Tuesday, June 4, 2013

In Search of the Perfect Whatever

In Search of the Perfect Whatever

Light, fluffy biscuits. Pancakes you have to scrape off the ceiling. No lump gravy. Cakes that don’t fall. The best oil for frying. Save money, be healthy. And on and on. Pick up any cookbook or cooking magazine or anything that has a section on cooking, recipes, or even living the good life. Notice how many tips and tricks you see to create “…the perfect…” that I call The Perfect Whatever.

But you know what? There ain’t any such thing! Oh, sure, your grandmother had the secret of flaky piecrust, but you’ve never been able to duplicate it in your own kitchen. Must have had some secret ingredient or technique that’s been lost somewhere between her and you. How come the pancakes you get in a restaurant are evenly browned and yours are always blotchy?

My mother had a family dessert she called “Floating Island.” It was a light yellow custard topped with soft whipped egg white—I think. No one in our family has been able to duplicate this seemingly simple treat, and I’ve never seen it in any of my cookbooks or Google, but then I haven’t looked lately.

If you’ve watched any of the cooking shows, you’ve heard Emeril, for example, exclaim again and again as he swirls the oil flawlessly in the frying pan, “Hey, this ain’t rocket science!” I think he’s trying to tell us something. Like don’t be afraid to try anything! See? There ain’t no “Perfect Whatever!”

Oh, now you’re saying, “Yes, but…” I heard you. Here’s an example:

Conventional wisdom says that you’re supposed to mix the dry ingredients separately first, then the wet ones, then add the wet to the dry. Actually, I do this almost always, but what would happen if I disobeyed? Would the “Perfect Mixture” police pay me a visit? Nah. No matter how it’s done, the pancakes (or whatever) will probably turn out just fine.

So the waffle has holes in it. So what? Does that make it inedible? Not on my plate it doesn’t. Did I refuse to eat those mashed potatoes because I found a lump in my serving? You can answer that one without any help. My mother never used a recipe in her life, at least not that I know of, and, well, some things didn’t turn out the way she (or we) expected them to. My dad had a favorite saying in such cases: “A hungry man will eat anything!” After he cleaned himself up from the plate of whatever had been dumped on his head, he’d smile affectionately and we went on enjoying this latest culinary masterpiece. Which, incidentally, was usually never repeated.

So we continue on our search for The Perfect Whatever. The possibilities are endless. If fact, if they weren’t there’d be no need for all those books and magazines, or this column either, for that matter.

What’s your “Perfect Whatever?” You do have the secret of flaky piecrust? Wanna share? Oh, and if you find that “Floating Island” let us know. And don’t forget to come back next time, ‘cause we ain’t even started yet!