Lemons to lemonade…The standby cliché that has encouraged optimism for years is certainly a useful one to keep in mind in the kitchen.
Even though I’m pretty confident in my culinary prowess, every so often my cooking projects don’t turn out the way I expect them to. Occasionally, no matter how determined I am in conquering certain recipes or ingredients, they remain untamed and I am forced to dine on humble pie instead.
This is where some culinary finesse comes in handy — if you’ve spent enough time in a kitchen, shouldn’t you be able to take a problematic dish and turn it into a delicious success?
I’ll say with total and utter assurance…sometimes.
One of the more frustrating food failures I’ve experienced was a few years ago, involving a chicken leg, sweat and tears. The picture in the magazine was of a perfectly lacquered piece of poultry, whereas mine (even after plenty of last-ditch efforts) remained lackluster and insipid. It was edible, sure, but I didn’t enjoy eating it. The taste of disappointment was too strong.
My most recent foray into the land of food flops came with a slightly ironic twist. Back in 2007, I ripped out a recipe for a Crisp Salami Cocktail Mix from the December issue of Food & Wine. I don’t know what about it intrigued me so much, but it seared itself in my brain. I wasn’t sure when I would make it, but I knew it would happen.
This past weekend, more than seven years later (I admit to housing stacks and stacks of recipes torn from magazines even older than that), it’s time had come. I was invited to a little get-together with a few girls from work and I decided it was finally time for the cocktail mix to make its debut.
I procured the short list of needed ingredients: Genoa salami, chickpeas, pistachios, rosemary and lots of vegetable oil. I sliced, I fried, I drained, I mixed. And, finally, I tasted.
It was awful.
Ok, maybe not “spit it out” awful but it was far from good. The fried salami was just bizarre, ranging from crisp but so dark it was nearly black to limp but a pleasing golden brown. (And, let me tell you, dropping salami into 350-degree oil requires reflexes like a cat.) The chickpeas were crunchy straight from the fryer but moments later were chalky and bland. The pistachios, left unadulterated, were by far the best part. The whole thing was a confusing jumble of ingredients that seemed to have nothing in common except their lack of oomph.
The author of the article claimed the mix to be addictive. I later told my friends (who were forced to sample the strangeness themselves) that only reason I kept eating it was to figure out why it wasn’t any good. It was baffling.
I wish I could say that I worked some culinary magic on it and transformed it into something that could best Chex Mix in a snack-time showdown, but I did no such thing. There’s only one positive thing I can say about this lemon of a recipe — it was fairly photogenic.
However sad that failure was, my kitchen luck turned around moments later when it came time to liven up some dull dairy.
My mom and I are (extremely) amateur goat cheesemakers. As of two weeks ago, we have now made chèvre two (count ’em, two!) whole times. While our first batch, back in 2013, turned out awesome, our last batch was a bit meh. Our curds didn’t set up too well and the final product was extremely soft and desperately lacking in flavor.
But this is where a little ingenuity — and flexibility — comes into play. The little booklet that comes with the cheesemaking kit is practically oozing “lemons to lemonade” encouragement. My favorite line goes something like this, “if you’re making a soft cheese and it comes out firm, or if your firm cheese is soft, simply rename them.”
This is priceless advice, people!
It should be the motto for all of us who have ever faced a (potential) failure in the kitchen. (I’m hoping there’s more of you out there than just me, right? Feel free to share one of your own flops in the comment section to make me feel better!)
While I could work with the texture of my cheese, it was the flavor that needed work. So I mixed the chèvre with fresh herbs, minced garlic and shallots and a good dose of citrus, turning it into a delightful cheese spread that my friends demolished. It was so good it might have (maybe) made up for the snack mix!
So keep persevering in your projects — in and out of the kitchen — regardless of the obstacles in your way. And remember, if all else fails, just rename your cheese.
The Zesty Goat (a chèvre ball)
- 10-12 oz soft chèvre
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 small shallot, minced
- Fresh herbs, minced: I used oregano and thyme, chives or basil would also be great
- Lemon and/or orange zest
- Good quality EVO
- Crunchy salt and cracked pepper
First mix the garlic, shallots, herbs and zest together. Divide mixture in half. Put cheese in a large bowl, add half the herb mix and blend well. Add a dash of EVO and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Place cheese mixture into a bowl or ramekin lined with plastic wrap. Chill.
Once mixture is firm, 30-60 minutes, remove from container. You can simply unmold the cheese onto a plate or shape it into a more traditional “cheese ball” form.
Before serving, drizzle with EVO and sprinkle with remaining herb/zest mixture. This mixture should have dried out a little making it easy to sprinkle.
Serve with crostini or crackers and enjoy!