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Posts Tagged ‘failure’

I Pinch

May 18th, 2009

I’m hanging out in the kitchen at work talking about upcoming weekend plans when someone mentions that we have Friday off for the holiday. After a little bit of confusion we determine that the holiday in question is Good Friday. Needless to say, this was a few weeks ago. What was I to do for my day off? Crab cakes and mussels.

I decide that crab cakes can’t be that hard. Toss some breadcrumbs and crabs together, add some butter to make it stick and some veggies for taste. Voilà! Here’s a little foreshadowing for you: I never quite made it to voilà.

This is how it played out. I get home with half a dozen blue shell crabs and toss them in boiling water. While that’s going I start slicing my carrots, celery, and onion and slowly sauté them in butter. I figure I’ll make stuffing (a favorite with the wife) on Saturday, so I make more than I need. I grab bread, a nice crusty loaf, and toss it into my food processor to make crumbs. These are then laid out on a cookie sheet and put into the oven to dry out. I was going to add some frozen chives from my freezer. Prep accomplished.

Now for the instant replay with commentary. First off, my plan of making stuffing the next day backfired a little bit. I cut my veggies to an appropriate size for stuffing, which turns out to be too big for crab cakes. Then there were the breadcrumbs. Because the bread was so crusty and moist, the food processor had a hard time turning it into crumbs. Maybe I should have toasted them a bit first to dry them out? Plain old American white bread would have probably served me better in this instance. Those two mistakes were not terribly damaging, jus things to keep in mind for the next time.

The really damaging mistake was the crabs themselves. I had never bought or cooked crabs before, so I was sort of winging it. I took them out of the pot and poured ice-cold water on them to cool them so I could start getting the meat out. But how? I had only eaten crabs once before, and my order came with a mallet. Not similarly armed, I picked up my first victim, looking for joints and other weaknesses in the armor. The first things to go were the legs, then the claws. Flipping the crab over, I could see the joint in the shell. Maybe I can pry this off? Success. Five minutes later, the rest of the crabs were similarly disassembled. But I still didn’t get any of the meat out.

Picking over a crab body, I started to see some things that could be crabmeat. Only one way to find out. After trying to eat several edible and inedible crab parts, I found the meat. I continued picking through the cartilage prying out small pockets of meat. After twenty minutes, I was left with a modest pile of crabmeat. One down, five to go.

You would think that after six attempts at this I would have it down to a systematic approach that could be accomplished faster and faster each time. Sadly, that was not the case. With only two crabs left to go, The Girl comes home from a long day at work looking forward to her seafood feast. I hadn’t even started on the mussels yet.

Once I am finally through with the crabs, I have a good-sized pile of sweet crabmeat in front of me. At this point I should have tossed in some mayo and the veggies from earlier and turned my failing crab cakes into crab salad. Dinner would be on the table in moments. But I felt as if I was almost there, so I persevered.

Next, I switched my concentration to the mussels. I put some of the mirepoix from earlier into a pot with some diced pancetta I had in my freezer. Once the fat started to render I poured in half a bottle of white wine and my cleaned mussels. Turns out that half a bottle wasn’t enough to cover the mussels, so I now added some more wine and some of the crab water to top it off. The mussels cooked quickly and I added a splash of cream at the end to finish it off. This all happened in the background while I formed my crab cakes.

I mixed my breadcrumbs, veggies and crabs into a bowl. Immediately, I noticed two problems: I didn’t have enough breadcrumbs and the mixture was not sticky enough. Easy enough to fix right? Throwing in some store-bought breadcrumbs shouldn’t hurt the consistency and a little olive oil should be enough to bind the mixture together. These two additions wound up making the crab cakes dense and thick. And they were still falling apart. I had added too much dry bread crumbs which just soaked up all the moisture from the mixture. Perhaps mayonnaise or mustard would have been a better addition than the oil. Once I fried them up, I had crumbly crab bricks on my hands, not tender crab cakes.

Now for the moment of truth. What does a hungry wife think about the dishes? Surprisingly she thought the crab cakes were ok – not great, but edible – while the mussels served in their broth were a bit bland. Obviously, I think the crab cakes were a complete waste, barely getting through half of mine. I thoroughly enjoyed the mussels. With all that wine, bacon, and cream, I didn’t agree that they were bland at all. She prefers mussels served in a tomato based sauce.

Overall, I’d say that the crab cakes were a failure. All the work that went into them and only about two and a half were eaten. Next time I will make sure to have more fresh breadcrumbs on hand. I will also experiment in smaller batches so if I ruin one batch, I can still eat something. And, oh yeah, I’ll just use canned crabmeat instead. I’m fairly certain I’ll be able t get the meat out of the can in less than two hours.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: ,

Bangers and Mash?

April 7th, 2009

I figured my first post should be about a complete and utter failed experiment from last week. There are several reason why I think my mistake is a good jumping off point, most prominent is that I want to make it clear from day one that I don’t really know what I’m doing and that I don’t claim to. Also, people enjoy hearing about other’s misfortunes and – as I have found – mine in particular.

Last Christmas my sister bought me the meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer along with Home Sausage Making by Peery and Reavis (she knows what her brother likes).  After a successful first experiment with making venison sausage (more about this later), I was eager to stuff anything I could find into some casings. While talking about this on Thursday with a friend, we started joking about making a non-meat sausage entirely out of potatoes. The general ideas was to make mashed potatoes, throw in the traditional baked potato toppings – chives, sour cream, cheddar – and stuff it into 12 feet of hog intestine. The more I thought about this, the better it sounded. I mean, it’s basically a baked potato with all the fixings that I could keep in the freezer and heat at a moment’s notice. A perfect mid-week snack! Not to mention the fact that it would look great on a platter next to a traditional sausage. My own form of bangers and mash.

When the weekend rolled around I was prepped mentally, but my kitchen was not. First I had to go to the market. I picked up a 10lbs bag of Idaho potatoes, a bunch of chives, two large containers of sour cream, and two blocks of cheddar cheese. Upon getting home, I washed the spuds and threw about five pounds into the oven (at 350o). I feel the baking gives them a pleasant earthy taste you don’t get with boiling. While they were going (about an hour), I started prep on the casings. I took 3 six foot long segments out of my freezer and dropped them into a bowl of water to start cleaning off the salt. Then I went to work shredding the cheese and chopping the chives. I had wanted to add egg yolks to the mix to help bind it together, so I separated 4 eggs. The whites would later be turned into meringue cookies.With everything prepped and my kitchen cleaned, it was time to take the potatoes out of the oven. So far so good.

This is when things start going bad for me, although slowly at first. The baked Idahos turned out to be more difficult to peal than I had anticipated. I had made Yukon Golds recently and the skins would just about fall right off. Meanwhile the Idahos clung tenaciously to their skins. This trivial five minute task wound up taking 30 – 45 minutes instead. Now that I finally had all the basic ingredients, I mixed them all together, adding my seasonings. I was behind schedule, but things were coming together. A quick trip to the freezer for my mashed potatoes to firm them up before being stuffed allowed me some time to do another quick clean-up of the kitchen and give the casings another thorough rinsing.

My Kitchen Aid was all prepped and ready to go for the first batch of sausage so I took the potatoes out of the freezer and started feeding them through. In mere moments, I would see my first potato sausage. Oh the excitement. Then the harsh sting of reality started to set in. After stuffing about three feet of casings I began to realize that this wasn’t going as smoothly as the meat sausage. Because the potatoes were so dense, air pockets were constantly being introduced into the sausage. In general the density was making it hard to force the mixture through the narrow tube of the sausage stuffer, slowing down the progress and making a mess of my kitchen. But at this point I was still very hopeful for the end product. It was beginning to actually look like sausage.

Working the potato through the narrow tube proved more difficult than anticipated

But I was able to get some sausages out of it

I wound up with about 10 – 20 feet of sausage in three separate casings. Now it was time to start twisting off actual links. The density came back to haunt me. I had over packed the sausages and the casings started to tear and in most cases explode while twisting the sausages. I was forced to cut holes and let out some of the extra potato. By now I was getting pretty frustrated with my endeavor. It had already taken about five hours in contrast with the two I had expected. Now this was slowing me down even further. But after all of that work, I had honest to goodness potato sausage. As much work as it took, it could be worth it when dinner time rolled around.

About two dozen completed sausages

Speaking of which, after all of that work I was starting to get pretty hungry, so I heated up a pan and dropped in some venison sausages next to a few links of my recent creation and let them cook for a bit with the lid on. After a few minutes of cooking, I noticed another problem. Despite the problematic density of the potatoes, they were not firm enough to keep the casings from shriveling up around them. By the time they were cooked throughout, a good deal of the potato had leaked out the side, leaving a shriveled casing around the middle of the “sausage”.

How will it taste?

Ok, so it didn’t look very good. Nothing like I had envisioned actually. But that wasn’t going to stop my ever present optimism from trying them. I took my first bite; my heart sank. They tasted like dense mashed potatoes wrapped in pig’s intestine. I had failed to take into account the fact that the casings had a distinct taste. You never really notice it when eating regular sausage because it blends in with and is overpowered by the taste of the meat. With potatoes on the other hand it just tastes very off. Hopefully all is not lost. I still froze the remaining sausages with the intention of using them as individually portioned frozen mashed potatoes. Hopefully they’ll taste ok thawed and pealed.

Author: Josh Categories: Story Tags: ,