Culinary detective finds clues, wracks brain, fixes supper


March 27, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Part of cooking is learning to recognize clues.

You whip up some goat liver pate on toast points, for instance, and when the serving plate comes back from the table with nary a point out of place, you figure out this was not a goat-liver crowd.

Or when your cake batter becomes so thick it stops the electric mixer in its tracks, you conclude that maybe you did -- mistakenly -- add too much flour.

Then there is the slippery business of deciphering what is supposed to be cooked for supper. The other night, for example, I arrived home from work expecting to be greeted by the warm embrace of my family and the pleasing aromas of supper steaming on the stove. I got neither.

Nobody was home and nothing was steaming. It was just me and the goldfish, and they did not seem delighted to see me.

Glancing at the kitchen calendar, I saw that this was one of those "ing" nights -- that is, one of those evenings when the kids were either swimming, guitar playing, or practicing something, somewhere.

Judging by the appearance of the kitchen, my wife had made an attempt at supper, but had been called away from culinary work by chauffeuring duties.

If I wanted to eat within the next hour or two, I had first to figure out what she had been planning to cook, and then cook it myself.

I looked around for the usual clues, a cookbook opened to a particular recipe and a note from my wife saying "do this." There was no note, no book.

Next I tried searching for leftovers in the refrigerator. In the past, this method of coming up with supper has been highly successful. But not this night. We had been out of town for a few days, and the fridge was bare.

With neither a leftover nor a recipe to work with, I prowled around the kitchen hunting for other hints about supper. I found two.

Two rectangular slabs of dough were sitting on the kitchen counter. I wasn't sure what they were doing there. But I suspected them of defrosting.

I thought for a minute about what my favorite culinary detective, Colonel Mustard, would do in this situation. Then it hit me: Colonel Mustard would jump to a conclusion. So I posited that these two slabs of defrosting dough were supposed to be cooked in the oven, with toppings, as pizzas.

I looked around the kitchen for supporting evidence.

Not only did I find cheese, it was mozzarella, the cheese most likely to be found on a pizza.

I also found pepperoni, a longtime pizza compatriot.

But a crucial ingredient was missing. There was no pizza sauce on the scene. I looked on the kitchen counters, I frisked the fridge, I uprooted the pantry with nary a trace of pizza sauce.

How, I asked myself, could somebody cook pizza without pizza sauce?

This baffled me. I sat in the kitchen thinking. I sat there until I ran out of beer, which, sad to say, wasn't very long. The fridge held only one beer. As I said, we had been out of town.

Refreshed, if somewhat thirsty, I renewed my effort to reconstruct supper.

Lacking pizza sauce, I substituted some canned plum tomatoes. Then I set to work.

Basting one rectangle of dough with olive oil, I put the dough in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. Next I pulled the partially cooked dough out of the oven, and topped it with a wave of grated mozzarella, dots of pepperoni, and scatterings of plum tomatoes.

I put it back in the oven, turned the oven up to 375 and baked it

until the cheese bubbled and the dough browned, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Just before the pizza came out of the oven, who should arrive on the scene but the starving kids and the fatigued spouse.

The kids confirmed that what I had cooked qualified as pizza. They ate all of it, after picking off all the tomatoes.

After searching the pantry, my wife confirmed that the pizza sauce was missing in action. She and I ate the second slab of dough. This became an adults-only pizza, topped with goat cheese and discarded plum tomatoes that been "recycled" from the kids' pizza.

And so, as the dishwasher was loaded, another meal had been completed, another mystery solved.

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