Not long after I wrote “Eating Outside the Box,” I decided to do a little experimental cooking. Truthfully, most of my cooking qualifies as experimental. My mother didn’t fail to equip me with common sense in this arena, but I did fail to store that priceless tutelage on something more permanent than mental RAM.
If you’re not familiar with Random Access Memory, it essentially works like a shopping cart: for as long as you’re in the grocery store, your groceries (or in this case, your data) remain safe and sound. But once you’ve gone through the check-out line and loaded up everything in the trunk of your car, the shopping cart resets to zero. It’s empty.
That’s RAM in a nutshell. So yes, I was given valuable culinary wisdom, but I didn’t save any of it to my car (or something). Ergo, I’ve begun experimenting. But unlike a scientist seeking to prove his theory by achieving repeatable results, I keep trying the same thing over and over again with the hope of achieving different results. And by “different” I mean better, tastier results.
My most recent failed experiment went something like this:
Belly: Dang, man! I’m hungry. What are we going to eat?
Brain: You again? We just had lunch! Oh, fine. I suppose we’ll make something fresh and original. No more boxed stuff though, remember? We wrote a blog about that. We can’t be hypocrites now.
Belly: Eh, I don’t know about this artsy stuff. You’re happy when I’m happy, right?
Brain: Usually, yes… why do you ask?
Belly: Because that Top Ramen on the bottom shelf sure looks good!
Brain: Oh, for the love of Pete! We’re not eating that! Are you stupid?
Belly: No, I’m hungry. And who’s Pete?
Brain: Never mind. Let’s make something that will satisfy us both. Something other than Top Ramen, that is.
Belly: Well, we don’t have much seasoning. But you know what does? Top Ramen flavor packets!
Brain: Actually, I was thinking we could cannibalize the ramen noodles as an excuse to empty that jar of Ragu spaghetti sauce in the ‘fridge. It takes up too much space, and it’s less than half full. That makes it woefully unbalanced.
Belly: Perfect! We’ll use all of the Top Ramen but we’ll do something special with it.
Brain: OK. We’ve got some eggs…
Belly: And hot dogs!
Brain: We don’t need hot dogs. But there’s at least a slice or two left in this onion.
Belly: Onions go well with hot dogs. And those have protein, right?
Brain: That’s debatable. Hey, this might work! If we sautée the onions with a diced potato, we can cook the noodles separately, add in an egg for protein value, then combine the whole thing with the leftover Ragu as a sort of scrambled noodle casserole!
Belly: Genius, Brain! Don’t forget the garlic-parsley salt and kickin’ chicken seasoning and Top Ramen shrimp flavor packet. And the hot dogs!
Brain: Look at us go! We’re tastebud titans! Whatever we touch turns to gold!
Belly: Hooray! Let’s eat.
…a few hours later…
Brain: Never again. Never again!
Belly: Hey, at least we’re helping the economy.
Brain: What…? How do you figure that?
Belly: We’re putting Mr. Colon back to work.
Belly: 0, Brain: 0, Mr. Colon: 1
And there you have it: one of my least defensible disasters, created due to rampant creativity and no restrictions. More recently, I attempted to repeat an experiment that hasn’t ever failed per se but has largely left me wishing for something better. Each time I’ve added some variety to the preparation process, but the results are always lackluster.
I speak, of course, of the tumultuous southwest scramble. This succulent success was the end result of a string of rapid disasters. I set out to make three fried eggs with toast, for three eggs were all I had in the carton, and toast is relatively idiot-proof. But then I quickly decided to make a scramble instead. This was fine, except that I turned away from the stove long enough that the scramble firmed up like an omelet. Lovely. So, I resolved to make an omelet. But what to put in it? Time was limited, as were my ingredients. Hastily I grabbed a familiar jar of southwest salsa from the refrigerator and dumped its contents into the middle of my omelet. Smooth, suave, and svelte I was not.
“Dear me,” I thought. “There’s a great deal more salsa than omelet in this pan. Whatever shall I do?” Well, I attempted to seal the omelet anyway, which was silly, because not only did I have too much salsa, but it was very watery. That excess water helped the omelet’s remaining viscous layer spill all over, which happened as I was trying to flip the whole mess with a spatula. And a “mess” is exactly what I had: a water-logged, scrambled-salsa omelet. Divine!
For my final endeavor, I turned up the heat and tried to evaporate some of the water while simultaneously breaking up the omelet into a more manageable scramble. After a minute or two, the toast popped out of the toaster fairly singed, and on those two slices I dumped my culinary catastrophe. Ta-daaa.
As its appearance resembled vomit, the omelet garnered but a single photo before I resigned myself to cleaning up the pan, bowls, and utensils I’d sullied in the course of the whole miserable affair. After that, I took a seat at the kitchen table and ate my eggs—discourage, disillusioned, and depressed.
But wait! The eggs were still hot! And a little spicy. Much of the excess moisture had seeped into the toast, which I used as a truck for delivering food to my mouth. The fork I brought to the table was mostly for aesthetics (and spearing the leftover bits). Despite the misfortune surrounding the process, my southwest scramble was remarkably tasty and satisfying. In past efforts, I had combined salsa with the beaten eggs prior to scrambling, which turned the eggs brown and further devalued my stock options in the “appetizing photos” marketplace. However, because the omelet had mostly cooked through before I botched it, the resulting scramble was a pleasant yellow. Success!
Yesterday evening, I made something a little less adventurous, and a little more hypocritical. Yes, I collapsed under my own hubris and emptied the contents of a Rice-A-Roni box into a pan of home-seasoned potatoes, home-seasoned chicken, and freshly chopped onions. The box flavor was broccoli pilaf, which buried everything in a yellow powder flecked with green bits of… something. Chives, maybe? I’m not sure.
Still, everything tasted wonderful, and the meal was 50% home-cooked by the time I added fresh grape tomatoes to a salad (from a bag) and topped it with Italian dressing. The slice of chocolate cake for desert was made by my housemate, whom I presume used a box mix and frosting from a can. Oh, the hypocrisy of some bloggers! I know, I know. This is a humbling confession.
But, until I have a kitchen of my own, my list of fresh ingredients will be limited to the modest space reserved for me in the community refrigerator. My spirit of experimentation continues nonetheless, unabated and unafraid of the great unknown!
In this case, the great unknown is a question I face every night after work, and it goes something like this: “What’s for dinner, Brain?”