18 May 2009

I think I am in mourning

This weekend has also seen several kitchen experiments, with the two biggest of them turning out to be failures, unfortunately. One of them was merely not-quite-perfect, the other one was much more of a disappointment.

But let's stick with the proper order.

First, I felt adventurous on saturday morning and as we hadn't planned much for the weekend so far in terms of cooking, I decided it would be time for me to try my hands at a 'pate de campagne', a coarse terrine of porc and bacon, something that is about as french as wine, cheese and rillettes.

And I was so happy finding a recipe by my admired Molly Wizenberg of Orangette, so I really felt on the safe side of things.

I packed my lovely wife and we went shopping, loading our basket with so much meat and bacon that it made us all giggly. That was, until we arrived at the till - damn, if you buy A LOT of bacon, it really turns expensive.

But that didn't dampen out spirits for long, and soon I was back in the kitchen, mincing and chopping, sautéing onions and reducing cognac and so on.

The farce even smelled right, creating a faint memory of the large slices of pate de campagne I knew. And it looked pretty, there's no denying.

What came out of the oven, though, wasn't pretty at all. It smelled wrong, and greasy, and was weirdly pale. Also, it had a certain wobble that had 'disaster' written all over it - a certain, rubbery wobble that most unpleasantly reminded me of a hot meatloaf.

And yes, a first bite confirmed my worst suspicions: I had, with a lot of effort, many dirty pans and bowls and a whole heap of perfectly fine ingredients, created the world's saltiest meatloaf.

It was disheartening, to say the least, made worse by the fact that I have no clue on what went wrong. It was pretty close to inedible, and so very far away from what I had hoped to make. I think I am still in mourning for all that wasted food.


The next experiment turned out much better, though still not really good. At least, I know what went wrong, and there is still hope.

Do you remember I told you about the favourite bakery of ours here in town? The one that stopped making our chiabatta and indirectly taught me how to make my own? Probably not, and why should you.

Anyway, said bakery has now raised the prices of their 'cheese-sticks' again, now taking 1 Euro 30 cents for a soft strip of bread the size of a ruler, covered in cheese.
This isn't all over the top, but quite a lot of money for what you get, especially considering the fact that I had learned I could easily replicate and even surpass their quality.

Easier said than done, at least this time. I got some sourdough starter from my mother-in-law, bought a block of Gruyere cheese, and went to work.

The first deep irritation came up on saturday evening when my mother-in-law showed me how to get her sourdough reactivated. I am surely not a by-the-letter-of-the-book kind of cook (see above), but her completely free-flying approach was startling, to say the least. It felt like watching a child making mud-pies to me. I'm not saying she did anything wrong, but as great as we usually get along, her and my way of baking are worlds apart. Many worlds.

But the dough came along nicely, and this time, I pulled out of the oven what looked like a pitch-perfect copy of those expensive little things:

Smell and texture were pretty perfect as well - only the taste was a severe let-down. I had taken a generous teaspoon of salt for no more than 500g of flour, assuming that the cheese would be salty enough. Yeah, right.

Did I already mention I suck at guessing? Or assuming, in this case?

Turns out the cheese was salty, but not salty enough, and the first bite of the 'cheese sticks' is so startlingly tasteless that you could just as well be chewing on pillow stuffing. I mean, like, really tasting of nothing, I have no idea of how this is even chemically possible.

But, after a few bites, it gets getter, almost good, actually. And I think with another teaspoon of salt they'll be up to my usual standard.

As you can see, this leaves quite some work for the next weekend, and maybe one day I'll even find our what killed my 'pate de campagne'...

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