Rob Abrazado (flatvurm) wrote,
Rob Abrazado
flatvurm

Cheese sauce

I couple days ago I managed some kind of scalloped potatoes dish. Au gratin, as they say. This is something that up until then I had only experienced as something dehydrated that I would reconstitute out of a box. Some days earlier, I had managed a rudimentary cheese sauce, for reasons which now escape me. (Though I have a funny feeling that I didn't really have a good reason for it at the time, either. It was probably meant for potatoes. Most of what I do now involves finding interesting ways to eat potatoes.) This was a fascinating concept for me -- a cheese sauce that wasn't born from a powdered mix. Quite possibly my first ever use of roux.

Anyway. The first experience was quite disheartening. I ended up with something much more like a soup than a sauce. It was quite watery and, unaccountably, terribly salty. I find this extra strange because, well, I didn't put any salt in it. :/ I blame the cheese, frankly, which was certainly no gourmet affair, but still...I don't feel I've had any saltiness problems with it in the past. No matter. The main point is that I somehow botched the initial phases of the sauce, prior to the cheese even becoming a factor. I didn't understand it at the time, but I did.

My second attempt at a cheese sauce kind of thing, for the potato dish, went much better. I arrived at a consistency I felt much more...uh, consistent...with what a cheese sauce should be. Possibly there was extra flour in this formula. But I think what's more important is that the roux-plus-milk phase went off much better this time, cooking into a much thicker substance than the first attempt I made. I used more heat...something not mentioned in my first attempt's recipe. When I tried this the first time, my pre-cheese roux-and-milk affair was still quite watery. Also different in the second attempt: I used a whisk. I'm somehow feeling this didn't tip the balance.

The point of all this is that one thing that's always scared me about cooking is my inexperience with the processes. Following a recipe is one thing, but if something, somehow, goes wrong, I really have no way to diagnose it, simply from not knowing what's supposed to happen. I was thinking about this a little, and I realized that I'm sort of trying to teach myself, here. I imagine many people start cooking under the guidance of an already-experienced cook. Like, you become an apprentice. In doing so, you get exposed to process...you see how things are supposed to go. This not only prepares you for what your recipes are expected to produce, but additionally you probably inherit recipes that you know already work. Contrast to what I'm doing, which is picking random recipes off the Internet and trying to implement them.

I've got two blind spots working against me. Already mentioned is that fact that I don't actually know what's supposed to happen when I use these recipes. That is, every recipe I try, I'm trying for the first time. Secondly, though, I don't know if the recipes are even correct! Like it's such a small typo to go from 2 cups to 3 cups, or to mistake tablespoons for teaspoons, or to transcribe an incorrect temperature or time. And sadly I lack the experience to be able to say, "Hmm...that doesn't sound right." (See also my recent "this isn't cornbread, it's a cake" fiasco.) Partially I've been trying to combat this ignorance by looking up many different recipes for the same dish and comparing them to each other. For example, I tried this with the potato dish. Often, though, I get more confused that way, as recipes seldom seem to agree with each other, anyway, and then I don't know who is "right." Nutmeg? No nutmeg? Who can say?

Anyway, the point of all this is that I'm groping my way through a dark room here trying to (eventually) become the kind of person that can just say "Let's see, I've got X, Y, and Z...hey, I can make Mordenkainen's Casserole!" or whatever. Maybe that's not really how it goes, though. Maybe that's just some crazy fantasy cooking style I've invented through my perception of my mom. Long-ish ago, I got this idea that I wanted to just learn some basics. I even picked up a book to do so. I found it...unhelpful. It was more like...I don't know, pantry maintenance. What I'm feeling now is that, as I'm stumbling around picking recipes at random, that maybe there aren't any basics. Or maybe...I'm just not focused enough. Maybe I'm doing myself a disservice by randomly trying things out without any real appreciation of how simple or complex a thing is that I'm trying to tackle.

Take the cheese sauce, for example. I kind of figured it was a simple thing. Truth be told, it probably is a simple thing. But my two completely different results from very similar recipes speak to me that there is some kind of process at work, here...some kind of technique. Had I but known, I may not have attempted such madness. But, whatever...what's done is done, and now I feel a bit more comfortable trying to explore the realm of cheese sauce. And I guess that's the kind of thing I get from random recipes. A bit more comfortable here, a bit more comfortable there, and eventually...Mordenkainen's Casserole!

P.S. I really, really want to do nothing today but order a pizza. Cooking fail!
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