The Also-Rans (or, Prettier on the Plate than on the Palate)
October 10, 2011
Now that I’m experimenting a bit more culinarily, branching out from the types of dishes I normally make, I also have a few more disappointments than I used to. Over the past two weeks I’ve tried a couple things which I had very high hopes for, but which were just…not fantastic. (And these meals inevitably seem to be the most complex, time consuming ones to prepare).
One particularly extravagant main dish (for my cooking practices, at any rate) was to be stuffed orange kabocha squash with curried red quinoa and oven-roasted eggplant. I had several of the long, thin type of eggplants, including one that was yellow. Well, that was the first item requiring a slight alteration of plans. I did a little research on what my yellow eggplant could be, and didn’t really turn up anything to corroborate that there was such a thing as a yellow eggplant in that shape. And it sounded like it was quite possible that this one could be bad. So I cut it open, and decided that it didn’t really have what I would consider a trustworthy eggplant smell. So I opted to go with one less eggplant. I sliced and salted the remaining eggplant to take out any bitterness, which I’ve never taken the time to do before, and then slow roasted it. And after all that, it just kind of turned mushy and oily by the time it was cooked, so I ended up ditching that part.
Meanwhile, I took pains to cut lids out of the two little squash, scrape out the seeds and pulp, coat the insides with butter, a little mild curry powder and garam masala, and I roasted those as well. Unfortunately, these turned out to be some of the least tasty squash we’ve had (a little bitter in fact), and although they definitely seemed done when I took them out of the oven, it was still difficult to scrape out the flesh while eating them.
To prepare the quinoa, I cooked it in broth with a bit of cinnamon and garam masala, and then once it was done, added more garam masala, plus cloves and cinnamon. It actually didn’t taste that bad, but I probably could have held back on the cloves a bit, and with the disappointing squash, the whole thing just didn’t really come together. It sure looked pretty, though.
This next meal didn’t involve a long, drawn out preparation, but it did involve a tad bit of an investment. I had some Pappardelle’s Supreme Orzo left over, which has orzos in three flavors: fire-roasted red pepper, porcini mushroom, and saffron. Some red pepper chicken sausage I also had left over would go well with the red pepper orzos, and I thought some sort of a sauce with mushrooms would be perfect. I’ve been fantasizing about using chanterelles for something, especially after seeing such gorgeous ones at Pike Place Market when we were in Seattle. But given the fact that they’re $49.99 a pound at the Whole Foods in Boulder (and imported from France to boot), there’s no way I’m willing to put that much money into something that I’m pretty sure I can’t do justice to at this point. (My mushroom cooking skills have improved, but they’re definitely not up to the $49.99 a pound level yet). Fresh morels were similarly priced, but they did have a small package of dried morels at Whole Foods, so I splurged on that for $13, and used a third of the package.
I simmered the morels for 20 minutes in water as the package directed, and the resulting broth (‘the flavor is in the broth’, they promised) was, well – nasty smelling. I like earthy, mushroomy tastes, but this was horrendously earthy. Bad earthy. I still used about 6 tablespoons of it anyhow, making a sauce along with some garlic, onion, and pepper sauteed in olive oil. It was diluted enough in that form that it wasn’t as overly pungent as the broth smelled. Then I cut up the reconstituted morels, which pretty much had NO FLAVOR. When they said the flavor was in the broth, they weren’t kidding. It was ALL in the broth. At this point, I started to suspect that all the wonderful flavor I remember from the morels we gathered outside of town when I was a kid was mostly from the butter they were fried in.
The finished dish didn’t taste bad or anything, it was just rather boring. Anything made with $13 mushrooms shouldn’t taste boring. Granted, I only used $4.33 worth, but really. Like the previous dish, despite the taste disappointment, it was rather attractive looking.
But, overall, I’m willing to accept some unsuccessful dishes in the search for new and interesting ones. Plus, sometimes the bad ones are almost more fun to write about, because you get to use creative hyperbole and words like horrendous.