Thursday, March 3, 2011

This Week's Cooking Failures and Triumphs

I'm not sure if this will be any kind of weekly segment, but probably something I will do every now and then. I had a couple epic moments in the kitchen this week and I think they need to be shared, so that everyone can behold my incredible feats and my egregious defeats.

First, the bad. As I mentioned in my last post, my husband had a little accident when we last made red velvet cake, and ended up dropping half the batter on the floor. Here is the story:

We made the batter together and then I made plans with my sister. So once the batter was made, my husband was supposed to put the cakes in the oven and we'd make the frosting and frost the cakes after I got back. As I'm about to step out the door, I hear the two dreaded sounds no one wants to hear come from the kitchen: *CLUNK* and *insert string of profanities here*

I step back in to find a huge glob of red batter in the middle of the floor. My husband had been wiping the edge of the pan where we'd spilled some batter. While doing so, he had accidentally moved the pan to the edge of the table and when he let go, it tipped over to its doom.

From my perspective, I had left him alone for one minute in the kitchen and disaster struck, and out of sheer shock I said a few things that I probably shouldn't have. I left the house before more unwarranted comments escaped my fiery lips.

Then my comeuppance came. On Monday, I was under the weather but made plans to go to my internship anyway around 1 PM. Before that I decided to go to the grocery store because we were getting low on the essentials. When I got back and began putting things away, I realized that we still had the ingredients for mango salsa and it needed to get made sooner rather than later. I looked at the clock (it was about noon) and decided I had enough time to make it before my internship and then I could pack it for lunch to take to work after my internship. So I pulled out the ingredients and began making it. To get an idea, here is the recipe (however, I was making somewhere between 1.5 and 2 batches at the time):

1 medium mango, seeded, peeled, and diced
2 Hatch chili peppers, seeded and diced (when these aren't in season, I use 2-3 jalapenos)
1/4 cup diced red pepper (about 1/2 of a pepper)
1/4 cup diced red onion (about 1/2 of an onion)
2 t. chopped cilantro
1 t. lime juice
1 t. olive oil
1/4 t. salt

Combine and serve on meats such as pork, poultry, or fish. It's also great in a breakfast quesadilla**. I got the recipe from the grocery store and am absolutely in love with it.

So, I seeded, peeled, and diced the mangoes. Then I seeded and diced the jalapenos. Then I seeded and diced the red pepper. Then I cut up the red onion. I put all of the tiny little chunks into a container with a lid and began shaking it to mix them all together.

Then, the lid came off.

And the next thing I know, the last 45 minutes of my life were sprawled all over the floor, wasted.

All I could do was stand there and stare at the huge mess I'd just made. I was so sick and tired and upset I couldn't even cry, but believe me, I wanted to. I kept staring at all my hard work, willing myself to come up with a way to fix everything. I seriously considered throwing it all in the strainer and just giving it a really good wash. But I finally accepted that it was hopeless, scooped up my all my effort, and threw it in the garbage.

I texted my husband to tell him what happened and that I knew exactly how he felt after he dropped the cake. Though I lost everything and he only lost half his work, I was at least fortunate enough be without anyone to say awful things to me when it was all said and done.

In the end, I had just enough time to throw some salmon in the crock pot before I left for my internship, so I still had dinner made, but it was probably my most tragic moment in the kitchen to date.

Yesterday though, I triumphed. I have a few recipes that call for a whole chicken and I really enjoy making them. The Honey-Basted Chicken I made yesterday can be found here, but I make a few changes. First, I just use whatever potatoes I have on hand and skip the sweet potato altogether. It's worked pretty well. Second, I don't really measure anything in this recipe, I just kind of estimate it pretty liberally. Third, I have yet to buy kitchen string, so I haven't been tying the legs and no one's been the wiser.

Now, when I bought whole chickens at the regular grocery store, the neck and giblets were already removed, so I didn't really understand this whole nonsense about removing it. Further, I wasn't really sure what giblets were, because we pretty much exclusively bought boneless skinless breasts at my house. So when I started buying whole chickens at the co-op grocery store, I found that the neck and giblets were still very much attached to the chicken. I found the giblets while I was acting incredibly grown-up and making my chicken dance around like it does in old Looney Tunes cartoons, when the giblets unexpectedly dropped out of... you know where.

The last time I tried to cut out the neck, I really had no idea what I was doing, and I ultimately cut most of the back of the chicken off. I knew this couldn't be the right way to do it because I've gotten whole chickens with a back and no neck before. There has to be a way to keep the back intact, I thought.


So this time, I again did no research and began playing with my chicken to figure out how to get this blasted neck out. I grasped the end of the neck and began pulling it around, willing it to wriggle loose and slide right out.

And then it happened.

It didn't just slide right out, but it did loosen its grip on the rest of the chicken. I wriggled it some more and it loosened again. I grabbed a knife and started sticking it inside the chicken to cut some of the pieces that were holding onto the neck and spine.

Slowly but surely, the neck began it lose its grip on the chicken. I began pulling it out the top of the chicken and the chicken began trying to turn itself inside out, but was still remaining more or less intact. I got to the point where I could stick my hand inside the neck hole and break the neck's grip on the legs. Once I disconnected the legs, I managed to wriggle the neck and some of the ribbing right out. A bit was still left in there, and I went after some of it, but I managed to get out the majority of it without severely damaging the appearance of the bird.

Here are my treasures:

Not the best picture and very horror-film-esque, but the spine is that big thing on the right, the giblets are the dark blobs on the bottom left, and the pink-ish stuff on the left is the saggy lady bits (Both of my giblet-ed chicken have had really droopy lady parts for some reason unbeknown to me, so I cut off the extra parts). At the top left is one of the thigh bones I pulled out kind of on accident.

And here is my happy but spineless chicken:

Note its casual yet mildly sassy pose.

I think it may have been easier to pull everything out of the big opening where the droopy lady bits reside rather than the much smaller neck hole, so I'll probably try that next time, but this was still a big success in my book.

The recipe is delicious (my favorite part is hands down the potatoes), but one problem I've had over and over is that my whole kitchen fills up with smoke while its cooking. To the point where I have to open my back door and my kitchen windows and run a fan or two and my smoke detector probably went off. The bird gets a little blackened from the honey glaze, but the smoke starts before that even. I think it may have something to do with the bird juices, and maybe I just need to do a better job of not spilling them all over the pan or maybe that's what tying up the legs stops from happening. So this may be a better recipe for later spring when the doors and windows all already open, but I'm gonna keep making it and maybe one day figure out how to avoid the whole smoky house problem. But that'll just have to be a triumph for another week.

**Breakfast Quesadilla Recipe (1-2 servings)
Mix 1/3(ish) cup of mango salsa with 2-3 eggs and scramble.
Grill one tortilla and sprinkle shredded cheese over whole tortilla.
Once cheese is melty, add salsa egg mixture to one half of the tortilla.
Add crumbled bacon (about 2 slices) on top of egg mixture.
Fold over empty tortilla half. Remove from grill, cut and serve with sour cream.

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