Welcome to Better Than It Looks, a new series in which we discuss the recipes we tried (and maybe failed) to execute, and the foods that were served to us by someone perhaps more talented than ourselves.
You’re not loving the photos up top. It’s fine, neither am I, so we can come together on that one. At left, you see my attempt to fast cook a pot of beans, with so much steam coming up that my camera lens was briefly blinded. At right, you can see the final result of a somewhat-bastardized bean and potato gratin, with a generous helping of sour cream atop it.
I’d put this meal firmly in the “Would eat it myself, would not serve it to someone else” category for two reasons: it wasn’t executed perfectly, and it’s visually hideous. I roughly followed a Mark Bittman recipe, as I often do, after realizing that I had a bag of beans sitting in my cabinet that I’ve never used, and that of course I had potatoes, life blood of my kind (midwesterners/Irish people/tater folks).
The Bittman recipe is, characteristically, relatively simple, plus it leaves ample room for changes. While he suggests white, pink or red beans, I used cranberry, and yes, dried thyme instead of fresh. But everything else remained the same, and, per How to Cook Everything, I even threw in some heavy cream because I’m fucking fancy (and because I had some in the fridge).
Ultimately, my standards for what’s consumable for me are much lower than the ones I hold to meals I’m serving others, and I happily ate last night’s results. I’d say there were a few major issues: first off, I’ve never cooked dried beans before (I know! Baby’s all grown up!) and clearly was trying to rush the process. Even though fast-soaking beans is apparently totally legit, I think my attempt to fast boil per Bittman’s tactics prompted me to take the beans out too early. Blame my stomach rumblings. Also, my inexperience meant that I was afraid that if I cooked them too long, they’d get too mushy when I transferred the beans into the oven to bake with the potatoes.
Second, I probably also took the gratin out of the oven too early, again because of hunger and because the potato part seemed done; I think if I’d left it in longer, it wouldn’t have dried out, but probably would have caramelized more (antsiness is an issue I’ve had before with other gratins). But I’m not sure that had I slowed either of these processes down much more this recipe would have been a personal favorite; the beans and the potatoes seem a bit at odds, texture-wise, for my taste—maybe too 1950s casserole? (I’m not a big fan of meatloaf either.) I felt like, though the sour cream was not Bittman-suggested, the meal needed a little a little more flavor to balance the starches. Also, if you’re alone, you can eat literally any foods together and no one will judge you unless you write about it on the internet.
Anyway, we’re trying something new on Kitchenette today, and that’s why I’ve shared this learning process with you here. Tell us: What’d you consume this week? Did it do more for you than merely push some calories into your bod, allowing you to keep walking these streets? Did it look better than my bean potato pile? Share your recipes, photos, and tips in the comments below, and we’ll check back in next week with another cooking adventure.
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Stunning photos of her meal taken by the author