Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Difference Between Liking to Cook, and Being Good at Cooking

I like to cook. I enjoy learning new techniques as well as repeating old-reliable recipes, and of course I like consuming the results (usually).

But sometimes when I tell people that I like cooking, they take me to mean that I am claiming to be a good cook.

Ha. Ha ha ha. No, not exactly.

I mean, I guess I would say that most of the time my cooking is pretty OK. It definitely has improved over the years, and I manage to turn out edible foodstuffs a reasonably high percentage of the time. But I rarely even attempt to reach the gourmet heights regularly documented by this other Charlottesville food blogger, and I have my share of culinary screw-ups.

See this red, gloopy mess?

Let me explain the genesis of the red, gloopy mess.

I had an idea that I wanted to do something with rhubarb this spring—I wasn't sure what, but I thought maybe strawberry rhubarb pie. So, when I found some stalks of local rhubarb for sale at Feast! on Tuesday, I snapped them up.

Back in my kitchen, I studied the rhurbarb possibilities in the Joy of Cooking. I had just the right amount of rhubarb for a strawberry rhubarb pie, and I had plenty of strawberries that I had already cooked with a bit of sugar. I figured hey, chop the rhubarb, mix with strawberries and their juice, add a bit more sugar and some corn starch, and we should be in business for pie!

The catch was that I didn't have a pre-made pie crust at hand, and I did not feel like running out to get one, and I certainly did not feel up for making the pie crust pastry myself. (I have made a few attempts with different recipes in the past; none has been satisfactory, except for an olive oil crust that is only suitable for savory pies.)

So, I came up with a CLEVER PLAN. I would mix the strawberry-rhubarb pie filling, put in in the bottom of this casserole dish, cover it with the topping from my mother's apple crisp recipe, bake, and voila! Strawberry rhubarb crisp!

Well. It turns out that strawberry rhubarb pie filling behaves a little differently from a pile of sliced and cinnamoned apples.

It boils and bubbles and flows like molten lava. After thirty or forty minutes in the oven, it completely swallows the crisp topping. So my strawberry rhubarb crisp turned into a strawberry rhubarb bucket o' glop.

It was oversweentened glop, too. In adjusting the Joy recipe, I had tried to allow for the amount of sugar that I had already added to the strawberries. But I erred a little on the high side of my sugar measurement, since I didn't want the rhubarb to be too mouth-puckery. And I didn't take into account the extent to which the cup of sugar in the crisp topping would get mixed in with the fruit glop.

As cooking diasters go, this one is not too diasastrous. The red glop is not unsafe to eat, or completely incinerated; it has, basically, a pleasant flavor, just an overly concentrated one. So, a couple spoonfuls in the bottom of a bowl, pour some milk over, and that's dessert.

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