Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bottom Chef

I was just reading a review of a book that tries to explain what in the human psychology causes us to make mistakes. One of the author's main points, and I have no idea how it relates to the whole theme because I only read a blurb, is that most of us think we are above average at most, if not all tasks we attempt. The author states the obvious point, that it is mathematically impossible for all of us to be above average. I have to say I heartily disagree. Everyone can be above average at certain tasks, as long as there is one person who is far enough below average to even things out. Enter exhibit A, my complete inability to cook.
As a semi-confirmed bachelor (send prospects my way this sad fact is not intentional) I have long prepared my own meals. In the early days after college I mainly dined upon sandwiches, Hot Pockets, and Mr. P's Pizza. I was best known for my Mr. P's towers, a dish created by putting one Mr. P's Pizza on top of the other (culinary homoeroticism?) and then tossing cheese as well as a generous dollop of ranch over the pizzas. Surely you are rushing to the store right now to try this amazing delicacy.
I was (and still am) a big fan of the ranch dressing, and most of these meals were designed as ranch delivery systems (RDSs for short). I would wash down my RDSs with a couple of sodas, usually Cheerwine or Moutain Dew. Surprisingly, I did not lose a lot of weight while maintaining this diet.
My cooking skills have improved a wee bit in the interim and I am now able to cook some amazing meals, such as pastas, burritos, and omelets (still in the experimental stage there). The other day I was preparing one of my new masterpieces and I learned a valuable lesson that I will gladly impart to you now.
The hamburger meat was browning in the skillet as I gathered my ingredients together. I was in the process of manufacturing one of my more exotic delights, an American favorite which I believe is known as "Hamburger Helper."
I pulled the milk from the refrigerator and carefully read the label for the first time. Kind of amazing since I recall staring at the milk aisle for several minutes trying to find the proper carton. I don't use much of the stuff so I wanted to grab a small amount and avoid the accumulation of a cottage cheese-like substance in the back of my fridge, an organic blob that would probably crawl out in the middle of the night and murder me, justifying my mother's warnings of what could happen if I failed to drink my milk.
As a result, after all my pondering/staring blankly into space, I chose to grab a small bottle of soy milk. I paused as long as I did mainly because I wondered whether the nature of the product (it didn't come from anything's tits, unless beans have been so rapidly evolving that they now have boobies) would cause the milk to be less effective in fulfilling its crucial role in the recipe. The Rock has always told me to know my role and although I did, I was unsure if soy milk had those team player characteristics I was looking for in order to make a truly great/barely edible Hamburger Helper.
Lost in this barrage of worries was my ability to read the entirety of the label, something I finally did as I hunched over the skillet, ready to add the final piece of my culinary puzzle. Right there on the bottle, next to the part that said soy milk, was the word "vanilla." When I saw that word, I have to admit that a lump caught in the back of my throat. I was already worried about the non-cow derivation of the stuff and this was another spanner in the works. The store was damn near a five minute drive away, so I said damn the torpedoes and threw that shit in the pan. Then I began to pray.
Fifteen minutes later, the food had finished cooking and I was ready to sample the results of my experiment for good or ill. Not surprisingly, the vanilla flavored Hamburger Helper was not terribly delicious. Even with a heavy infusion of ranch and my new tongue's new lover, Cholula, the meal pretty much tasted like a tossed salad and I don't mean the kind with tomatoes and lettuce.
I have to admit there is a lesson in this whole thing. I should probably get off my ass and go to the store rather than put really nasty things in my food on the off chance that they somehow disappear during the cooking process. I suppose I thought myself some sort of alchemist at the time, changing soy milk into gold. Unfortunately, I found out that this is an impossible task, at least for someone who should be up for the anti-award of the world cooking establishment: Bottom Chef.


Ms. Red said...

Yeah, I learned that same lesson the hard way too. I drink soy milk, and at one point I drank vanilla soymilk. But no matter what the Vegans declare, you just can't cook with the shit.

Alastair McCandless said...

Glad not to be alone :)

Ms. Red said...

BTW, you apparently live about a minute and a half from my house. We need to get together! if you email me I will send you my number. I have again, lost yours.