Anything but Ramen: Pride ruined my meatballs

Food columnist Aaron Pellish on how his hubris got the best of him and his cooking

I thought I had gotten the hang of this whole cooking thing.

I had been cooking multiple meals for myself each day throughout a week, and I began to get a little cocky.

It started when, one day, I began telling one of my friends about how much cooking I had been doing, and how I felt like a young Gordon Ramsay. My friend could immediately sense my hubris and, as any good friend would, decided to use it against me.

She suggested I make something a little more fancy to prove my cooking pedigree. I quickly took the bait without even thinking about it, because this was a time in my life when I sincerely felt that my roommates should be paying me for how well I was feeding them.

We decided that I should make spaghetti and meatballs because it seemed like a recipe that was simple enough that I didn’t have to rent a crazy food processor or a sous chef or something but complicated enough that I would probably have to spend two hours in my kitchen working on meatballs.

It ended up taking much longer than two hours, and I probably should have hired a sous chef.

The easy part of the recipe was cooking the pasta. I’ve cooked pasta so many times since I moved into my new apartment that I could probably do it with one hand tied behind my back. I cooked the noodles and set them aside because the meatballs were the truly complicated part of this recipe.

In order to make these meatballs, I had to make my own sauce in which to cook my them. That required a million cans of tomato paste, tomato sauce, tomato cream, tomato juice, tomato icing, tomato butter and what seemed like tons of other tomato-based products.

Since I didn’t really believe in the virtue of tomato butter, I just threw in as many cans of tomato sauce I could find and prayed the meatballs would work out. However, as you might have already guessed, it didn’t.

But that costly miscue was nothing compared to how badly I messed up the meatballs themselves. A good meatball should be relatively small and autonomous, so that it won’t crumble apart when you stick your fork in it. A good meatball should also be properly cooked and have a flavor that is unique to the style with which meatballs are prepared, as opposed to a giant lump of ground beef tossed into the middle of a pot of pasta. To put it in the most polite manner possible, my meatballs did not quite resemble what “good meatballs” should be.

My first mistake was trying to make meatballs that looked more like baseballs than golf balls. What ultimately ended up happening was that the meatballs didn’t cook evenly, which made them very uncomfortable to eat. (This was largely because the meatballs were too big and probably should have either cooked for longer or been made smaller so they could cook faster.)

These meatballs, like most meatballs, also needed bread crumbs in them to make them lighter and give them more flavor. Instead of buying pre-made bread crumbs from Walmart or Hy-Vee like a real chef (or a person with common sense) would, I decided that taking slices of sandwich bread and crumbling them into the ground beef would work out perfectly.

If by “work out perfectly,” I had meant “leave giant pieces of soggy bread in the middle of semi-cooked meatballs,” then that would have happened exactly as I planned it. But that is almost the opposite of what I meant. So these meatballs were something of a rousing failure.

When I served the meatballs to my friends, one of them told me he liked them. (I have to give a shout-out my guy for doing that. True friends tell you your cooking is great even if it’s awful.) But my friend who challenged me to making meatballs giggled with glee as she picked out pieces of bread from crumbly, undercooked meatballs while my pride swirled to the bottom of the proverbial toilet bowl.

I guess I’ve still got a long ways to go before Gordon Ramsay and I open up a restaurant together and call it “Watch the Throne Bistro.” And I guess if I realize that now, I probably won’t mess up as many meatballs in the future.

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