and turned off the heat. This is the usual couscous method. The couscous soaks up the liquid while the steam in the covered pan plumps up the little pearls and keeps things nice and hot.

And it worked, from a technical point of view. The couscous did it's job of soaking up the hot liquid and the hot liquid did its job of cooking the couscous. But when I took off the lid, it was "uh-oh." The couscous was so fine that when cooked it looked exactly like cream of wheat or some other "mush" coating the vegetables in clumps. Not a very pretty sight (it looks better to me in the photo than it did "live"). The flavor wasn't great, either. Somehow, the wonderful curry-infused vegetable and couscous melange I'd imagined hadn't materialized.

We ate it anyway, of course, and it was FINE. It was PASSABLE. I'm sure we got lots of good nutrients into our bodies in the process. But it wasn't a pinnacle moment in my life as a cook. The super-spouse, who almost always makes lots of yummy noises when eating the food I put before him, was silent. Today he said that, well, it wasn't quite up to my usual standards.

Another reminder that cooking is a life-long learning process, and perfection isn't possible -- or even desirable. Who needs that kind of pressure?

Blessings and bon appetit!


At 6:07 PM, Blogger Melissa West said...

I love this story. It helps to give me confidence to experiment in the kitchen and know that it is OK if everything doesn't turn out perfectly!

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Mindy T. said...

Yes. In cooking, as in the rest of life, perfection is not required. In fact, perfectionism is an insidious disease of our over-achieving culture. I say let's stop and smell the roses (or shell the favas) more often and be content with our simple and imperfect lives.

[stepping down from soapbox now]

Thanks for visiting, dslayer.

At 7:46 AM, Blogger funwithyourfood said...

Sounds like a fun lesson to learn. I've been smile and error cooking for the past 3 months. It really helps you learn alot.. I've been fortunate too. Nothing has gone horribly wrong yet(cross your fingers!).

This looks like tastey mush ; )



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