Kitchen Disasters: 2 Ways to Ruin Dinner!
DISCLAIMER: My husband should be given a medal for eating both meals, attempting seconds and working very hard to soothe my self recrimination.
Its really tempting to just whitewash all my experiences in the kitchen and paint a rosy, ever perfect picture of every attempt, every meal, every plate that is churned out onto the dinner table. But sometimes, it’s the disasters that make you really introspect and learn better than the easy outcomes you always strive for.
Everyone who eats regularly at my table knows that Indian cuisine isn’t really my forte. And I don’t really try my hand at making it very often. But this story is not just about an Indian dish gone wrong. It is about 24 hours, 2 meals and a very important lesson learnt.
Both my failed dinners are from opposite ends of the cooking spectrum. One is a no thinking required basic dish. The other is a complicated, technique driven recipe with a gazillion ingredients. The only similarity between them? They both went terribly wrong!
Dinner 1: Cream of vegetable soup.
Dinner 2: Slow cooked mutton biryani
DINNER 1: The Scorching Soup of Satan!
Honestly, even as I sit here typing this, I’m wondering, how the hell did I screw up a vegetable soup that literally needs you to just sauté, blend and salt. But no, trust me, there was a way, and I found it.
In my fridge, there are almost always an assortment of chillies. Some the mild dutch variety, Indian finger chillies that have a pretty firm bite and some exotic varieties that I like to play with. Scotch bonnets, Bhut Jolokias, Jalepenos, Thai Bird’s Eye, they all find their way into my fridge with great regularity. (Can you see where this is going??)
When I was making this soup, I decided to add just a little spice to it. Make it a little more complex tasting that just the creaminess of the dairy in the mild vegetables would not lend. As I was making my selection of chilly, I must have been just a little distracted, or possibly arrogant. For some reason, even though I logically knew better, I decided that the yellow (innocent looking) chilly couldn’t possibly be very spicy. It was yellow ( said my silly silly mind), such a lovely happy colour. So, In went the WHOLE chilly for just 2 servings of vegetable soup. I had just come home after a 5 day trip to visit my husband’s extended family, and yes, I was a little on the fatigued side. But still, there is no excuse for breaking the single most important rule in the kitchen (after of course, wash those hands!),
TASTE EVERYTHING, OFTEN!
Only after the sautéing, blending and salting,did I give it a taste. And I saw stars, a comet and Leonard Nimoy flashing me the Vulcan Salute from the Enterprise. So now, frantic googling of “how to tone down spicy food” began. It led me to this kitchn.com article. I used every single trick they mentioned. And the end result was a barely palatable soup served with some very surprising condiments. The improvement was only that instead of my taste buds exiting the earth’s atmosphere, is sort of levelled out next to the International Space Station.
Antacids were consumed in alarming quantities that night!!
DINNER 2: The Botched Baby Food Biryani
Less than 18 hours later, I was back in the kitchen, not yet defeated by the demons lurking in the corners of my kitchen. Coming straight off the Satan Soup experience, I still forged on with my ambitious plan to slow cook a biriyani ( A fragrant Indian spiced meat and rice dish). There are as many ways to cook a biriyani as there are cooks willing to make it, so I decided to try and put my own spin on it. Not in terms of ingredients, but technique. Traditionally cooked in large flat bottomed pots, modern variations include low and slow cooking in the oven, pressure cooker or dutch oven. But being the proud owner of an Instant Pot, that was my vehicle of choice.
Following the instructions on my recipe for Hyderabadi Kacchi Biriyani carefully, in went layers of the browned leg and shoulder kid meat, alternated with browned onions and soaked long grain basmati. The required 2 cups of water was poured in, the lid went on, timer set to 7 hours of slow cooking, I congratulated myself on a job well done and went off to do other things. 4 hours later, I decided to treat myself to a sneak of how lovely my biriyani looked and smelled. The lid came off, my eyes widened and the theme song of Jaws played in my head. Doom was imminent! Uh-Oh!
The rice on the top literally had not cooked. AT ALL! I’m talking rice that you could put a wet iPhone in and it would suck the water right out and save you shit tons of money trying to get it replaced. WHAT. THE. HELL rice! Why you no cook?
Frantic googling ensues…….
The husband is recruited to try and contain the nuclear meltdown that is me. Because, brace yourselves, this dinner was not just for me and my accommodating husband. I had agreed to feed my mother in law, father in law, brother in law and A GUEST STAYING WITH THEM!!!
Thats it. My life was over and I needed to get in bed and bury my head under the covers.
We dug into the rice and meat layers to find the mutton at the very bottom had begun to burn, the rice right above it was cooked to mush, the layer of meat above that was beautifully cooked, tender, pink and succulent, and then the top layer of iPhone curing rice.
So the slow cooker was ditched for a dutch oven. Water added, cooked on low and allowed to steam cook. But really, there was nothing we could do to regain the texture of the overcooked rice. We managed to half ass the uncooked rice. But now, instead of lovely individual grains of rice that enveloped lovely bits of meat, I was left with mushy rice but still tasty meat. That rice was the texture you serve to invalids, infants and people with no teeth. Which I had little choice but to sent off to my in laws who were decidedly none of the above mentioned demographics. My poor poor husband. He needed to fortify himself with a couple of stiff drinks before attempting dinner. And quite bravely, he did his best to go back for seconds. God! I knew I married him for love and all, but I’d have married him just for the unflinching support he gave me that night.
So, once I came to terms with the humiliation, apologised profusely to my in laws and contemplated if I should now hang up my kitchen towel and give away my beautiful handmade knives, I introspected.
What had I learned?
The answer to that is not very tough really. It basically just reinforced something I had always known. Everyone can follow a recipe and cook. But I was desperately searching for more than just that. I wanted to immerse myself in the hows and whys and whens of the process. So, those 24 hours really brought into sharp focus my decision to go to culinary school. I’m happy to say, I will be joining the February 2019 intake at the Hyde Park campus of The Culinary Institute of America. It’s been tough making the call to give up what is essentially a stable financial and emotional situation in pursuit of passion. But I am lucky and privileged to have a support system that loves and respects me enough to stand behind me as I take this slightly insane step. Both my family and my husband’s family are supportive of me and surprisingly came around to understanding my perspective quite quickly.
The 24 hours of Culinary Catastrophe was obviously an experience I never want to repeat. But I know that is probably not realistic. Everyone has bad days and Oops moments. And I’m sure one day I’ll be able to look back on it with less cringing and more laughing, but today is NOT THAT DAY! Because I still have not gone to meet my in laws face to face. Sorry this post was so long! I’m done retelling this story. Excuse me guys, my head is missing the inside of my bedcovers! *CRINGE*
SIDE NOTE: Let me know if any brave souls want to try the biriyani recipe. If you go the extra mile and figure out how to use the instant pot for it, I promise I’ll only be jealous and green for about 30 seconds.
Peace with a lemon wedge folks!! See you next post!