Friday, February 13, 2015

A Short Tale of the Cooking Fail


Today, I failed.  I've had things go wrong while cooking, but I could usually improvise and fix them as I went along.  It’s really the most shameful fail I've had.  How bad could it be, you ask? Allow me to elaborate.

Lebneh (leb-nee) is a Middle-Eastern cream cheese, only not as thick as American cream cheese.  It’s served drizzled with about a gallon of extra virgin olive oil and pita bread.  If you’re like me, you enjoy it with olives, tomatoes, and Lebanese cucumbers.  Lebanese cucumbers, also known as gherkins, are petite, slender, firm, and have a delightful crisp that most English cucumbers can’t offer. This is due to the smaller seeds. Cucumbers with larger seeds tend to be softer and not ask crisp or flavorful. 

While in beautiful South Africa, I realized how much I missed Lebanese food and lebneh was a staple I decided we couldn't live without.  So here’s the deal. I initially sprung for the easy way out.  I took the closest thing I had to a cheesecloth (the kitchen is incredibly ill-equipped), a green and sad excuse for a sieve, and purchased some low-fat yogurt to be healthier.  I scraped the last bit of yogurt out of the container and into the cheesecloth allowing it to sit at room temperature for about the same amount of time I remember my parents did.  It turned out delicious but the consistency and flavor was lacking.  I guess that’s what I get for trying to have my cake and eat it too.  Fed up, I messaged my dad asking for the recipe and vouched for the real deal—whole-fat milk my friends.

The directions were easy enough—bring the milk to a boil at medium temperature while stirring frequently.  Make sure not to allow the milk to overflow.  This will literally happen the second you look away.  I know this from experience.  Once the milk has boiled, transfer it to a container to let it sit until the milk is just cool enough to leave your finger immersed for 10 seconds. Add a cup of plain full-fat yogurt then let it sit for 10-12 hours at room temperature. Add salt, place in cheesecloth and sieve, and transport it to the fridge.  Voila!

It’s a running joke between Brian and I that the most interesting and laughable step of the recipe is to stick your finger in the lebneh for 10 seconds.  It just sounds so…silly. Ironically, that was the one step I failed to do.  Immediately after transferring the hot milk to the container, I left for yoga (yes, I still routinely attend yoga!), and added the yogurt once I returned.  Crossing my fingers that the step was as useful as a spoon-full-of sugar to help the medicine go down, I did all I could—I waited. 

Photo from Herbivoracious.com.  I would normally use my own photo,
but we all know how that ended.
It was a bust, a fail, a flop, a big nosedive.  Call it what you want, but I failed to make something I always saw as exceptionally easy.  The one step I laughed at, I failed to do and in-turn, ruined an entire bowl of what could be creamy, luscious, lebneh.  A gallon of milk literally down the drain.  All I could think about is that I’m a chef, I own a business based solely on cooking, and I ruined something so simple. Disappointed in myself and distinctively remembering my dad saying “it’s not rocket science”, I shook my head. Side note— I’m aware that what I messed up was a small feat and that I am ranting about a dairy product. It’s not about the lebneh. It’s about having pride in something I do and realizing that I won’t always succeed. I was actually embarrassed.  It’s tough to swallow no matter who you are! But then it occurred to me...

It’s okay. It’s alright to fail. It’s okay to not have everything go your way 100% of the time.  You messed up. So what? That doesn't make you any less good at what you succeed in. You learned, and now you know. Try again.  When you succeed, it will be that much more rewarding. It also taught me not to be so proud. I'm always eager to learn, but there are times I let cockiness get the best of me in the kitchen.  Shame on me. This recipe put me in my place. Honestly, I believe that was the kind and gentle voice of God speaking to me. 

It turns out the reason for the finger-dipping is incredibly scientific after all.  If your finger can withstand the heat of the milk for up to but no more than 10 seconds, it’s at the exact temperature to bind the protein solids.  Now that I know that, I will never laugh at that step again—OK maybe I will. 

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