I love following new recipes because I’m usually generally certain that what I’m making will come out resembling what it should. I can follow directions, and I have basic cooking skills, so all should be fine. Usually it is.
But what have shaped my mentality in the kitchen are the moments in which things go wrong even when I follow the recipe. Or, more often than not, when things go wrong because I take shortcuts, forget to read the recipe all the way through before beginning, or decide I think a different ingredient will work the same way as one specified on the list.
Spending so much time in the kitchen has taught me a lot, but perhaps most importantly, it has taught me humility. I was thinking about this at around 9:00 in the morning this past Friday. Nearing the end of these 31 days, I thought the day before that it was about time to try a Barefoot Contessa recipe. I decided on her French apple tarts to go along with a dinner I’d be making that night with some friends. But I’d bake the tarts in the morning so I could focus on dinner later.
That day I woke up, ate breakfast, and watched an episode of Barefoot Contessa, and it was the one where she makes the French apple tarts. The stars were aligning, y’all. I took notes. And then I went to the kitchen.
I prepared the tarts just like Ina did, and they looked so lovely, even before baking.
Then I put them in the oven and heard sizzling almost immediately. I checked on them and they were bubbling away, like pie in the oven should be. Then the air started to smell like burnt sugar, and I checked them again.
They looked gorgeous from above. I mean, really.
But the butter had run all over the pan and burnt to a crisp. It blackened on the parchment paper in little puddles, and it ruined the tarts. On the bottom, they looked like this:
I tried to slice off the bottom parts but that proved to be a futile mission. The tarts were gone. I’d done everything right. Why didn’t the butter on Ina’s tarts burn the heck out of everything it could find?
But being in the kitchen is about moments like these: when you follow the recipe and it doesn’t turn out right. When you have to be humble enough to realize that you can put everything together, slide it in the oven, but what the butter does may be out of your control. That your oven temperature’s accuracy is questionable at best. That cooking isn’t always about getting it right; it’s about pulling what you have together and trusting the result will be what you need for the moment.
And it’s worth it to note that I’ve been talking about kitchens and cooking every day for almost a month, watching the Food Network almost every day, and I still burnt the tarts. There’s a way that cooking teaches us that no matter how much we know, things get away from us sometimes. But the kitchen is a place that keeps giving of itself. The tarts might be ruined, but later that day my stove baked chicken to go with pasta and filled with the scent of garlic and lemon juice as they flavored a pot of pasta, Parmesan cheese melting slowly around the noodles.
And that was what I needed to go right.