PUBLIC DOMAIN Ma often cooks meals with her friends, though not always successfully.
Yes, struggling. We’d be in the kitchen from noon to late at night, but at these cookouts, we only get four dishes done — tops. Usually, we’d have three or even less, if you don’t count desserts or any meals with pre-made ingredients. This is all despite the fact that the recipes we used were all supposed to be simple.
For example, Buzzfeed Tasty’s social media pages like to tout the simplicity of the brand’s recipes by captioning or titling their videos with phrases like “One-Pot” or “Three-Ingredient Only.” They cater to the demographic of millennials and young adults who just want to get some delicious food in their mouths with as little mess or clean-up as possible. The people who buy Tasty’s recipe books are probably not the type to pick up a cookbook authored by any Michelin-starred restaurant chefs. In other words, my friends and I are the perfect audience for these recipes.
So it’s really a statement about our culinary skills that we can’t even get Tasty recipes to work. One failure that’s really stuck in my mind is from our very first cookout: The chosen recipe was a one-pot lemon pepper chicken with rice dish. We went through a great deal of effort just to gather all the necessary ingredients.
The recipe called for Arborio rice, and while most people probably would’ve just substituted whatever type of rice they had on hand for the recipe, we actually bounced from grocery store to grocery store to find that specific rice. We also spent extra money to buy a bottle of lemon pepper seasoning instead of just shaving some zest off of a lemon to go with normal black pepper.
But in the end, despite all the hard work that went into preparing all the ingredients, we still messed up the dish. It turns out that the chicken broth we used was too salty. We should’ve gotten low-sodium broth, but the recipe didn’t note that, so we ended up dooming ourselves by following everything to the letter. The rice ended up absorbing so much flavor that it was difficult to eat without taking a huge gulp of water after every bite.
However, the lesson we learned from this failure didn’t apply to all recipes: Often when we did go a little off-script, it would end up just as detrimental.
Most recently, for my Friendsgiving cookout last Wednesday, one of the dishes we ended up butchering was falafel. I had been craving this dish in particular, because it’s one of my favorite vegetarian foods. Falafel’s texture is similar to meatballs, which I love, and it also happens to be extremely savory.
So it was somewhat disappointing to me when we ended up screwing up the recipe by blending the chickpea mixture enough to turn it into a puree (basically hummus at that point), instead of stopping at a place where we could still see chunks. It also didn’t help that my friend’s younger sister was a bit too eager to help out and squeezed an extra lemon’s worth of juice into the blender. I’m a huge fan of hummus, so I still ate plenty of the end product, but I was looking to satisfy my particular falafel craving that day.
Looking back at all these cookouts, I now realize that we haven’t made any successful dishes completely from scratch.
Even cooking with extremely pre-made ingredients is sometimes a struggle. For example, baking with pre-made biscuit dough didn’t end up too well for us when we tried it over the summer. The center of the baking pan ended up undercooked while the edges got burnt. There were spots of edible, delicious biscuit, but a good portion of it ended up a hot mess. Freezing yogurt to create yogurt bark was also a big failure, since it ended up unevenly frozen, and the parts that did freeze felt more like biting into chunks of ice than crispy bark.
But in the end, these failures are part of what make the cookouts fun. We’re always on our toes to see if we actually do end up successful. Hopefully, none of us are ever in a position where we have to cook for others (or even ourselves) in the future. Cookout failures wouldn’t be so fun in the future if we were actually depending on these meals to save ourselves from starvation.