04 July 2007

Kitchen Triage

I made a batch of potatoes, carrots, and beans. I used red potatoes, cumin, black mustard seeds, black beans, and garbanzo beans. Ostensibly, it should have tasted wonderful. Then I took a bite of the final dish.

...

That was the worst idea ever. Let me amend that. I don't know whether it was a worse idea to cook the dish, or for me to take a taste of it. It was horrifically bland, the texture was akin to mealy tomatoes. It was so bad that I needed a couple of hours to just get over the shame of making such a catastrophe. What's worse is that Steve took a taste as well, and was far too polite to call it the abomination that it truly was.

I knew that I would have to redeem myself.

Enter Kitchen Triage. Whenever you have a wet dish, such as a soup, stew, or curry, there are certain secret weapons at your ready disposal whenever you know that it should be better, but it really isn't. It is time for me to reveal these secrets to you. Garlic, onions, carrots, tomatoes, salt, curry powder, and oil are essential ingredients that you should have access to at all times, to save yourself from disaster. Regardless of what type of dish you're working with in this vein, you have this secret arsenal ready to save the food, and your palate.

Here's how it works. Mince up your garlic and onions (1 medium onion per pound of food, and 1 clove of garlic per pound) as finely as you can get them. Start with a healthy dose of oil. For every pound of food that you're trying to resurrect, start with 2 tablespoons of neutral flavoured oil, such as corn oil, Canola oil, or peanut oil. In a large stock pot, begin to heat up your oil over high heat. Get it nice and screaming hot. You know that it's hot when you see it shift from a thick viscous oil to a decidedly more liquid one. Once it gets hot enough, add the onions and garlic. Add a healthy dose of salt and curry powder. Roughly a teaspoon or so should do the trick. You want the taste of the spices to permeate the dish, but not overpower whatever other flavours you're trying to build. Stir the onions and garlic around in the pot to combine them with the spices and oil. Once the mixture in the pot turns yellow, turn down your heat to medium low.

While the onions and garlic are cooking in the pot, start slicing up your carrots in any manner that suits you. I personally just grate it up quickly on a box grater. Usually, one or two medium sized carrots for every onion that you add is a good amount. As soon as your carrots are processed, add it to the pot with the onions and garlic. Don't worry about stirring anything. Cover the lid of the pot, and let the carrots gently cook in the pot for about ten to fifteen minutes. Basically, you want the carrots to get soft. Stir the ingredients around every five minutes.

Open up some cans (about 1 pound should do it) of diced tomatoes. By now, there should be little bits of brown spicy stuff sticking to the bottom of your pot. You're going to think that you've messed up, because stuff is clumping and sticking, and being annoying. Guess what? This is a Very Good Thing. The flavours that you have just developed cannot be matched by any other cooking method. Be proud of yourself.

Add your can of tomatoes, juice and all, into the pot as soon as your carrots are soft. Increase the temperature of the stove to as high as it will go. Keep stirring around the tomatoes until they get sort of broken down a bit. You'll know it's just about right when the stuff in the pot starts to resemble a tomato sauce. Once you reach that stage, you're at the home stretch. Pitch in whatever it is that tasted dead to you. Pour in just enough water that you can stir everything around in the pot, and release all the brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Add another generous dosage of salt. Let the water come up to a full rolling boil. Drop down the heat to medium low, and cover the lid of the pot. Let it simmer for about fifteen minutes.

Give your food a taste test. If there isn't quite enough salt or heat for your liking, go ahead and adjust it at this point. Let the water come up to a full rolling boil if you do add more salt or pepper. If it's still feeling a bit tired, feel free to pitch in a few more cloves of minced garlic. If nothing else, your breath will be too strong for anyone to care about the taste!