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Distracted cook makes mistakes

A couple of weeks ago, I violated a basic rule of the kitchen.

I didn’t bring my most important tool: my undivided attention.

That Thursday, I had to make several dishes in preparation for a photo shoot. I had to test a method for making hard-boiled eggs in the pressure cooker. I had to make egg salad and deviled eggs. I had to bake a chiffon cake and a double-layer chocolate cake with chocolate icing.

With each task, I stumbled because my mind was distracted.

I started out testing cookbook author Michael Ruhlman’s method for pressure-cooking eggs. The instructions called for placing the eggs in a steamer basket or on a trivet inside the pressure cooker. Having neither, I grabbed a small plate. I tested the method, cooking the eggs for 7 minutes, but ended up with undercooked eggs. I tried again at 8 minutes, and then 9 minutes, with the same results.

Then it dawned on me that the holes in the steamer basket or trivet helped to circulate the water and cook the eggs. Grabbing a small colander and trying again, I had perfectly hard-boiled eggs after another 7-minute run.

Then I attempted to make Ruhlman’s homemade curry mayonnaise. Ruhlman’s recipe calls for an immersion blender or a whisk to make the emulsion of egg yolk and oil. In a hurry to move on to the next task, I pulled out my food processor. What I produced was a liquid, soupy mess. I started over and tried again. Same result. I later did some reading and figured out that mayonnaise can be made in the food processor but it needs more egg yolks than this recipe called for to get the emulsion to work properly.

Instead of trying a third time, I reached for the jar of Duke’s mayonnaise.

Then I launched into baking the cakes. Out of the oven came the chiffon cake. The recipe instructions said, “Invert pan immediately and cool cake to room temperature.” Within 10 minutes, the cake had broken into three pieces and fallen onto the kitchen counter.

I almost cried, but I still had two chocolate cake layers sitting on the counter waiting to be frosted. I was so frustrated at this point that it didn’t cross my mind to trim those cake layers to make them even. You know where this is headed: Once stacked and frosted, that cake cracked in three places.

That brought tears to my eyes.

I’m not mad that I suffered setbacks in the kitchen. I’m mad at setting myself up for them.

If I had slowed down and paid attention, I would have asked those essential questions: Can a plate replace a trivet when pressure-cooking eggs? Will a food processor work with this mayonnaise recipe? At the very least, I should have listened to that little voice in my head saying, “Shouldn’t the cake be cool before you invert it?”

In the end, my stumbles help me and my readers. I could see where the instructions needed to say more and where more research may have been required. At the very least, you can trust that I’ve tested and tweaked based on real-life calamities.

It’s a valuable lesson: A distracted mind in the kitchen is a recipe for disaster.

Weigl: 919-829-4848 or aweigl@newsobserver.com; Twitter: @andreaweigl
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