Friday, April 11, 2008

Cooking blunders

The kitchen expression "serve up the leftovers" is even more ugly in French: "accommoder les restes". It sounds like darning an old holey sock. Insofar as I cook for myself, many of my preparations stretch out over two or three meals. Consider the case of roast chicken. Since I purchase sturdy farm poultry, a plump chicken is always a three-mealer. As everybody knows, many dishes are better the second time round, when they've been heated up after a day or so in the refrigerator. That's particularly true in the case of curried turkey, for example.

Often, I set out with the intention of producing such-and-such a dish, but everything goes wrong, and I end up using the ingredients for a quite different purpose. A week ago, for example, I had a sudden urge to prepare Israeli falafels: essentially fried balls of mashed chickpeas and herbs stuffed, along with tomato and lettuce salad, into the circular bread product called pita in Greek. Everything was coming along fine up until I got around to opening up a pita from the local supermarket.

It crumbled into fragments like a fragile piece of cake. Not exactly the same texture and quality as countless falafels that I've munched in Israel. So, I instantly forgot about trying to prepare falafels, and decided to toast the remaining pitas, to make cheese sandwiches with Greek feta. They were excellent.

Long ago, I remember my first unsuccessful attempts at preparing mayonnaise. Christine and I were newly wedded, and we were awaiting a lunch visit from a delightful Breton ecclesiastic, Abbé Chéruel. Failing to produce genuine mayonnaise, I decided to mix the eggy/oily liquid with minced pork, as stuffing for tomatoes to be roasted in the oven. The outcome was delicious. For ages, I used to repeat this dish whenever we had guests. The recipe started out: Screw up an attempt at making mayonnaise...

That anecdote reminds me of the alleged discovery of roast pork. In ancient China, pigs were sacred animals that roamed around farm houses like dogs or donkeys. One day, a house was destroyed by fire, along with the farm animals. The farmer stroked sadly the scorched carcass of one of his dear departed pigs. His fingers were burnt. Automatically, to ease the pain, he put his fingers in his mouth... whereupon he tasted, for the first time ever, an unknown delicacy: roast pork. After that accidental incident, roast pork became an instant craze in China. The recipe started out: Burn down a farm house along with all the domestic animals...

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