Anything but Ramen: The wisdom gained from independent cooking and ‘Kung Fu Panda’

Food columnist Aaron Pellish on applying the lessons he has learned from past cooking failures into culinary wonders

Last week, I tried to follow a recipe for corned beef hash and ended up making a hearty stew, which I enjoyed thoroughly. I didn’t plan on making a stew at all, but it worked out perfectly, and I have no regrets. As the weird turtle guru in “Kung Fu Panda” says, “There are no accidents.”

While I was browsing the Internet and crowdsourcing my friends for ideas of what to make for this week’s column, I realized a few things about my cooking process. The first was that I have a few friends who keep wanting me to cook pastries or breads or, in the words of one girl, “little cheesy apple pie thingamahbobs,” which I will probably never do because those aren’t very filling foods and, in the case of any and all thingamahbobs, I don’t trust them.

The second was that the friends whose food suggestions I do listen to all suggest the same thing: meat. It doesn’t matter what kind of meat or how it’s cooked, as long as it came from an animal and they can’t taste the blood. So that’s the direction I went in this week.

The third thing I realized is that I’ve gotten enough experience cooking that I don’t really need to follow specific recipes for things I want. A few of my friends said I should try to make a chili, so I started looking up chili recipes online and noticed that they all had the same basic ingredients but weren’t exactly what I was looking for.

It was at that moment that I decided to go rogue and invent a chili recipe on the spot. I decided this would officially be one of the most difficult culinary challenges of my short career. Instantly, the theme song from “Rocky” started running through my head as I prepared for what was to come.

I made a visit to my good friend Walmart and picked up only three items.

The first was ground turkey. I chose turkey over beef because I had grown tired of beef, and because I have a weird “vegetarian” friend who requested I make chili, but she’ll allow herself to eat turkey and chicken.

The next thing I bought was tomato sauce, because tomato sauce is what makes chili possible. Chili without tomato sauce is like The Beatles without Paul McCartney or the St. Lunatics without Murphy Lee.

The last thing I bought was big jar of fancy cayenne pepper, because I like my food spicy. I figured if I messed up the meat, I could just throw a crazy amount of cayenne pepper on top to mask the disgustingness.

I cooked the meat, and when it was cooked, I added the tomato sauce and the cayenne pepper. I mixed them up and let it cook on low while I went to go play “Grand Theft Auto V.” After I played a game of tennis, went to the strip club and got murdered by police officers on multiple occasions, I decided the meat had cooked long enough. I scooped some out of the pot and ate it while my roommates took turns driving cars into pedestrians.

I had been so distracted by the game that I forgot I had just completed what was supposed to be my toughest cooking obstacle to date. Not only did I cook a dish without a recipe, I cooked it without even thinking about it. I realized a new truth about cooking, but it felt like I had known it ever since I began writing about my culinary adventures.

The truth is that cooking doesn’t have to be so hard. The simpler you can make it, the more fun you can have with your process, and your cooking experience will be that much more satisfying.

All I did was throw three ingredients in a pot and called it a chili, and then it became a chili, and I enjoyed it down to the last drop. It was almost like I unintentionally made one of my favorite dishes I’ve ever made by just guessing what would taste good and then doing it.

I guess there really aren’t any accidents. Thanks, weird turtle guru.

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