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Monthly Cookbook Excursion (Jan. 2010): The Smell of Failure

January 2010 marked the beginning of my idea to borrow a cookbook from the library every month and try at least one recipe from it.  Well, folks, let me tell you that this was not the joyous culinary experience I envisioned while starry-eyed in the cookbook section of the public library.  However it was very educational.  I was always under the impression that cookbook recipes were tried and true instructions for any would-be kitchen adventurer.  However, I have learned that this is not always the case.

I had noticed, while looking through a few food blogs, that posting failed attempts seemed to be almost non-existent.  While I can understand putting your best foot forward and showing off the best of one’s talent, I am certainly not above learning from the mistakes of others so that I can become as experienced as they. As a result, and for your reading and learning  pleasure, I have decided to regale you with the tale of my cooking calamity.

As I mentioned in my New Year post, I had borrowed the book The Filipino-American Kitchen from the local library.  After spending a couple weeks perusing each recipe, I had settled on the one that interested me most.  I wanted to make Siopao (or steamed filled buns).  This recipe was also a way for me to create something I had once enjoyed but was never confident enough to attempt making it myself.  I felt I was finally ready to give it the old college try!

The ingredients in the recipe were ordinary enough and I already had everything I needed in my pantry.  The filling for the Siopao in the book was to be curried chicken.  However, being the ever-improvising person that I am, I decided I wanted chicken Adobo filling instead.  It sounded delicious and I had set aside my Sunday morning to work on my creation.

I carefully followed the instructions for preparing the dough and slightly warmed my oven to give it a nice, warm place to rise.  I left the dough to rise in the oven for two hours.  I started preparing the Adobo filling within the dough’s last hour of rising.  I tasted the filling after letting it simmer for 45 minutes.  It was delicious!  I couldn’t wait!

When the timer went off telling me the dough should be done, I opened the oven… and frowned. The dough had not doubled in size.  It had barely even risen at all!  It had been a rather chilly day so I thought maybe it got cold and the rising process had been halted.  I put it back in the oven to keep warm and let it try rising again for another hour.

One hour later, the dough looked no different than before.  I was distraught, but I had hoped that what little rising that had occurred would be enough to make the dough usable.  I formed the buns from the dough and put a tablespoon of filling in each.  I already had my bamboo steamer baskets poised over a pot of boiling water.  I put the buns to steam for the recommended 20 minutes.  Here is how they came out:

They were hard and chewy like soup dumplings.  The filling, although it was tasty, could do nothing to salvage the disappointment that was these failed buns.  I mournfully put the buns in a plastic container and put them in the fridge.  Several days later, I saw the container in the fridge and decided it would be best to throw the little disappointments away lest they should taunt me from the depths of the fridge.  On the other hand, I felt terrible about throwing away food, as I always tend to do.

I was not determined to be beaten, however.  I perused the Internet in search of another recipe for the dough.  I chose the one that looked the least complicated and decided to give it another go. Much to my delight, these came out way better!  I had used all of my Adobo filling, but I was unsure as to whether or not this dough recipe would be good enough to warrant making more. So I filled them with some strawberry fig jam instead.  They were quite good fresh out of the steamer, all hot and sweet, but I had made an error that cost me the visual satisfaction of this batch of buns. I lined the steamer baskets with cotton napkins since I did not have any banana or nappa leaves. The buns stuck to the napkins  when I tried to remove them from the steamer and the smooth outer layer of the buns was stripped away leaving the rough, fluffy inside.

They tasted good, but looked dilapidated.  I probably should have known that was going to happen…

All-in-all, I’d say it was definitely a learning experience.  I am glad I decided to give it a second try with a different recipe.  It definitely eased my mind (and, admittedly, my ego as well) that it was not entirely my fault that the first attempt failed.

I guess the moral of this story is that not all recipes are created equal. Nevertheless, Monthly Cookbook Excursion will continue in February. I can’t wait to go to the library and pick out another book!

See you next dish!

The Head Spoon

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