The art of bland food (aka Don’t make this at home)

My lunch today triggered many thoughts and memories that I wanted to share with you but cannot.  Last night I promised to report on what happened in the kitchen and a promise is a promise.  So here is what I cooked and the results; the salad story will have to wait.

I decided to use the shitake and crimini mushrooms, chicken stock, an entire package of dry chuka soba noodles (bad decision 1), carrots, blackened caraway seeds,  cilantro, white pepper, cayenne pepper, canola oil, limes, and dried crushed garlic (bad decision 2).  Honestly I had no choice about the mushrooms and chicken stock – they had to be put in their place after their behavior the previous night. prepped ingredients  I decided against the baby bell peppers and the rice vinegar.  They didn’t try to intimidate me the night before.  The other things I didn’t use started a string of bad decisions:  measuring tools (bad decision 3), including my scale (bad decision 4); salt (bad decision 5); I need to watch my sodium intake so I rarely cook with it); and wine (bad decision 6).    This is one of my “wing it” nights.  Ironically I ended up eating wings but that’s unimportant.  What matters is what I did and why you should avoid doing the same thing.

What I did

After heating my medium cast iron pot, I added one tablespoon of oil (the only thing did I measure), tossed in the carrots to cook a bit, stirring occasionally to make sure they browned evenly.  carrots in pot  “Occasionally” became “oops, I forgot” because the siren song of the cheese in the refrigerator trapped me.  The carrots were seasoned with the dried garlic as well as the white and cayenne peppers.  I normally use fresh garlic but was lazy, hence the dried garlic that was bad decision 2.

While the carrots cooked I decided I wanted to try to get that grilled look on the noodles, similar to the way they look when you order yakisoba.  I soaked them for a few minutes in near boiling water and transferred them to the pot (bad decision 8, a/k/a the king of bad decisions this particular night).Chicken stock, crimini mushrooms and more seasoningspices were added to the pot.  I checked this periodically and noticed I had a pot of noodles, not soup, so I added more chicken stock.  This is also when I recognized bad decision 1 – using the entire package of noodles.  It wasn’t just “too much” as in more than a portion; it was “too much” as in four times too much.  It was what-the-heck-was-I-thinking “too much”.  It’s a good thing I like leftovers.  It’s also a good thing I could afford to toss it if it was inedible.
The ridiculous volume of noodles continued simmering.  I added the shitakes when the criminis looked like they had succumbed.mushrooms in pot  The blackened caraway seeds joined the the pot shortly afterwards.  The volume of noodles required yet more broth if I wanted to have soup.  I shut off the pot as soon as it was again simmering; it was pretty much done.  Spooning some into a bowl I realized that I still didn’t have soup and the noodles were cooked too long.  I never understood this about noodles – how can they indefinitely absorb liquid and still look like noodles?  Why don’t they stop absorbing liquid?chuka soba noodles in pot  How about some sort of color agent that disappears when they’re ready, similar to wall spackle?  I squeezed the juice out of a whole lime into the bowl and added fresh chopped cilantro. Lime, chicken, and cilantro go well together so the flavor wasn’t bad at all, just a bit bland.  Truth be told, it was really bland.  Not horrible; there wasn’t enough flavor to be horrible.  It was impressively bland.  And difficult to eat.  Let me enlighten those of you who are unfamiliar with chuka soba noodles:  these are the noodles used to make ramen and they’re ridiculously long.  I’m convinced the package, which contains two blocks, really contains only two noodles each folded up and down to look like a block.  They require a deft hand to eat when cooked properly; do not attempt to eat them when they’ve been overcooked.  It’s not pretty.

What I would do differently

Add a few drops of sesame oil for flavor
Use 1/4 the amount of noodles
Not pre-moisten/cook/immerse in liquid the noodles prior to adding to the pot
Add the noodles much later so they didn’t get mushy and also to have a more liquid result or find noodles that know when to stop cooking
Add either cut up grilled chicken or tofu or both
Add more carrots
Replace the garlic with fresh chopped onion and plenty of it
Melt the onion with the carrots
Add a bit of chopped scallion right before serving or much more cilantro
Add a bit of Salt
More blackened caraway seeds – they add a nice kick and crunch
More lime juice

In other words, I would do everything differently.  I put the rest of the brothless noodle soup in the refrigerator and had some Domino’s chicken wings.

Do you have a kitchen experiment gone awry?