Here’s something I may not have mentioned before: I’m a terrible cook! I grew up with a father who loved cooking, and always assumed I’d marry a man who could cook. In college, I subsisted on toast, Easy Mac and (when I was feeling fancy) rice with frozen vegetables. It wasn’t until I started dating M, a fellow non-cook, that I realized I might have to actually bite the bullet and learn how to cook something that wasn’t straight from a package!
Fast forward a few years, and I’ve now mastered a few basic meals, and, with M’s assistance and the help of a slow cooker, manage to keep myself and M fed pretty well. However, there are still… for lack of a better term… “kitchen mishaps.”
I relate the following story because I learned a very valuable lesson, and I would like to spare others from the fate I brought upon myself:
It starts on Sunday, the day M and I plan our meals for the week and do our grocery shopping. Feeling adventurous, I decided that this week we were going to make one of my favorite dishes: pad thai. We bought the ingredients listed in the recipe, and planned to make it later in the week. But then, M had plans that kept him out several nights in a row, and I decided to make it myself.
Mistake #1: Smelling the fish sauce
I’d made something using fish sauce once before, so there was a bottle of it in the pantry. I wasn’t sure whether it was still good, so I smelled it… and the smell was so vile that I assumed it had gone bad and immediately threw it away. This necessitated an emergency trip to the grocery store, so by now I was running well behind schedule. (And also, searching the aisles of the grocery store on an empty stomach. Never a good idea!)
Mistake #2: Overcooking the noodles
Here’s a fun thing about noodles: they always come with unique cooking instructions that may or may not match what’s in your recipe. Being inexperienced, and very hungry, I overlooked this fact until I was confronted with a large pot overflowing with bloated, soggy noodles. Not a great basis for any dish–but it was well past dinner time by now and I was completely unwilling to start over!
Mistake #3: Overestimating my skill with a spatula
The sensible thing to do at this point, when I was confronted with an obscene volume of rice noodles, would have been to set some of them aside before proceeding with the recipe. But no–I decided to pour all of them into the pan and just try to stir very, very carefully. And that’s how I ended up with noodles all over the stove. And the counter. And the floor. And infused the kitchen with the lovely aroma of fish sauce…
Mistake #4: Cutting corners
The saying “penny wise, pound foolish” applies here. The menu for the week had several dishes with many ingredients, and I was feeling stingy at the grocery store. “Why do we need to by fancy rice vinegar? We already have three other kinds of vinegar at home!” Even during my second trip to the grocery store, I couldn’t bring myself to spend the extra $3 to follow the recipe properly!
The extent of this last mistake wouldn’t become clear until I actually tasted the recipe. Even with approximately seven pounds of noodles and a gallon of fish sauce, all you can taste is that one teaspoon of red wine vinegar.
But hey, it’s still edible! So I shoveled it into several containers and packed it all into the fridge–because that’s what I’m going to be eating for the next two weeks: vinegar-flavored mush noodles, garnished by the occasional beansprout.