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Thursday, May 20, 2004

This is either the beginning of my cooking career or the beginning of the end. If the mark of a real chef is screwing up and then improvising, I took that step tonight. Unfortunately, I still haven't come up with something I'd proudly serve to people with working taste buds.

Maybe I should have waited to start experimenting until my judgment wasn't impaired by lack of sleep and other stresses. My plan was simple. I wanted to use all the vegetables in my refrigerator in a big slow-cooking soup. I made enough to share with everyone, if it had been any good. I didn't follow a recipe, but I made sure that everything I used appeared in some soup recipe in some cookbook. It's just that these ingredients weren't ever all in the same soup, until I came along.

Someone with a little more experience probably could have told me what I was doing wrong from the start. I did learn a few things along the way. One thing I know is that my next soup will be a lot simpler, with fewer bulky ingredients and more herbs and spices for flavor. There's not much use in cooking at all if you can't taste it.

Early in the process, my biggest regret was all that coarsely chopped broccoli, because even I, lacking a sense of smell, could tell that it reeked. Gradually, though, either I got used to the odor or it got milder. Maybe it blended with the beans and celery and carrots and onions and diced tomatoes and basil and cumin. Whatever the reason, I'll still leave it out of my next soup.

And I'll probably try to do something different with the beans, too. I like beans and I really wanted them in my soup. I even soaked them all night for flavor. But not only did they not have any flavor, they were gross and mealy. They sort of ruined the texture of the soup, because I used so many of them that they were in every spoonful. There was no escape.

My worst mistake was that I didn't get started early enough, so that by the time I could taste my creation and realize it needed more work, it was almost too late. At 6:30 pm I ladled myself a big bowl of it. I ate it all, but I could tell from the first spoonful that I hadn't created anything close to a culinary masterpiece. Even if I hadn't been watching the American Idol auditions, I probably could have come up with dozens of colorful negative comments about this stuff.

Then I went to work. I added more liquid, because I feel soup should be eaten with a spoon, and even slurped. I put in more salt and pepper and cumin, and because of the overwhelming sense of blandness in what I'd already tasted, I added a generous handful of crushed red pepper flakes. I mean, I really wanted to taste something the next time I tried it.

The next time I did try it, it was almost ten o'clock at night. I wasn't even hungry any more, but I had a whole pot full of soup. It was only a little better this time, but at least I could taste something. I couldn't eat much, barely half a bowlful. There's oh so much left over, and I honestly don't know what I'm going to do with it all. I don't even know if I have enough storage containers.

If I decide to bury it, I'll try not to do it in the same spot under the oak where I buried the dead bird a few months back. But it's most likely that I'll end up eating it all, eventually. I'll try to palm some of it off on unsuspecting family members. Who knows? Maybe it'll induce labor.

20 May 2004

There was still this much left after my second helping.

There's no recipe for this soup. I made it up as I went along, both the ingredients and the quantities. I tinkered with it enough that I know it'll never be duplicated. But hey. So much the better. It was edible, and it was a learning experience, so it wasn't all a total waste.

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I meant for the soup to start cooking at 10:30 this morning, but when I came back from the post office I felt the crock pot and noticed it wasn't heating up at all. This was noon, so something was wrong. And what was wrong was that I'd plugged in the toaster instead of the crock pot. So I lost an hour and a half right there, and after that it all started to mushroom. (Mmmm. Mushrooms. Must have mushrooms in the next soup. Also, bell peppers: bought some, forgot to use them. What a fiasco.)

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