Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Holy Smokes!

(Post by Evan)

When you have a skill that you're adept at, it's quite possible that while executing said skill, that the entire cerebral cortex may not be completely engaged. Do you really think about how much force to turn the steering wheel with when changing lanes? For the musicians reading this, do you actually remember which notes make up a C-major chord when playing it ? I don't. One of the things that I like to think I'm good at is cooking. Besides having attended culinary school and owned a restaurant, it's something that I just do. While I do use recipes for new dishes or for baking where precision counts , I generally manage to get by just using the gray matter for more routine cooking tasks. Unfortunately for me and my family, tonight was one of those night's where the old synapses failed me.

I was the first one home tonight and looked through the freezer for what me might have on hand. The ground beef caught my eye as did the cilantro sitting on the countertop in a vase of water. Something Mexican-flavored started to materialize in my head. Liz arrived just minutes later and with her input, we opted for one of our favorite family standbys: taco salad. Within minutes, I had thrown together the hot part (ground beef, onions, garlic, kidney beans and seasonings). Liz had done all the prep for the cold parts (lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, avocadoes, sour cream and tortilla chips). The table was set and I was just about to bring the hot part to the table when I checked to see if it needed any salt. That was when it became obvious that something had gone horribly wrong.

I blew on the spoonful of the meat mixture to prevent scorching my lips or tongue, but as I placed the spoon into my mouth, I took in a breath. I immediately started to cough and not wanting to spew the contents of my mouth all over the place, closed my mouth and tried to gently cough through my nose, all while still chewing. The coughing soon gave way to burning in my mouth and I was completely baffled. What the heck was going on?! I just happened to glance up the still open kitchen cabinet and found my answer.

Most chili powder is a blend of sweet and usually mild chiles with cumin, garlic, oregano and sometimes onion powder. On a scale of 1 to 10, I would put it at a 2 or 3 depending on the brand. You would generally add 1 to 3 tablespoons per quart. Cayenne pepper on the other hand is a pure powdered cayenne chile and rates more like a 6 or 7. I hadn't planned on making this dish hot at all, especially since I had 3 small kids eating it. After adding a couple of tablespoons of cayenne, this batch of taco salad meat was pretty much for "experts only."

I ended up starting over. Even though I added no chili powder to it, there seemed to be sufficient residual in the pan to give it a substantial kick. It was edible, but all our our mouths were tingling throughout dinner. We finished off the meal with ice cold milk, and a spoonful of sour cream to cool it down. In spite of the "fireworks," the meal was still thoroughly satisfying.

This blunder reminded me of other failures in the past by me and by others. I still remember the morning as a child when my mother sprinkled the french toast she made us with corn starch instead of powdered sugar. (Both powders were stored loose in Tupperware containers.) She was furious at first when we wouldn't eat it and read us the riot act for complaining. She quickly forgave us when we insisted it was yucky and she actually tasted it.

I'm sure all cooks can contribute other kitchen blunders. Let's hear about them in the comments!

P.S. I froze the super-spicy meat mixture. If you're a chili-head come on over, and we'll resurrect it into something tasty.


nyclizzie said...

Why does anyone need such an industrial size container of cayenne pepper? The answer: to keep the neighborhood nuisance dogs off the lawn, not to cook with! I guess I should keep it in the garage!

fcpninja said...

I'm hungry.

Grandma Linda said...

Reminds me of when I picked some overripe peppers from my garden, thinking they were puny yellow peppers. I chopped a whole bunch into my skillet and just happened to brush my finger across my lips...NOT yellow bells....but nice ripe yellow Habaneros...I had forgotten I had planted them. Fortunately I was able to scoop them out before stirring them in.

PS. I DO remember the cornstarch incident.

Kyndra said...

My friend and I thought we could make a fire out in the mountains and cook chicken breasts on a stick over the fire for dinner. It was pitch black by the time we got up there, and our fire was measly. But we cooked those chickens forever, only to find that when we bit into them we had a half inch of char and raw chicken underneath. Disgusting! I'll out Anne too! We went to a cooking class together and the teacher left a little bowl of kosher salt by the pan so Anne could measure out the amount for the polenta dish. When we were eating the dish the teacher asked, "so, how much salt did you put in?" Turns out Anne thought the whole bowl was suppose to go in! It was pretty salty, but we all liked salty.

Amanda Neilson said...

I love it! That makes me feel so much better about my own more frequent blunders.