Doctoring 101

The kitchen from Saturday’s post is still a construction zone and I’ve gone into maniac-level fixation over the increasing number of spam domains from all over the world infecting my subscriber list.(A post on this is coming later in the week after I recover from a mounting depression that I may not have 1,000+ loyal followers after all.)

Taken together these factors magnify the usefulness of the subject at hand–ways to trick people into thinking you whipped up a fabulous dish from a family recipe. It’s not that I don’t want to cook for you. It’s that I fully lack the energy to bring a special plate to your table.

Don’t bother protesting about me being a fake and phony food writer, worthy of being drummed out of the wide world of culinary writers. I’ve happily confessed as much in many many previous posts. I’m merely admitting that, when time and pressure is not in the cards, we’ve all secretly turned to market prepared tubs of something. There’s nothing wrong with this. Feeding people is not about killing yourself and, no matter what it is you’ve brought home, it can magically be transformed into your own.

Mom called this doctoring, many times while opening the spice cabinet or the refrigerator in search of her main go-tos–Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, paprika, and dry mustard. If necessary, a host of fresh ingredients were brought out, as well.

The first piece of advice she would give is to know that 98% of prepared food is intentionally bland, even if you bought it in a fancy market. This is to ensure they’ll be acceptable to most people. It’s also a boon for you to get away with your deception because you’re working with a nearly clean base that will accept–actually scream for–additional flavoring.

Mom’s second piece of advice would be to taste throughout your skulduggery. Take small bites to discover what flavors are personally missing for you. This step makes the difference between successfully passing the dish off as your own or being shamed into admitting you’re a counterfeit and a liar.

I bought these salads yesterday when it became clear the kitchen wasn’t anywhere near fully operational and I was still frenziedly convinced all these subscriber spammers would contribute to election mayhem.

From left: coleslaw, macaroni salad, couscous with cranberries, orzo with spinach and feta cheese, potato salad.

This is what I did to about a half pound of each into my own. Adjust the measurements according to the amount you purchase……

Coleslaw: Drained excess dressing as much as possible. Decided it needed an extra sharpness and added two tablespoons pickle juice, 1 tablespoon caraway (or sesame) seeds, a small amount of shredded carrots and onions to freshen the crunch.

Macaroni salad: Drained excess dressing as much as possible–this wasn’t that successful because it was thicker than the coleslaw but I reasoned that some more would be absorbed by the additional ingredients. Added about 1/4 cup shredded carrots, 10 chopped kalamata olives, 2 tablespoons finely shredded dried tomatoes packed in olive oil. Sprinkled pepper (avoid salt–prepared food usually has a ton of it already), paprika and a dash of dried mustard, mixed together well and tasted. (Whenever you can, use fresh herbs.) Added a little more of everything until satisfied.

Couscous with cranberries: It wasn’t that bad but bland, although the intended audience (husband) wouldn’t know any better. It was also a little challenging because I didn’t have a couple of ingredients that I would’ve wanted to use. For instance, fresh pomegranate seeds and juice. Instead, I threw in about 1/4 cup chopped walnuts (if I had them, toasted pine nuts), a tablespoon of fresh mint and a dash of rice wine vinegar.

Orzo with spinach and feta: Dressing was fine. Spinach and feta was not. Added a handful of chopped fresh spinach and small cubes of sharp feta cheese.

Potato salad: This was perfectly acceptable straight from the container but it wasn’t something I would want to pass off as my own. I channeled Mom and went straight for her favorites: chopped hard boiled eggs, a dash of garlic powder, salt and pepper, about 1/3 cup chopped celery and onion, 1/3 teaspoon dry mustard, generous sprinkle of sweet paprika, thyme and oregano (a fancier choice: herbes de Provence) and a squeeze of lemon.

For salads like these, it’s important to let them sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour to make sure the flavors blend together. Taste again and correct the seasonings. Whenever you can, use fresh herbs.

After a full day of clearing out, wiping down, removing existing trim, installing new trim and caulking nail holes in the kitchen cabinets, in addition to several hours spent kicking spammers off my blog, I presented my audience (the husband) with a full plate.

“When did you do all this?” He asked.

“Oh,” I said, “I just whipped it up.”

He finished everything, asked for seconds, and not once called his wife a liar.