Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Fakin' It

I think I'm pretty good at tasting a dish and parsing the individual ingredients therein.
I'll get fooled sometimes. Or I'll taste something I've never had before, so there's no way I can guess what that ingredient was. Sometimes it takes me a while; "It's like... it's like... oh, come ON, I know what this is..."
This modest talent is what makes me want to re-create dishes I've had in restaurants.
Only it turns out you have to have a good memory of what was on your plate.
Last November, Cranky and I joined Sam and her mum for a meal at Ubuntu in Napa. The four of us had a grand time exploring our vegetarian dishes. Some were good, some were better. I adored the cauliflower in an iron pot, and Sam wondered whether I would try to cobble together a version at home. (I might; but I haven't yet. Still shopping for the adorable iron pots.)
Easier for me was to take a stab at a lovely salad of fingerling potatoes with greens and a thrilling mustardy dressing.
See, now that's all I remembered about the dish. Oh, I remembered that the potatoes come from Little Organic Farm. And I remembered the gorgeous layout on the plate.
So I put together a mock-up at home, using genuine Little potatoes, and ancho cress as my greens. Yummy!
Then I took a look at Ubuntu's web site, and discovered that the menu lists fennel as a green ingredient with the potatoes. Wow, that sounds nice; a little sweet, a little mysterious. I would like that. And reading Sam's post about the salad, I realize it also included torpedo onions. I would like that, too. Oh! And looking at Sam's mum's post, it looks like there might have been minced chives. I would like that, too.
Wait. I did like that. I just forgot.
Oh well. Simplicity in cooking is a nice excuse for a bad memory.
Say I.


ChrisB said...

Oh I'm the first to comment! I'm reliving the experience- those potatoes were very yummy and I'm sure the dish you re-created was equally tasty!

cookiecrumb said...

Chris: It was nice, but thanks to your (enlargeable) photo, I can get a little closer to the original thing next time.
(Boy, restaurants can be fussy with their food, eh? Heh. That's why we patronize them.)

Beccy said...

I just wish I'd been there as well!

peter said...

That's how you make it your own. Honestly, I learned to cook by imitating things from memory (I even got paid to do it for a while) and there's no better way to internalize the discoveries and talents of others.

kudzu said...

Peter is so right. I was about to say, "You're not faking it, you're making it!"

Great to have the feedback (no pun intended) from fellow diners, though. I find when I eat with my son -- he of the incredible palate -- he will remember forever the nuances and ingredients that I may not. But that doesn't keep me from wanting to come as close as I can to the f-e-e-l-i-m-g of a dish I've loved.

Sam said...

we had david little's larger potatoes for dinner, odd ones, shared half-n-half, been in the fridge since last year, one rounder yellowsih, one longer. thinner, whitish. Both really way too sweet for our tastes. Oh for a King Edward, a Maris Piper or a Jersey royal...

Anna Haight said...

I went down memory lane with a recipe for Wed. as well... it's amazing how details fuzz out... this looks and sounds good whatever the inspiration. I'll have to try Unbutu.

tammy said...

Simplify. Nothing wrong with that.

cookiecrumb said...

Beccy: It would have been great to have you -- and the extra dishes to sample!

Peter: I know. Baby steps. Fortunately I have the techniques. Now it's about embellishment -- if I should choose to go there. (I mean embellishment as "extra flavors.") Cranky says I got the piano part down, but no violins.

Kudzu: I got the structure (and it was quite pretty), cooked correctly and assembled well. Now I'm "empowered" to tweak the tastes and twinkles. I envy your son's memory!

Sam: We've got tons of David Little taters in the house. I hadn't thought of them as sweet (but Cranky does all the buying so I don't know what varieties we have). We don't like his yellers.

Anna: "Details fuzz out" sigh... Yes. You'd like Ubuntu.

Tammy: Simplify, getting it right. Then pile on! Fun.