Why hello there, and welcome back to Kitchen Catastrophes, where one man tries to six things at one time, and succeeds at four of them. I’m your D-Student Struggler, Jon O’Guin. Today’s post is a bit of a weird one. We’ve only done a Post-Mortem once before on the site, and it was for a Thursday post. Today, we’re doing it for Monday, because…reasons. Reasons we’ll get into later on, if I can weave it in somewhat naturally. Anyway, the point is: the pictures for this post are gonna kind of suck, because our post-mortem posts cover recipes that were, well…”bad”. So let’s talk about what went wrong with Pesto Parmesan Twists.
Post-Mortem Would be a Good Name for a Zombie Morty Character
First, as ever, let’s get some basic definitions and set-up out of the way, so we can understand how we got here, and what exactly is going on. A ‘post-mortem’, in the direct and literal sense, is basically the same thing as an autopsy: an inspection and dissection of a body to determine cause of death and so on. Which…fuck, this is just fucking leaning into a real sore spot on my psyche today. God damn it, I will be happy in a week when October is over. (I’ve never been emotionally ‘good’ with death, and the death imagery of the season has been particularly distressing this year, given recent events, and mixed with the incendiary and despair-laden zeitgeist of America at present, and some unfortunate choices of entertainment, it’s all just…it’s really fucking with me.)
I just want to punt this thing in its smug not-face.
ANYWAY, a ‘post-mortem’ is also the name of the report filed about the body in question. BECAUSE of that meaning, it has also been brought into more academic fields, where it refers to analyzing and discussing the aspects of a recently completed project…especially when that project was a failure. I have been at play post-mortems, where the design team of a show says “okay, we made enough money to not have to close, but what could we improve next time?” And that’s the idea I’m using in these posts.
I’ve made recipes that I didn’t LIKE. I’ve made recipes that I felt weren’t very good, or fell short of their goals. But I use the Post-Mortem label when a recipe breaks at the structural level. Like, if I found out that a meal was literally at risk of poisoning those I served it to, or if I completely fucked up the execution. That’s what I mean by a “bad” recipe.
As opposed to a Bad album.
And they’re fairly rare, as these things go. Most of the time, I find the structural issue long before the dish is complete, and I just abandon the recipe, like James T Kirk throwing his step-dad’s…Camaro? Some kind of muscle car…into the Grand Canyon at the start of the new Star Trek movies. Like, several months ago, I was going to make Spaghetti with Turkey Pesto Meatballs (Huh, Pesto again. That’s a weird coincidence), and as I was frying the meatballs, it was brought to my attention that the turkey in question was 17 days old, not 10 days, like I thought. 10 days was already pushing it on raw ground meat, but 17 is basically ASKING for some kind of gut problems, so I just dumped them all straight into the trash.
Depriving the world of my many planned “salty balls/bird balls/meaty orbs” jokes.
So, what kind of culinary explosion are we viewing today? The conversion of the amazingly simple into the monstrously irritating. If you’re unaware of the style of appetizer, “Twists” are a fun, easy way to make an impressive-looking app…supposedly. See, I’ve never actually made them. I’ve just thought about it multiple times. The basics are simple: take some puff pastry, roll it a little thinner, and then sprinkle…something on it. Literally, almost anything. I’ve seen Ham and Mustard, Cheese and sauce, cheese and meat, etc. Then you fold the pastry in half, sandwiching the “topping”. Cut into strips, and twist the strips. Bake like, 10 minutes. (That doesn’t SOUND simple, all laid out like that, but it’s like, 4 steps that take 5 minutes: Top, Fold, Cut, Twist) Boom. Flavored and flaky kinda-breadsticks.
Shown successfully executed here, and nowhere else in this post.
And I just kept NOT making them. I’d make something else, Or I’d think “I should make those”, and I’d go to the store, see that puff pastry is $6 a box, and go “ha ha, NOPE.” More commonly, the dish would fall into my ‘negligible gap’: Because the whole recipe is only 15 minutes long, with only 5 minutes of real work, I’d just say “I can make it any time”, and put it off. Then I’d run out of parmesan, or pesto, and the pastry dough would sit and sit in the freezer, slowly getting freezer burn. (Puff Pastry, due to a high butter content, is stored in the freezer, and thawed before use.) However, recently, I had a reason to reach for a simple a stunning party favor such as this: My birthday!
It’s My Party, I’ll Cry if I Want To
For those unaware, I turned 30 literally a month ago today, officially leaving the realm of the truly “young” man, into adulthood. To commemorate it, I planned a moderate little barbecue/party that unfortunately I couldn’t truly go hog-wild on: My house can only support so many drunken revelers, after al. As such, the main focus of my planning was in creating more space, and in making a decent meal. Thus engaged, I sketched out a 6-hour long schedule for the day of, in order to properly align all the appetizers and main courses, create options for varied diets, provide at least 2-3 recipes worth of pictures to make posts from, and generally line up all my little ducks in a row. That plan that was immediately sent scattering to the wind thanks to misleading advertising and a poor decision causing me to lose 5 hours of my morning, including 4 hours of prep time. C’est la vie.
Since I had planned the Pesto Twists for the party, I had started thawing the pastry the night before. Which meant, after I abandoned the twists to hurriedly get SOMETHING done in time for the party, I was left with thawed dough, and need to use it quickly. Thus, I decided to tackle the dish for just myself and my family the next day.
And upon opening the package, I found my fatal error: before me, laid out in pristine condition, was an assortment of light, flaky dough sheets.
Seriously, this is food.
For the uninitiated: this is not puff pastry. Puff Pastry is a single sheet, roughly 1/8 of an inch thick. Not these paper-thin, tacky, swiftly drying edible tissues. It seems this entire time, we’d been working with the wrong box. This was not puff pastry, but its cousin, phyllo dough.
A surprise BASIC LITERACY should have prevented.
The problem here is, that while the two are stored similarly, and have somewhat similar arenas of use (fancy desserts, appetizers, and meat containers in various European dishes), the two do so in completely different ways: Puff pastry, as the name implies, puffs up, creating an airy mixture of crisp outside and soft inside. Croissants are just more extravagant arrangements of puff pasty, and crescent rolls are basically just puff pastry with extra butter flavoring. Phyllo dough, on the other hand, becomes shatteringly crisp, or retains a bit of firm chew when cooked under something wet. It’s used to make the crusts for mini-quiches, and spanakopita. In short, this was like ordering a baked potato and getting potato chips: same ingredients, same basic flavors, but very different accents and textures.
Now, the other thing Phyllo and Puff (which sounds like an untapped name for a TV show, doesn’t it?) share is their price point. So I had $12 of pastry I didn’t want, that was going to go bad if not used. So I did what any rational man would: I tried to make the recipe anyway. It makes SOME sense: If phyllo dough stays chewy when wet, and this is just about wrapping wet sauce and cheese in dough, then the phyllo should come out as just like, a chewier version of the same idea, right?
I mean, it kind of LOOKS right, doesn’t it?
That might have been true, if the ratio of wetness to dough was correct. But that’s mostly when phyllo interacts with WATER, and this recipe was just about oil. Also, remember when I noted that the phyllo was “swiftly drying”? That’s because phyllo dough, having a high surface-area-to-volume ratio, naturally dries fairly quickly. And the drier phyllo dough gets, the harder it is to work with, as it rehydrates unevenly. And since pesto isn’t very ‘wet’, the liquid involved wasn’t penetrating many layers of dough. Maybe the first two layers were adhering to the sauce, but this was a stack of TEN. So dough was snapping off, twists were unraveling, the whole process was a cacophony of catastrophe.
As surprises very few people: this is NOT what a functioning and productive workspace looks like.
I baked it anyway, because in this kitchen, we eat our mistakes (as long as they don’t seem poisonous or otherwise physically debilitating). And they were…Surprisingly close to good. Or at least ‘close to okay’. They tasted like raw dough in the middle, with burnt ends…and an aftertaste of cheese and herbs. My mother, agitated by the last seven minutes of continual swearing and the growing sense that my frustrations with the process were going to drive me to damage either myself or part of the kitchen, intervened, and tried making a batch by halving the number of sheets used, and brushing the twists with melted butter to regain lost moisture.
Which produced twists that at least LOOKED far more edible.
We actually blundered through about 3 batches of the stuff, before throwing the rest away. The last ones weren’t too bad: the butter had reduced the raw-dough taste, and minimized the amount of char on the twists, and the thinner layers let more of the pesto flavor shine through. But the texture wasn’t ever really enjoyable. They still weren’t GOOD, but they had reached ‘a tolerable attempt’ by the end.
So, why is this a Monday post instead of a Thursday? Simple: because my fuck up shouldn’t stop you. I said earlier that Post-Mortem recipes have to break at a structural level. And this one did, but it’s a very clear and easy to avoid break: just use the right kind of dough. Even using the WRONG dough, we were able to wrangle a tolerable result out of my flaming failure. So hopefully you have more luck avoiding missteps, now that you’ve watched me put my feet wrong and face-plant.
If you want to Jon personally recoup the lost cost of his Pastry debacle, you can support the site on Patreon! As little as $1 a month can help the site build more resources, and open new options for improving it. Already, we’re covering the base hosting and technical costs of the site through our lovely Patrons, and may one day even be able to pay Jon something close to minimum wage for the work he puts in! Patrons get access to a wide array of perks, from secret videos, extra catastrophes, audio recordings, and input on upcoming posts. If you want to stay involved, but lack the funds to support the site, no worries. Sharing our content on social media is also a great way to help Kitchen Catastrophe grow, and keep Jon from the ever-yawning abyss of despair! Thanks for reading, and I hope you make your own kitchen mishaps soon!
THURSDAY: CATASTROPHIC REVIEWS RETURNS, AND JON GETS TO SAY ONE OF NERD CULTURE’S FAVORITE PHRASES. “I READ THE BOOK.”
MONDAY: JON’LL GET BACK TO YOU ON THAT. HE EITHER HAS TO FIND A RECIPE FOR SOMETHING HE MADE A WHILE AGO, OR MAKE A NEW THING THIS WEEK.
Puff Pastry Pesto Parmesan Twists
Makes like, 15+ Twists, depending on how you cut them.
1 sheet puff pastry
½ cup Pesto
¼-1/2 cup Parmesan (as desired)
Melted Butter or a beaten egg (to help the outside brown) (optional)
1. Prehat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Thaw and lay out Puff Pastry sheet. Spread pesto on ½ of pastry sheet.
2. Sprinkle parmesan over pesto, and fold pastry sheet closed. Cut folded pastry into strips at least 1/2” wide. Twist strips to desired twistiness,and place on a rimmed baking sheet.
3. Brush with butter or egg if using, and bake for 10-15 minutes (time will be longer the wider the strips used) until Golden Brown.
4. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving.