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

The wrong spot

by Julie Tilsner on October 20, 2007

in Good Ideas Gone Bad

ThewrongplaceSynopsized from the film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” (1981).

Indiana Jones and his Egyptian archeologist friend Sallah meet up with an old Arab man who will read inscriptions on their medallion, which will presumably tell them where the Ark of the Covenant lies buried. The Nazis, who are also looking for the Ark, have their own version of the medal.

OLD MAN: (running his finger around the medallion) This is a warning…not to disturb the Ark of the Covenant.

INDY: Just what I need…How’ bout the height of the staff? Did Belloq get it off of there?

OLD MAN: Yes. It is here.  (we see his crooked finger reading the inscription along the bottom.) It says it is…ten jamirs high.

SALLAH: About 75-inches.

OLD MAN: Wait! I am not finished….(he turns the medallion over and continues to read:) …And one jamir to honor the Hebrew God, whose Ark this is.

Indy and Sallah look at each other.

INDY: Belloq’s staff is seven and a half-inches short…They’re digging in the wrong spot!

If you’re of a certain age, you know where the picture goes from here. I recreate this scene here, however, because it is a terribly apt analogy for what went wrong with a simple Alfredo sauce the other day.

It’s all about reading the directions wrong. Or, put another way, it’s about digging in the wrong spot.

Alfredo sauce is one of those basics any decent cook can whip up, given the proper ingredients in the fridge (and why else would you keep heavy cream on hand?). Indeed, even though it’s a stretch to call yourself a decent cook, you yourself made it a few months back, to surprisingly lovely results.

Alas, the second attempt, made a few weeks ago, was not so successful. So spectacularly unsuccessful that one friend will laugh at you and make the comparison to the above-mentioned cinematic scene.

Here’s what happened:

Because it was midnight and you were more than halfway through a bottle of wine, having yet another bitter disagreement with the handsome and passionate but often vexing man in your life, you probably weren’t in the best frame of mind for assembling ingredients. Of any kind.

But he requested and you agreed, to make the Alfredo sauce. You lugged out Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything,
and eventually found the pages you were seeking. The recipes for pasta with butter, sage and Parmesan and its variation,
fettuccine Alfredo sit on pages 140 and 141 respectively.

You stared down at the open book for several blurry moments, and decided that the recipe for Fettuccine Alfredo, which starts…reduce the butter to two tablespoons...was a literal variation on the recipe for pasta with butter, sage and Parmesan on the other page, which calls for six tablespoons, or 3/4 stick of, butter.

So because you were drunk and upset, you dropped in a whole stick of butter. And you concluded that the words…reduce the butter to two tablespoons really meant, reduce the butter, as in, cook down, until your stick of butter is reduced to two tablespoons.

You never paused to consider whether this was actually possible in the physical world.

You managed to find your saffron, added two eggs and 1/2 cup heavy cream and one cup of grated Parmesan. You lost all track of how long you’d been cooking the butter, yet you continued drinking and yelling. Eventually you dumped all of the above into the boiling butter reduction and stirred vigorously.

Badalfredo_2You came up with something that looked like…well…like something you might find in a tomb that has been sealed for 2,000 years. You only dimly realized this was not edible, so you threw some Parmesan cheese over your grossly overcooked pasta and fed that to the guitarist sitting at your table. Then you staggered upstairs to pass out.

In the morning, you ventured back down to your kitchen to regard the horror of your own concoction. Two Advils and a cup of coffee later, you reflected on what it means to not follow instructions. And you considered why you continue to dig in the wrong spot.

Update: I really do fancy archeology. And the flamenco guitarist apparently, is not afraid to die. So I’m gonna dig in and make Fettuccine Alfredo again tonight. But with iced tea libation instead.  It’s gotta turn out OK tonight, wouldn’t you think?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

BaddAss MisterJ October 20, 2007 at 7:24 pm

One short cut ingedient to use instead of butter is “CREAM CHEESE!”
Many restaurants use it to make alfraedo quick.
Search for a recipe that has it. I know you can find one from “Top Secret Recipes.”
If you think about it, Cream Cheese is basically butter and cream annyway.
It’s great thickener w/o using a rue.


AT October 22, 2007 at 11:02 am

..since the guitarist lived another day, he must have ended up having the tomato sauce as recommended by The Amateur Gourmet, Julie’s new true love…The suggestion in the previous comment above really sounds hideous..


CBJ November 17, 2007 at 7:14 pm

This was great! I’ve been planning to try to make my own alfredo this week. I’ll remember to lay off the sauce that day 😉


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