Thoughts Akimbo

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Creative cookery best left to the pros

I had to interview chefs once about their worst cooking disasters. Surprisingly, or maybe not so surprisingly, they were loathe to admit having made any big blunders. Not even in cooking school, I’d ask? Nope, these chefs all started out pretty much at the top of their games. Sigh. At a convention of chefs, they might have to rent an extra banquet hall just to hold all the egos.

I did get one guy to tell me this long, strange story about how he tried smoking fish on the beach and ended up burning down his makeshift smokehouse. This was in Jamaica. I’m pretty sure he was smoking something besides fish that night, too.

My own cooking disasters have resulted from making what I call “quantum reasoning leaps” about food. For example, I like peppermint. And I like spaghetti. So I’d probably like peppermint spaghetti! Noooo. The only sweet pasta dish I’ve ever tried that really worked was some kind of Swedish dish with egg noodles and raisins. I’ll have to hunt down that recipe next time I feel like I’m just not fat enough.

Here’s another example of bad food combinations, drawn from my real life: I had enjoyed an eggplant frittata once that included breaded, fried planks of eggplant layered with vegetables and beaten eggs, baked, topped with cheese. Mmmm. But I have grown past the breaded-fried stage of life. So I decided to saut√© up some eggplant cubes with mixed veggies, then scramble some eggs into it. Good ingredients, good scrambled eggs, right? Nooo. GRAY scrambled eggs.

Even knowing they contained only wholesome delicious ingredients, the color made it impossible for me, or anyone else in the household, to take more than a few bites of that lumpy, gray stuff. It sort of looked like a cartoon brain–a cartoon brain that was thinking about leftover vegetables.

It’s best to go with guidance if you’re going to combine things. I love recipes that brag of having only five ingredients. Because, heck, I can afford five ingredients. Probably. Unless one of them is Gruyere cheese. In fact, I might even HAVE all five ingredients in my pantry. What a glorious discovery that is.

Here’s something healthy and fast and five-ingredient. Loved by children and adults alike, for the most part, unless one of them is strictly anti-bean.

1 small can black beans

1 small can other beans (kidney, pink, garbanzo, Navy, anything)

1 small can diced tomatoes (with jalapenos, if you dare)

Other cooked veggies or noodles that are lying around the fridge.

2 cups tomato juice

Drain and rinse the beans well, or you’ll regret it later. Put them in a pot with the canned tomatoes, including the juice from the can. Stir in whatever else. Add enough tomato juice (or low-sodium V8, if you have it) to cover everything with about an extra inch of liquid. Simmer.

If you’ve used only black beans, you can call this Black Bean Soup. If you’ve used any kind of leftover pasta, you can call is Pasta Fagioli (fa-ZOOL), and add Italian seasonings like oregano and maybe basil. And here’s a neat trick: The next day, when the bean soup has thickened¬† into a solid mass, you can add browned ground beef and call it CHILI. Or even Chili Mac, using macaroni, if you see where I’m going here.

Always keep canned beans in your pantry, and diced canned tomatoes, and you’ll never have to go out on a limb by serving gray scrambled eggs.

It’s not as much fun as dining at a fancy restaurant, but it’s safer than smoking dinner on the beach.

Can’t get enough of this food talk? Check out my page on examiner.com

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