I consider myself a decent home cook and my friends and family seem to truly enjoy the fruits of my labor. They just assume that everything I cook will turn out well and that is generally true – mostly because I do not serve them the mistakes … except my poor hubby who goes along with it and tries to find something positive to say on his way to the kitchen to make himself a PB&J. While some dishes simply taste better than others, some dishes are truly awful.
A recent example of an absolute gastronomic catastrophe was last winter when I was cooking out of Vegetable Kingdom: The Abundant World Of Vegan Recipes by Bryant Terry. Let me say a few things about this extraordinary cookbook! Mr. Terry wrote this book for his daughters and pays homage to the food heritage of his Black ancestors and his wife’s Asian ancestors, creating a wonderful collection of recipes that celebrate the flavors of Africa, Southern America and East and Southeast Asia. There is an entire section devoted to the “cupboard” with recipes for seasonings, sauces, vinegars, stocks and infused oils that are a great accompaniment to all sorts of foods and accentuate their flavors and textures. Vegetable Kingdom elevates vegan food to a whole new level!
And, it has a Play List! Yes, Mr. Bryant includes a soundtrack of recommended music while cooking and eating his recipes. It’s an eclectic list of artists and genre artfully paired with the recipes. I was downloading some great tunes!
I made some truly memorable dishes like Creamy Sweet Potato Soup topped with Coconut Cream and Cornmeal-Fried Oyster Mushroom Po-Boys. But the recipe that brought my house of cards tumbling down was Spinach and Kale Grit Cakes. It was a complicated recipe that I saved for a Sunday afternoon because there were multiple steps – some of which required resting time – and the grits needed to be soaked overnight. It was very much like fried polenta with an incredible creamy creole sauce on top. The creole sauce required constant stirring on the stove and I ended up burning a wooden spoon in the process. It was a sign of things to come!
The grit cakes called for kale and spinach in equal amounts. Well, I only had spinach in the house and it was during a pre-vax-COVID surge when I was not keen on going out in public without a good reason. (Don’t tell Pixie, but braving the cold, standing outside the store waiting my turn to enter, only to purchase a bunch kale was not a good reason!) My other mistake was accidently using vanilla almond milk instead of plain. I just wasn’t paying attention when I measured and poured it in. The recipe tells you to puree the kale, spinach and some water in a blender until very smooth “scraping down the sides as necessary.” The blending wasn’t going so well and I guess I was a little impatient, so the rubber spatula got caught in the blender blades and was shredded. Not only did I ruin my favorite spatula, but I also ruined the vegetables because shredded silicone was incorporated in the mixture. I had to dump it and start over; thankfully, I had enough spinach. I soldiered on, making the grits with the spinach instead of the kale/spinach mixture.
Say, did you know that spinach has a higher water content than other greens like kale and chard? Think about it. When you cook spinach, a huge pot-full cooks down to a handful. After it cooks, you can still wring out a considerable amount of water. So, you can imagine what the grits looked like! While they did solidify in the pan when refrigerated, I started to become suspicious when I cut them into squares for frying because they were a little soft. When they hit the heat, they oozed and spread like melted butter because the water from the spinach was simply too much for the corn grits to absorb. They also took on a bright green color which totally clashed with the golden, orange of the creole sauce.
Still, I had invested hours of my time, my favorite rubber spatula and wooden spoon, plus an incredibly messy kitchen (the grits bubbled so hard that they sent lava-like blobs of bright green all over the kitchen, coating the refrigerator, the stove hood and even a bit on the ceiling). We had to eat these, no matter what they looked like. And, I needed to try to plate and style them for social-media posts – which did not happen because even a professional photographer could not have prettied these up!
The creole sauce was simply sublime! Seriously, it was perfect and will someday be made again. The grits, however, was a complete disaster. Not only did it look like something oozing from a drain in Ghostbusters, but it did not taste good with the almond-milk blunder. I think the sweet almond milk would make a nice sweet-grits dish, but it failed miserably in this recipe. My kind-hearted hubby tried to be a good sport, but even he struggled with it.
So much work just didn’t pan out! It happens to everyone every now and then. While I was sorely disappointed in myself, I cut myself a slice of humble pie and honestly assessed the day spent making this disaster. I certainly do not fault the recipe. I fault myself for making poor substitutions and not being fully engaged in making this meal. We all make substitutions but we really need to assess the impact on the dish first. I’ve learned my lesson, so one of these lazy winter afternoons, when I have a hankering for grits, I’ll make sure that I have kale and plain almond milk … and then I’m going to make us some amazing Spinach and Kale Grit Cakes with the most delectable creole sauce imaginable. And, yes, I’ll take pics!
Pepper – July 2021