Friday, October 21, 2011

Two wrongs might some day make two rights!

Today I wanted to take a moment to discuss two recipes I made that were flops.  I feel like it's important to acknowledge my failures for two reasons:
1. So anyone reading won't get discouraged when they fail.
2. To make me sound less douchy.

This is more about the first than the second, because it's important to remember that cooking is an experiment, and experimenting always involves trial and error.  The error part is good, because it leads to new discoveries.

Also, I don't want to sound douchy.

Anyway, I've got two meals here.  The first was pretty okay to eat, but looked awful. The second, completely gorgeous, but just as flavorless.


I've made pizza on my grill before, so I thought I would try my hand at some Calzones.  Basically the same concept, so there shouldn't be any concern there.  I picked up some pizza dough at the local bakery on my way home.

Things started going wrong almost immediately.  I think I put too much inside of the calzone, so when I went to close it, the dough tore and filling started oozing out.  In the past, I have built my pizza directly on the grates of the grill, but I realized that these were so fragile that they would never survive that.  So I plopped them onto a cold pizza stone (mistake 2) without putting down any cornmeal or anything (mistake 3).  Then I threw the pizza stone on the grill.

As I walked away, I was already realizing this was a problem.

One of the reasons you always want to cook on a hot surface is to quickly sear the food.  Searing the food quickly does two things: it browns the food nicely, which makes it look pretty, and it puts a crisp on the outside of the food to keep it from sticking.  When you cook food in a not hot pan, the food sticks to whatever you're cooking on.  Also, it releases moisture slowly, which causes the food to get soggy and, in the case of meat, it will steam the food and cause it to turn grey.  None of this is very appetizing. 

When I went to flip the calzones, I knew I had a problem.  They were totally stuck to the pizza stone.  I basically had to cut them off, which means I lost any golden brown I may have had on the outside of the crust.  Also, it meant I lost that protective "crusty" layer, which let the heat into the calzone and dried out the crust.

Which left me with grey, ripped up, kind of dry crusted calzones.  Fortunately, the fact that the filling was overflowing and too wet helped with the dryness of the crust, so overall they tasted pretty well, they just weren't pretty to look at.

Stuffed Pumpkin
This is actually a concept I have done in the past and, done correctly, it is really impressive.  I haven't, however, done it with rice, and I think my first mistake was not believing any of the recipes I read could possibly be correct.  They all said to cook the rice through, then stuff it in the pumpkin.  "No way!" I thought.  "That would leave you with soggy rice.  I'm going to cook the rice half way, then put it into the pumpkin and let it finish cooking in there.  This way it won't be soggy, and it will take on some nice pumpkin flavor.  Right?!?"  Wrong.

I had a lot of problems here:

1. My pumpkin was really thick.  This isn't in itself a problem, but I didn't take into account the extra time it would take to cook through a pumpkin that is this thick.  And then also cook rice on top of that.  No way!

2. I bought wild rice, which I don't really make often.  I bought it because it was local, and that's great.  But using a product that I don't know how to use in a complex preparation with many steps is probably not a great idea.

3. I didn't add enough seasoning.  I think I must have forgotten to season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper, because it pretty much tasted like nothing.

The damned thing took about 2 and a half hours to bake, and at the end of that time, the rice was still basically raw.  So really, really pretty.  But basically inedible:
So pretty!
You know you want this on your Thanksgiving table...

But I'm not giving up!  That's the point, here.  I know what I did wrong, and I know how to make it better.  And I will be trying again.  Plus, I used part of the pumpkin to make something delicious, which I will tell you about tomorrow, so it wasn't completely a waste.

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