The Untapped Potential of a Genuinely Spectacular Failure

It takes a special talent to fail in a genuinely spectacular fashion.  Intentional failure is just a repackaging of rebellion, completely lacking a profound spontaneity with its disingenuousness easily sniffed out.  Intentional failure lacks the mystique of an unimaginable outcome that no one saw coming.

Most important, the genuinely spectacular failure possesses the possibility of being reinterpreted as an achievement.  All it takes is a shift in context.  Take the object pictured below. 

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Its humble beginning was that of a sourdough starter combined with a variety of ill-advised ingredients and questionable methodology that all proved catastrophic to the intended outcome– a loaf of sourdough bread.  The result was a brick-like object which is bullet-proof, sulphuric acid-proof, with a density only slightly less than a black hole.  Clearly a freak of invention that defies physics, definition, or logic.  The potential for its use is only limited by the feeble capacities of the imagination.  Of greatest concern to humanity is that this marvel doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.  For now, it is best kept in a secure, secret location, buried in the local landfill, until future civilizations can dig it up and find an enlightened purpose for this marvel of failure.

Frankenstein’s Breakfast Scone

Reverse Engineering

You see something you like and decide you want to make one yourself.  Such was the case with Dr. Frankenstein.  Although the earth had no shortage of humans, he decided to reverse engineer a human, making a few key errors along the way.  The result was not pretty, nor considered a complete success.  Considering the odds Dr. Frankenstein faced, he did come pretty close to achieving his goal.  Unfortunately, close wasn’t quite enough, and things didn’t exactly pan out for him.

The quest to reverse engineer a breakfast scone from a cafe in Tofino, British Columbia may seem much less ambition than the reverse engineering of a human, but the chances of unleashing a murderous monster upon an unsuspecting world seem a lot lower.  With this in mind, I forged ahead and attempted to replicate this:

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I used a basic cheddar scone recipe, then formed the dough into nests.  The trick was to cook the egg in the nest of the scone such that both egg and scone would be done at the same time.  The first and only attempt so far was with baking the scones and eggs together for the full duration of 14 minutes. 

Don’t do this.  As the scones baked, their cupped shapes slackened, and there were a couple of dam breaks, with egg running out onto the cookie sheet.  The ones that did retain their form and hold their egg resulted in an overcooked egg, of a consistency slightly less chewable than a Goodyear winter tire (studless).

So, if one was to attempt this recipe again, I think the key would be to let the scones bake for five or so minutes to let them firm up a bit, then crack the eggs into their forms and continue baking from there.

The other issue is of “egg doneness.”  Some people like eggs soft, others hard.  So, if you want to keep everyone happy, it’s like cooking steaks in reverse.  Some eggs would have to be added earlier than others to attain the right variety of solidity.

So, in terms of reverse engineering, I’d say these Breakfast Scones are pretty comparable in their stage of development to Frankenstein’s monster– almost there, but with a few critical flaws that leave one slightly less than fully satisfied. 

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Choking on Artichokes

Fictional recipe writer Antonio Esposito had this really bad habit of listing ingredients in his recipes that never appeared in his instructions.  “What are we supposed to do with the three pounds of artichokes?” was often asked when someone was trying to make a frittata recipe from page 162 of his cookbook, The Heart of the Artichoke.  In fact, if one was to methodically examine each and every recipe in this phantom cookbook, they’d find artichokes listed in vast quantities in each recipe, yet never appeared in the instructions.  Artichoke Lasagne, Artichoke Smoothies, Artichoke Risotto, and the list goes on . . . Not one of the recipes mentioned artichokes in the instructions.

If you knew Antonio Esposito, whose real name could have been Darren Schminckleberg, you’d know this was not the result of some forgetfulness or careless error.  Rather, it was a prank played by him with full intentions.

Okay, I’ll say it wasn’t exactly a prank.  Maybe a better description was that it was an underhanded conspiracy for the general public to purchase more artichokes.  For, you see, the book’s publication was secretly funded by the Artichoke Producers of America to promote the use of artichokes and, of course, increase their market sales.

And so, when you come upon a recipe in a cookbook which lists ingredients yet never mentions them in the instructions, you have to be suspicious, and are left with two options.

1.  Leave the ingredient out and hope to use it in another recipe.

2.  Improvise, and project how the author may have intended the ingredient to be used.

Such was the case when I made Yotem Ottolenghi’s recipe for Egg, Eggplant, Potato, and Tomatoes, which I decided to call, Eggplotatomato.

The recipe is quite wonderful, delicious, and very worthwhile to make.  However, after I made it, I was left to ask, “What do you do with the red onion and Sriracha?”  To answer my own question, I improvised.  The result is the rewritten instructions for this recipe which you really should try to make.  And while you make it, the ghost of Antonio Esposito may be seen drifting about your kitchen, urging you to incorporate artichokes, but not telling you how.

Eggplotatomato

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Adapted from Plenty More by Yotem Ottolenghi

4 medium tomatoes

red onion 1/4 cup diced!!!

2 tsp white wine vinegar

1/2 cup parsley

1 tbsp Sriracha sauce!!!

2 medium eggplants

Cooking oil, about 1 1/4 cups

1 1/3 lb Yukon Gold potatoes

1/2 cup tahini paste

2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 clove of garlic

6 eggs

1 tsp sumac OR lemon zest

1 tablespoon cilantro leaves

salt and pepper

The Instructions . . . Which include the onion and the Sririacha

1.  The Eggplant

Peel and slice the eggplants into 1 1/4” chunks.

Put oil in saute pan about 1/2” up the sides.

Place over high heat.

When the oil is hot, fry eggplant in batches for 3 to 4 min at a time.

Remove and place on plate or pan covered in paper towel.

2.  The Potatoes

Slice potatoes into 1/8” thick slices. (Maybe cut slices in half)

Place in boiling water for 3 min.

Use saute pan to fry potatoes in oil for 5 min.

Add salt and pepper, and flip pieces then cook another 5 min.

3.  The Sauce

In a food processor, mix;

1/2 cup tahini

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice

1 tablespoon Sriracha

clove of garlic

lemon zest

salt

4.  The Other Stuff

Cut tomatoes into 1/2” pieces

Dice red onion into small pieces 1/4 cup

Chop up cilantro and parsley

5.  Poaching the Eggs

Boil a large pan with enough water to float the eggs.

Add 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar.

One egg at a time, crack into a cup, then gently place in water.

Immediately remove the pan from the heat.

Let eggs sit for 4 minutes or so.

6.  Assembly

On large serving platter, spread the potatoes first.

Spread half of the sauce over the potatoes.

Spread the eggplant next.

Spread the rest of the sauce on the eggplant.

Cover next with the rest of the fresh veggies and herbs.

Place eggs on the top.

Devour!  And show particular enjoyment of the onions and Sriracha sauce.

Seven Nation Army on the Trumpet

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Doesn’t this look delicious?  Don’t be fooled by looks or preconceived notions in general.

Asparagus Season.  Eat it while it’s fresh.  To freeze asparagus is a sin, punishable with one hundred lashes on the left hand with– appropriately enough– a stalk of asparagus.  Believe me, after about eighty lashes, you’ll be begging to unplug your freezer.

The theoretical versatility of fresh asparagus is nothing short of staggering.  Boiled, fried, baked, pickled– the imagination reels with possibilities.  Asparagus flatbread, asparagus smoothies, shredded asparagus, asparagus fries, asparagus spring rolls, asparagus soup, asparagus lasagne, asparagus wine . . . okay, so I’ve never heard of asparagus wine, but I’m sure someone out there has given it a try.  My guess is that the results were quite underwhelming, so it hasn’t caught on in the wine world.

I say “theoretical versatility,” for if you look a little closer, in almost every case, asparagus is pretending to be something else.  Kind of like the guy with the trumpet trying to be a rock musician.  Or carob pretending to be chocolate.  It doesn’t quite fly.

But here’s an asparagus recipe that actually works.  Asparagus Pesto.  When you make this, don’t expect the pesto to taste like your old basil, etc. standby pesto.  Just open your mind to a new flavour, setting judgement aside until you’ve actually tasted it.  To forewarn you, I’ll just say it doesn’t have the bite that basil pesto has, which isn’t to say this is good or bad.  It’s just the way it is. 

So, keep an open mind.  Let the guy play his trumpet version of “Seven Nation Army.”  Try asparagus pesto.  Release those assumptions!

Asparagus Pesto

Ingredients

1 lb. asparagus

1 cup grated parmesan

2 cloves of garlic

3 handfuls of spinach

3/4 cup walnuts

1/4 cup olive oil

1/2 tsp salt

Juice of 1/2 lemon or 1 tablespoon juice

Directions

1.  Cook asparagus in salted water until soft.

2.  Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.

3.  Roast or fry the walnuts.  (I like to fry them, personally.  Don’t microwave!)

4.  Puree the asparagus, garlic, spinach and walnuts.

5.  Slowly drizzle oil into mixture.  If too thick, add water.

6.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.

Simply mixed into fresh noodles, this makes a dish worth taking up the trumpet for.

The True Tortilla

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With the completion of a circumnavigation of the rectangular Province of Saskatchewan by foot, he had reached the bottom of his Bucket of Lists and thought, Oh, my goodness.  I have no more reasons to live.  But then, he noticed a thin slip of damp paper stuck to the side about half way up.  Using the tip of a cracked fingernail, he peeled the paper off the side of the bucket and read a note he’d made so many years before– a time when his commitment to Southwestern cuisine was at the forefront of his compulsiveness.  “Make Homemade Tortillas,” read the simple ambition. 

Why this?  He figured that store bought tortillas– resembling cardboard cutout Frisbees– couldn’t really be what tortillas were all about.  No.  There had to be more to them than serving the role as a neutral non-entity platform for fillings. 

Now with a reason to live, he forged ahead to perform a task which gave a whole new complex level of meaning to a life desperate for accomplishments.

Homemade Tortillas

(Adapted from allrecipes.com)

4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons lard or shortening or even margarine

1 1/2 cups water

Combine the salt and the flour with the baking powder in a bowl.  Mix the lard or shortening or even margarine into the bowl and work it with your fingers until you get an even consistency similar to cornmeal.  Combine with the water and create a dough.  Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding water if too dry or more flour if too sticky.

Under the cover of a dishcloth, let it sit for 10 minutes.  Divide into equally sized balls.  I made six with this recipe and rolled them out to be as large as possible.  You could make them half the size if that’s your preference.

Fry in a pan with oil until they bubble on the surface then flip.  Keep them warm in the oven while you cook the others.  With the amazing flavour of these tortillas, you can go fully minimalist on the fillings and still have a satisfying gastronomic experience. 

When you’re done, you can make a great big checkmark next to “Make Homemade Tortillas,” on your Bucket List and be assured that your life has a much greater depth of meaning.

Backhanded Complementary Cake

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Chocolate’s last relationship with an alcoholic beverage had been a disaster.  An unlikely combination upon first blush– hot chocolate and red wine– seemed like it may have been a good idea.  Why not?  Together, they would be a bold, adventurous pairing their friends on both sides felt would work perfectly together.

They weren’t.  The result was a swift and irreconcilable parting.  Hot chocolate and red wine were never meant to cohabit the same cup.  It brought out the worst in both of them.  Their pairing was a proverbial match made in Hell.

And so it was with understandable reluctance when chocolate was introduced to stout.  But, with the support of plenty of butter and chocolate’s wacky friend cream cheese, they gave it a try. 

Only moments into their conjugal relationship, both chocolate and stout knew, and everyone that knew them knew, they were meant for each other.  Heaven hadn’t known a happier coupling, and everyone who met the two together raved about this culinary power-couple. 

The lesson to be learned in love is that not all types of alcohol are incompatible jerks, especially if they’re Irish.

This version was adapted largely from Meghan Splawn’s recipe on thekitchn.com.

Backhanded Complementary Cake

Cake Ingredients

1 cup of butter

1 cup of Crannog Ale’s Backhand of God Stout

3/4 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder

2 eggs

1 cup of sour cream

1 tablespoon of vanilla extract

2 cups of all purpose flour

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup of brown sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda

3/4 teaspoon of salt

The Icing– (Not just The Icing on the Cake, but an essential ingredient)

1/2 cup of butter

4 ounces of cream cheese

2 cups of icing sugar

Pans and Such

1 round spring-form 9” pan or a 9” circular pan with 3” sides

Parchment paper

Electric mixer

Large bowl

Small saucepan

How to Make It

1.  Melt 1 cup butter and 1 cup of stout in a saucepan over medium heat.

2.  Take the pan off the heat and bloom the 3/4 cup cocoa by whisking in and letting stand for 10 minutes.

3.  In a separate bowl, beat the 1 cup sour cream, 2 eggs and 1 tablespoon vanilla with a mixer.

4.  Add the cocoa-stout-butter mixture to the bowl used in step 3.

5.  Add the 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda, 3/4 teaspoon salt and whisk until combined.

6.  Pour batter into circular pan with parchment paper.

7.  Bake at 350 F. for 40 to 45 minutes.

8.  Cool the cake for about an hour before icing.

9.  To make the frosting, beat 1/2 cup butter until smooth.

10.  Add the cream cheese and beat for 3 minutes or so until smooth.

11.  Add the icing sugar 1/2 cup at a time until 2 cups are added.  Beat until smooth.

12.  This doesn’t make a ton of frosting.  Just ice the top of the cake, and it’s plenty.

13.  After a slice of this cake, have another, then refrain from driving for at least 12 hours.

The Discobolus Dispatch

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Write the novel, paint the picture, compose the song . . . So, then what are you going to call it?  How about a novel titled,  “39,000 Words Divided into Twelve Chapters.”  Or maybe, “A Main Character Named Edward Who Falls Madly in Love with Another Character Named Doris.” 

Sorry.  It just doesn’t work.

So, why, when a recipe is created, is it called something like, “Avocado With Greek Yogurt and Horseradish Pizza,” or “Broiled Double-Thick Lamb Rib Chops With Store-Bought Mint Jelly Sauce?” Such names are completely lacking in flair.  No imagination.  The ultimate sin of being dull!  dull!  dull!

What an original recipe needs is a name that holistically captures the qualities of the creation without being too explicit about the ingredients.  For example, there’s “Buddha Jumps Over the Wall,” and “Bubble and Squeak.”  You have to know the recipe intimately to get the significance of the name.  But when you do, it makes so much sense and gives the recipe a splash of panache. 

With this in mind, I’d like to present a semi-original recipe I call, “The Discobolus Dispatch.”

This recipe is essentially made up of rounds of focaccia bread covered in a variety of cheeses, pesto, and roasted vegetables warmed up in the oven.  Call it a take on the pizza  Here’s how it goes:

Part 1:  Focaccia Bread

First you make the Focaccia Olive Oil Bread with Sage recipe from The Tassajara Break Book by Edward Espe Brown. The only change I made to this was, instead of dividing the dough into 8 pieces, I divided them into 4 simply because I wanted larger platforms.

Part 2:  Pesto

2 cups fresh basil

Pinch of salt

3 cloves of garlic

1/4 cup olive oil

Mix in food processor.

Add another 1/4 cup olive oil

Add 1/4 cup walnuts

1/2 Parmesan cheese

1 Tablespoon lemon juice (or to taste)

This pesto is so good, you’ll want to eat it on its own.  But don’t. 

Part 3:  Roasted Stuff

It’s pretty wide open what you can use, but here are some specific ideas:

red peppers

zucchini slices

mushrooms

onions

Roast in a 400 F oven until done.

Part 4:  The Assembly

I sliced the focaccia bread horizontally to create a flat surface.

Spread the pesto, then pile on the roasted veggies. 

Also, add black olives to give this a bit of a kick.  Also, grate cheese over the top if you like.  I’m thinking some goat cheese could be spectacular.

Heat up in a 350 F oven until the bread’s nicely warm and the cheese melts.

Devour.

Master Supply List

If you’re like me, you need a master list of ingredients for this pretty involved recipe for planning purposes, so here it goes:

Whole wheat flour

White flour

Yeast

Olive oil

salt

dried sage

basil (or supplement with spinach)

garlic

Parmesan cheese

lemon juice

walnuts

zucchini

red peppers

cheese of some sort

mushrooms

black olives

The No-Choice Choice

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So, you’re forced to make a horrible choice.  Don’t ask me to explain the circumstances that put you in this position.  Assume it involves some sort of diabolical blackmail or a mad scientist with a nuclear bomb hidden somewhere.  It doesn’t really matter.  What does matter is that you have to choose between two alternatives.

Choice #1:  Host a nightly jam session for members of the Society for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Ancient Battlefield Musical Instruments.  This means bagpipes, bugles, shawms, and nakers, and it also means enough noise to loosen dental fillings, shake pictures off walls, and make the place pretty much uninhabitable for the duration of each session.

Choice #2:  Using an air popcorn popper to roast coffee beans in the basement.

Given the choice, I would take #1.  Not that I’ve hosted an Ancient Battlefield jam session, but I have roasted coffee beans in the basement. Believe me.  It’s #1 you want. 

If you’re unfamiliar with home roasting coffee beans using a popcorn popper, look here.  Normally, I roast outside, but a -20 celsius morning (in Fahrenheit that’s Freezes Nosehairs Instantly) forced me to look at alternatives.  That alternative was the confines of the basement.

The first batch of beans, roasted to a Full City Dark, went swimmingly well.  The second batch was intended to be roasted to the same degree.  Unfortunately, with the popcorn popper already warmed up, my highly scientific approach (roasting the second batch the same length of time as the first) resulted in a dark roast so dark, I would place it in a newly named coffee roasting category:  Full City Charcoal.  

I will drink the coffee from these beans, just as I’ll drink a bad batch of home-brew because it just doesn’t seem right to throw anything out I’ve made no matter how badly it tastes.  But the reminder of that coffee roasting session stayed with me and anyone else  in the house for the next number of days– kind of like living in a giant barbecue where the smell of burnt coffee beans is inescapable, and intensified every time the forced air furnace kicked into action.  It was the olfactory version of an ear-worm.  Think of Abba for the nose.

So, in short, if you find yourself hung from a rope above a pool of underfed sharks and forced to choose between #1 and #2, go with #1.  Earplugs are preferable to nose-plugs.

Bah! Yumbug!

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Although mostly lacking in any excessive indulgence in Christmas traditions, there is one I adhere to with enthusiasm.  Ginger cake. 

Christmas without ginger cake would be like a Chinese Buffet without the lime jello, or a parade without the clowns that shovel horse manure, or a junior high band concert without the headache, or the history of cars without the American Motors Gremlin, or a visit to a fortune-teller without hearing about a tall, dark stranger, or a visit to Cache Creek without stopping at Hungry Herbie’s, or a “Top 100 Hits of All Time,” without something by Bobby Curtola.

You can only make it at Christmas.  There are eleven months in which ginger cake is just wrong.  Equally wrong is a stretch of December in which tea or coffee is not accompanied with a generous wedge of ginger cake.

I realize that ginger cake may strike many as an idiosyncratic Christmas tradition.  But give it a try, and there’s a chance you’ll be hooked.  Your Christmas tree will be relegated to a position of secondary importance during seasonal preparations while you follow this recipe:

Christmas Ginger Cake

4 cups of all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1 Tablespoon of ginger powder

2 cups of Thompson Seedless raisins

3 Tablespoons of finely chopped preserved ginger (Dalton’s brand is good)

1 1/2 cups of butter

1 cup molasses

1 1/2 cups white sugar

3 eggs

11” circular coffee cake pan

What to do:

1.  Heat in a saucepan to a boil the butter, molasses and sugar.

2.  Combine dry ingredients in separate bowl.

3.  Add heated stuff to the dry ingredients, then stir in the eggs one at a time, stirring rapidly and making sure each egg is fully mixed in before adding the next one.

4.  Pour into a greased, floured coffee cake pan.  (You may also want to cut out a piece of parchment paper to line the bottom.)

5.  Bake for approximately 1 hour at 325 F.  It’s done when a chopstick comes out clean. 

6.  Let it cool for about half an hour.  Then, run a knife around the edge of the pan to make sure it’s not sticking.  Invert onto a cooling rack.

7.  Indulge.  Feel Christmasy.  Know that you have created the ultimate in Christmas traditions.  Had he ever tasted this ginger cake, even Scrooge would be Unscrooged.

A Recipe that Knows No Failure

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In some recipes, failure doesn’t stand a chance.  It’s not even within the realm of consideration.  Failure doesn’t even have your house address let alone a key to the front door.

Such is the case with rum balls.  All you have to do is to take chocolate– lots of it– chips and Oreo cookie crumbs.  Mix in some whipping cream and melted butter.  Why not throw in some booze and even some salt? 

The proportions don’t really matter.  All the elements inherently work because each could potentially stand on its own.  It’s the Travelling Wilburys of recipes– you could have each ingredient as a soloist, but throw them together and you have a supergroup that can do no wrong– never hit a sour note.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that the spherical aspect of the rum ball is really all that important.  They could be rum pancakes or rum smoothies and those consuming them could care less.

Some might argue that superior and inferior rum ball recipes exist, but this is not the case.  The only bad thing about a rum ball recipe is that it doesn’t make enough.

But for those who just can’t let go of needing a recipe, for those who still need a compass when they’re standing on Mount Everest, here’s a recipe.  But feel free to change it.  And if you can’t find your measuring spoons or your measuring cups were chewed up by the dog, don’t worry.  Just wing it.  Failure will remain blissfully ignorant of your venture.

Catastrophically Good Rum Balls

(A redundant name if there ever was one.)

Adapted from Rea’s Top Secret Recipe

3/4 cup whipping cream

1/4 cup butter

3 tbsp sugar (if you want, but I skip this)

3 tbsp rum  (make it 4)

1 cup chocolate chips

4 cups chocolate cookie crumbs

Think about adding some salt.

Paper candy cups

Old yogurt containers for storage

Wax paper (for between the layers when placed in yogurt container to store)

1.  Put cream, butter and sugar into a double boiler over medium heat and bring to a boil, stirring often.

2.  Remove from heat and stir in chocolate chips.  Keep stirring until they are melted. 

3.  Add rum and crumbs (and maybe salt).  Mix well.

4.  Set in the fridge until firm enough to roll into balls.

5.  Roll into balls whatever size suits you or your glutinous friends.  I wouldn’t recommend anything larger than a cricket ball.  I did tablespoon sized (I finally found my measuring spoons– under the fridge.) 

6.  Place into paper candy cups and put into an empty yogurt container.

7.  The only hard part about the recipe is this:  Put the container in the fridge and let them age for a week to ten days for the rum balls to mature and for the rum flavour to really permeate the whole mix. 

However, if you want to be really scientific, eat one rum ball each day to taste their  progress through step #7.  “A rum ball a day keeps failure away.”