Tuesday, January 12, 2016
Not too long ago, a friend asked me for an easy, simple recipe for scrambled eggs. Easy enough, I figured, since I do make scrambled eggs a lot. As to a recipe, I thought I'd use the most basic, easiest one I knew:
For a single serving (uses 2 large eggs)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (or feel free to substitute in corn oil, butter, or margarine)
2 large eggs
1/4 cup water (or feel free to substitute in milk)
1/8 teaspoon (pinch) ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon (pinch) table salt
Frying pan (preferably nonstick)
Small mixing bowl (or cup)
1. Heat pan over low heat. Add oil to pan, swirl around oil in pan to cover the bottom of pan with a thin film. If using butter (or margarine) instead, let warm pan melt butter a bit before swirling it around pan. Remember that butter melts and heats up faster than oil; so if using butter, make the egg mixture in step 2 first before heating pan and melting butter into pan.
2. Crack open each egg, preferably on a flat surface, and add it to the mixing bowl. Dispose of eggshells appropriately. Add water (or milk) to mixing bowl. Use fork to break yolks and stir eggs and water into a uniform, yellow mixture.
3. Once the oil is hot enough (use fork to flick a speck or tiny drop of egg mixture into pan, and if it sizzles, the pan is hot enough), pour egg mixture into pan. Season eggs by sprinkling salt and pepper over eggs in pan.
4. Look for the edges of egg mixture to start setting (firm, harden up), and once it does, use the spatula to draw the edges of eggs towards the center. Work the edges all around in a clockwise fashion. As the spatula brings the firm parts of the eggs to the middle, the liquid parts of the eggs will flow outwards to the edges of the pan. Keep working the egg mixture until all of the eggs have firmed up. It should take about two to four minutes (depending on how hot the pan is) to cook the eggs. Once the mixture is firm, remove scrambled eggs to a clean plate or vessel.
5. Let eggs cool for minute before tasting. Season with salt and pepper to taste, if needed. Serve eggs warm.
If making more than one serving, remember to add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (butter) to the pan, as needed, and let it get hot enough before adding the next egg mixture. After cooking all your eggs, make sure to turn off the stove.
I thought that these instructions would be simple enough. I needed them to be easy. My friend is quite talented at interior decorating and landscaping; skilled in accounting and marketing; and plays the piano. She can also do needlework, quilting, crocheting, and lay and grout tile with expert precision. Unfortunately, she does not know how to cook. She cannot cook even the simplest things.
Once, I saw her attempt (and spectacularly fail) to make a sandwich. She threw a slice of cheese into a hot pan, tried to flip it, and then struggled to scrape the melted, dripping, burning mess out of the pan. I was about to ask her what she was doing when her toaster started emitting black smoke and set off the fire alarm. I quickly unplugged the toaster, and I reached over to turn off the stovetop as my friend was still fighting the losing battle of scooping up the remnants of melted cheese that was now mostly burned to a black crisp, stuck to the pan.
I turned off the smoke detector and then asked my friend, "What are you doing?"
She answered, "Trying to make a grilled cheese sandwich," all while looking at me with a questioning raised eyebrow. Like, Duh, wasn't it obvious what she was doing?
Suddenly it all became clear to me. Hilariously clear! Oh.my.gawd! She was literally grilling cheese in the hot, dry pan! An actual attempt to grill cheese directly in the pan! Even funnier, she had buttered her bread slices before inserting them into the toaster, and the melted butter burned up, causing the black smoke that set off the fire alarm! Boy, did I get a good laugh out of that!
Suffice it say that was the last time she attempted to make a grilled cheese sandwich. And while she mostly stuck to eating out, delivery, or tv dinners, every now and then, she'd get an itch to try cooking, and she'd do it few more times just to see what would happen.
And what happens is the same thing: a cooking disaster, inedible and incredible in its massive failure! But that doesn't stop her from trying. Once, I suggested that she take a cooking class, but she harrumphed and declared that she could figure it out. If she could learn how to fix and repair holes in the walls from watching home improvement tv shows, then surely, she could master cooking!
Last night, we had dinner over at her place-- a potluck where each of us brought a different dish while my friend provided the drinks and ice cream for dessert. It was the typical gathering of friends, we laughed, we talked, we teased. We ate, we drank, and we laughed some more.
During dessert, between spoonfuls of pistachio ice cream, we talked about current events, gossiped about people we knew, and commented on the incredible kitchen remodel my crafty friend and her handy boyfriend had just completed.
It was quite a transformation that took just over two months, and we complimented them on the fantastic job they did. The boyfriend revealed that to celebrate the new kitchen, my friend decided to cook them scrambled eggs.
"Or at least attempted to make scrambled eggs," boyfriend giggled.
The rest of us laughed out loud as we each recalled my friend's previous culinary catastrophes. My friend got a little flustered and defensively stated, "Hey!", she pointed at me, "I was using your recipe and it turned out awful!"
Now the others were looking at me with raised eyebrows and accusatory glances. No doubt they were recalling my own cooking disasters. How dare they question my cooking skills! Sure, I've had the occasional cooking mishap, but those were few and far in between. And any recipe I passed out has been thoroughly tested successfully and I've yet to hear any complaints, except for this one, the first ever, I was now hearing from my friend.
I decided that there needed to be a thorough investigation to defend my semi respectable reputation. So I asked my friend to tell me exactly what happened.
She said, "I heated up some olive oil in a pan, added in some egg substitute, because being healthier is one of my new year resolutions," she declared. "Then I sprinkled in some pepper and salt. But those scrambled eggs burned and tasted awful."
I asked her, "Why did you use olive oil and not vegetable oil or even butter?"
"Because olive oil is healthier than butter and it's the healthiest vegetable oil on the market," she said.
I told her, "First of all, olive oil is a fruit oil, not a vegetable oil."
She interrupted me, exclaiming, "Your recipe said that I could use a substitute!"
"Yes," I acknowledged, "but the substitutes listed for vegetable oil were corn oil, butter, or margarine!"
She fired back, "Your recipe said I could substitute other ingredients, too!"
"Just the water with milk," I insisted. She had this confused look on her face. Then a thought occurred to me, so I asked her, "What else did you substitute?"
My friend then described how she used cayenne pepper and sea salt as seasonings, because the cooking shows on tv harped on about the flavor of cayenne and the texture of sea salt, like they were better than regular pepper and table salt. And cayenne and sea salt do pack quite a flavorful punch and distinct texture. But it's what she used as an egg substitute that really pushed it out of the frying pan and straight into the trash can!
In order to meet her eating healthier goal, she listened to a healthy cooking tv show and decided to use tofu instead of eggs! She ended her explanation by declaring, "The recipe didn't work! I think you made a mistake."
"Of course that recipe didn't work!," I declared, "because that is NOT the recipe I gave you!" And I proceeded to explain how my recipe called for vegetable oil or for corn oil, because they're flavorless and have a high smoking point compared to olive oil, which has a strong, overwhelming flavor and burned fast in the pan. A pinch of regular ground pepper adds enough flavor, all without the overwhelming heat of cayenne. And a pinch of regular table salt flavors and melds into the eggs better than large chunks of hard sea salt that keep its crunchy texture. But most importantly, tofu is NOT eggs!!! The recipe was for scrambled eggs, not scrambled tofu!
The others started laughing again. Even her handy boyfriend was bent over laughing. Meanwhile, my friend narrowed her eyes and defiantly insisted, "I still think you made a mistake when you gave me that recipe. You cocky bastard! I know there's a secret to cooking that you haven't told me."
So I said, "Oh, I definitely made a mistake all right. I made a HUGE mistake when I gave you that recipe."
"See!?! I knew it!," she exclaimed, "I knew you made a mistake!", she shouted gleefully.
At this point, the others stopped laughing to better hear my confession of making a mistake. So, I said,"I made a mistake, all right, when I gave you that recipe."
Seizing the opportunity, my friend pointed an accusatory finger at me and declared, "Ha!"
So I continued, "My mistake was that when I gave you that recipe, I was under the wrong impression that you could READ!"
The others busted out laughing again while my friend just shook her head, no doubt planning revenge. If I was smarter, I would've stopped there. But I don't always make the best decisions, and I do have a tendency to take things just a bit too far for polite company. I couldn't help adding, "And you're right, there is a secret to great cooking."
I paused as the others stopped giggling and leaned in as if to finally learn a hidden truth that would change everything. When I had their undivided attention, I revealed, "The secret to great cooking," I paused to look each of them in the eye, "is to follow the damn recipe!"
And so the others started laughing out loud again, while my friend glared at me. If looks could kill, I'd've died a horrible, tortuous, vicious death right then and there. My brains and internal organs would have been scrambled beyond recognition.
I continued, "And once you successfully made a recipe, then you can start swapping out ingredients one ingredient at a time, so you'll figure out what works and what doesn't."
The others were still laughing as my friend tried to murder me with her eyes. In an effort to make peace, I said, "I'll tell you what, before I leave this house, I'll show you how to make scrambled eggs!"
The others started cheering for scrambled eggs. But my friend and her boyfriend didn't have any eggs. So we all piled into one vehicle and drove five minutes to the grocery store to pick up eggs, vegetable oil, butter, and milk. And we also picked up some potatoes.
When we got back to my friend's place, I demonstrated how to make the first batch of scrambled eggs. Then my friend did the rest of the batches, successfully following the recipe. Even better, I showed my friend my quick, easy version of hash browns, dicing the washed and dried potatoes, then adding them to the pan coated with butter and oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and a bit of chili powder for a little kick. Let the potatoes crisp and brown on the bottom before flipping/turning them over to brown the other side.
Once all the potatoes were cooked through, fork tender, remove from pan and let drain on paper towel (or not, if you didn't use a lot of oil) on a plate. My friend mastered hash browns as well, and together, we wrote out a recipe that was easy for her to follow. Our creations were quickly consumed by our grateful friends who complimented both of us on the great tasting breakfast dish. But that's the thing about awesome breakfast food; they're pretty much delicious any time of day.
All in all, the potluck dinner was another fun get together. We ate, we drank, we laughed, and we even took an impromptu trip to the store for a late night grocery run, and we had ourselves an awesome late night breakfast. And even better, we learned an important lesson. Just because you're a terrible cook doesn't mean that you can't cook. Chances are, you're just terrible at following recipe directions. So, for goodness sakes, follow the flipping recipes! And once you mastered them, then make substitutions, one ingredient at a time.
Because guess what? Those fancy tv cooking show chefs all follow recipes, and they all publish and sell cookbooks with their recipes! And if you want to go even further and beyond cookbook recipes, then I highly recommend taking a class, because all those tv chefs went to culinary schools to learn their skills. And if you don't want to go to a class, find the best cook in your circle of friends and ask them to teach you.
You don't need to learn everything, but you do need to master the basics. Because once you've got the basics, you've got the foundation to build up your culinary skills house. And for the rest of your life, experimentation, new recipes, and new knowledge will help you remodel and customize your culinary house and transform it into a home, uniquely and wonderfully your own.
And that's life! You need knowledge and a willingness to learn to master the basics of survival and problem solving. So when life gives you cracked eggs, you make scrambled eggs with them. And if you make the effort to seek out new knowledge and master new skills, you can add hash browns to your scrambled eggs and make a breakfast dish that can be enjoyed at any time of the day. Life is like scrambled eggs. It's good when it's done right, and it's even better when shared with the right people at anytime.
Once you've figured out how be independent and solve problems, you'll learn and engage in teamwork with the people you trust and love. And they'll help you get beyond survival, and live life to the fullest. Life is too short to be wasted on bad food and regrets. Life is best experienced with the people you love, sharing good food, good laughs, and good times. Life is for the living, and living is best done when it's full of friends and loved ones.
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