Turning Lead Into Dinner

Cooking, like stand-up, can be an incredibly humbling experience. You can do all the preparation in the world, follow the instructions to the letter, pay close attention to the process and still be left with a shit-sandwich.
But we keep coming back to the stove/microphone even after we’ve crashed and burned so the rewards must be pretty awesome if we’re happy to risk such dismal, and often public, failure.

I only came to cooking late, partly because I didn’t know how great it could be, but mostly because I was a firm believer that the toasted sandwich was the pinnacle of human culinary achievement. In hindsight, there is still something great about the toastie, but it’s very much the LEGO of food – just assemble the pieces correctly and it will be roughly what it’s meant to.
Proper cooking though, is like alchemy. You have your base ingredients and hopefully, through a series of arcane rituals and the proper application of fire, you can transmute your articles into something greater than the sum of its parts.

I’ve never really achieved this, but I’ve come close enough to believe that I should keep trying, despite the embarrassing failures.
Last night I made risotto for the first time, and I knew that it was going to be a little tricky. In the past, I’ve cleaned up after other people have made risotto, so I know that there’s nothing fun about trying to remove two inches of burnt rice off the bottom of a saucepan with a chisel.

I love “fire and forget” cooking, like roasts and casseroles – anything that you’re allowed to walk away from for a while with a glass full of wine and a head full of dreams about how good the finished product will be. Risotto, unfortunately, is like a child with ADHD wearing a suit made of dynamite. It requires constant care and attention to make sure that it doesn’t go crazy and ruin your kitchen.
I thought that I had it all under control, but as soon as I started adding the wine to the risotto in a manner known as “one for Kent, one for the risotto”, it was all over.

I write this to you from one day after the disaster, sitting at my kitchen table ,typing on my laptop while forking re-heated risotto from last night into my cake-hole. It’s not a wholly unpleasant experience, the asparagus and the spring onions have come through nicely but consistency really ruins the experience.

Upon tasting the risotto fresh out of the pan last night, my fiancee summed it up best when she remarked, “this is like eating semi-tasty, rice-based cement”. And she was right.

Ramen-lama-ding-dong

I’m mad for Ramen at the moment. In fact, any noodle soup that doesn’t obviously contain testicles, hearts or boiled egg (covert balls are ok) is floating my boat, but Ramen is the current soup de jour.

I love its simplicity: water, noodles and various, tiny pieces of unidentifiable, tasty shit; like someone has crushed a circuit board over a bowl of steaming beige wires. Yummy-tronic.

So with this simplicity in mind, I thought that it would be a cinch to make some ramen at home, in the few minutes I have at lunchtime between writing jokes and trying to keep my daughter Florence from swallowing her own fist.

ingredients of ramen
The Ingredients of Ramen (by weight)

Of course, as five minutes on the inter-tubes would reveal, there’s nothing simple about ramen at all. True to form, the Japanese have taken something which has more parts that a full-size death star built entirely out of lego and just made it look like a bowl of soup.

In hindsight, I was an idiot to think that it would be easy. The Japanese don’t believe in easy; they just believe in making things that look easy. Things that lure in arrogant interlopers with the promise of simplicity, but then reveal themselves to be as unfathomable as the bastard child of UK tax law and the off-side rule.

Unfortunately, the “She’ll be right” attitude hard-coded into my Australia genes told me to make the ramen anyway, and so with ingredients blindly purchased from a Japanese supermarket where I was too embarrassed to talk to the staff, I made what I thought was, but turned out not to be, ramen. It’s hard to describe what I actually produced, but let’s just say that “she wasn’t right”. She, was pretty far from alright. I might have gone in with the best of intentions, but I came out with something that looked cholera-infested, sump water and tasted like old socks and wet cardboard.

You know that you’ve really buggered up in the kitchen when someone who doesn’t even understand the concept of sensory perception, screws their nose up at the smell of what you’ve just created. So when Florence vomited in response to smelling my pseudo-ramen, I stopped trying to convince myself that it tasted of anything other than balls and tipped it down the sink.

So as of 4pm this afternoon the scoreline stands: JAPAN 1 – KENT 0 and I’ve learned yet another lesson about the hidden intricacies of something that looks like a piece of piss, but invariably tastes better when made by someone who knows what they’re doing.

– Kent