the week of cooking averagely

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The thing with having such a delightful run of flawless dishes is that you forget about the ever-present likelihood of hitting a dud, or perhaps three. I seem to have lost my kitchen kavorka this week, but in an effort to move past these fiascos, I hope you don’t mind if I air them out, in no particular order.

  • Dried White Beans from Garden of Eden — Shame on you, otherwise charming and reliable grocery store! I thought they looked a little flaky-skinned when I soaked them, a typical sign of being past their prime, but figuring I had nothing to lose, forged ahead. The truth is that simmering them for what became over three hours, going back frequently to taste them and still finding them hard and sand-like before finally calling it quits and throwing them in the trash was exhausting in the end, utterly disappointing, and that is something lost. Though our apartment did smell beany and wonderful for a while, my daydream of a white bean, cubed black bread, green onion and torn radicchio salad will have to wait for my patience to recover, as well a less shameful bean supply to cross my path.
  • Caramelized Leek Soup — How could this possibly go wrong? First, you caramelize leeks in butter for 45 minutes, deglaze with vermouth for 10, braise them in a small amount of stock for another 10 and then add the rest of the broth. This is well over an hour of labor, mind you, and for what? A flavorless, ugly soup (because the leeks browned, but only partly) that tasted like boiled chicken-y lettuce with no depth whatsoever. Hefty pinches of salt and pepper failed to save it. It’s crushing the way the a recipe reminiscent of something so transcendent can fall so flat.
  • Risotto Fritters — Am I incompetent? Isn’t the oldest trick in the book to form leftover risotto into little fritters, perhaps as a bedding for a fish or meat dish? They wouldn’t come together. Was my awesome risotto too awesomely creamy? Had I stirred too dutifully? (Really, it was barely stale two days later, which should make us question why I was fritter-ing them in the first place. Ah, right — variety.) I had considered myself a quality fritter fryer before this. Feh!

In fact, about the only think keeping me from packing away my measuring spoons and spice tins and hiding out in takeout Pad Thai-Land for the rest of eternity is Orangette’s Tarte Tatin, which I made on Sunday night. In a slight variation from others I have bookmarked, she has you create a tearfully delicious caramel in the bottom of your (newly reseasoned) cast-iron pan, and then simmer the apples in it before tucking a circle of puffed pastry into the edges and slipping it into the oven. I especially love her suggestion to quarter the apples but give them a flat inner edge so the final dish appears as inviting as a pebble stone path when you upend it on a plate. That mine looked even halfway as pretty as hers (they’re pretty much my favorite pictures she has ever taken) filled me with an elation that brought my fragile cooking ego comfort through flaky beans, mushy risotto cakes and caramelized leek soup that felt closer to a punishment dinner. Thank you, Molly!

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