"The only real stumbling block is the fear of failure. In cooking, you have got to have a what-the-hell attitude." ~ Julia Child

Queen of bland

by Julie Tilsner on February 27, 2009

in Good Ideas Gone Bad, Lunch, Dinner, Vegetarian

I’m not a dull person. Ask anyone, even those who profess annoyance at me. I’m snarky, opinionated, excitable. Either relentlessly upbeat or dramatically downcast. Quirky, chirpy, zesty, pissy. You can call me many things, but you can’t call me bland.

So how is it I manage to continually create meals that are flavor-free?

Last night I found and followed the recipe for vegetarian chili, favorite weeknight fare of my cousin’s three kids. With black beans, bulgur, cumin, chili powder and tomatoes, it doesn’t sound possible that this could be anything other than flavorful and delicious, does it?

But then I get my beefy mitts on it. And somehow, all flavor is miraculously removed. I could probably make a good living working at an institutional home for the aged, cooking healthy and exotic dishes that all taste of nothing.

Here’s the recipe, which I scribbled down from a magazine clipping on the back of a sheet of paper. I followed it almost exactly…except for a few bits I’m just now noticing in the typing it out…

Barley? Not bulgur…..hmmm.

Vegetarian Chili

2 tsp canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped red pepper
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (4.5 ounce) can chopped green chilies
2/3 cup uncooked quick-cooking barley
1/4 c up water
1 can (15-ounce) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5 ounce) no-salt diced tomatoes
1 can (14.5-ounces) veggie broth
3 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
6 tbsp sour cream
6 lime wedges
18 tortilla chips

Heat oil in a dutch over over medium heat. Add the onions and red peppers and saute for 3 minutes. Add the chili powder and next few ingredients thru the bulgur-which-is-supposed-to-be-barley.

Here’s where I think I didn’t write something down right.

Add the water? Bring to a boil? And then I guess you add the beans, tomatoes and veggie broth? Simmer for 20 minutes, then stir in cilantro.

Serve with sour cream, lime wedges and tortilla chips. I didn’t do any of that.

Now two notes that may have contributed to a lack of flavor but which can’t account for the complete absence of flavor: I didn’t use the green chilies because I know that would kill off any chance of my kids trying this dish. And I used crap supermarket chili powder in a jar instead of the Indian chili powder I didn’t know I had in my pantry.

Yeah, and that little mix-up with the bulgur/barley. I still liked the texture just fine. If only it tasted like something.

Contrary to what I expected, the Drama Tween took one bite and handed the bowl back to me. “Not,” she said.

“Not what?”

“Not good.” She left the room. Later she had a box of Cheese-Its for dinner.

The boy, however, ate half a bowl. I thought the appearance would throw him for sure. But apparently 8-year-olds like flavorless slop.

I ate a bowl, greatly annoyed by the non-flavor. Especially when I’d over-salted the hell out of a simple bowl of pasta just a few nights before.

I’m going to try this one again, but with a whole lot more cumin. Maybe
some coriander and tumeric thrown in there…and the Indian chili
powder. I don’t know about the barley. Maybe the bulgar soaked up all
the flavor and barley wouldn’t? How would I know this?

So there you go. Call me anything. Call me a bad home cook, even. Just don’t call me if you want anything tasty. Although there are a few Cheese-Its still around.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

LH February 28, 2009 at 12:28 am

A box of Cheese-Its for dinner? Huh.


Mariana March 1, 2009 at 3:34 am

I used to be like that, a little “creative” with the recipes I got from books and magazines. Then I realized there’s a chemistry in that, it’s pure science. First time I usually try to go by the book, and then I change ingredients for similar things. The salt is still sometimes a tricky thing. My baby is yet to come and I’m sure I’ll get it wrong many times, so I pick the previous comment to my help: get the kids to participate.
Very nice blog!


"Mister J" February 28, 2009 at 9:14 pm

I find that w/ kids, if they help out, they will take pride in what they make and EAT the stuff they help make. At least to have them stir the pot! Next time add a sharp cheddar to liven things up and hot sauce!


"Mister J" March 1, 2009 at 9:18 pm

How about have the kids help out in rolling Pillsbury Cresent Rolls from the tube? They would take pride in that and would proudly eat it (w/ the great soft butter waiting on the side).
Popping FRESH!
Oh yeah, let the kids open the tube, they would enjoy that part the best!


ATriana March 2, 2009 at 11:29 am

..and I won’t call you late for dinner..


Linda McGivern March 16, 2009 at 5:33 pm

The problem, dude, is with the inadventent substitution. The bulger probably absorbed all the moisture. Plus, the avocado salsa is the best part of the recipe. A little salsa, a little sour cream, a few crumbled Bearitos. Mmmmm. If at first you don’t succeed…


Jayna June 15, 2012 at 8:35 pm

You are singing my song. This happens to me a lot. I find that when a recipe called for one teaspoon of cumin, or whatnot, that is never enough to actually taste in the dish or add any flavor at all. I always double the herbs and spices. Ah, for what it’s worth.


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