Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Unsuitable for eating

I am told I used to be a good cook, but I no longer am one. That is what happens when you are in a relationship: you are not told that you are a good cook. You are told that you are not a good cook.

My specialties of yesteryear have been thwarted on a few fronts. First, I think I forgot how to cook. I don’t do it enough. Second, the last few years have been the busiest of my life and I’ve found less time to cook that the carefree days of my youth. Third, I used to make lots of chicken dishes, and lots of easy turkey things. I stopped being a vegetarian several years ago and then started eating beef and pork during a visit to Argentina. I decided to abandon red meat-free diet so I could be less fussy, blend in, be invited to more dinner parties and begin to cook a more interesting variety of things. But when my spouse came along, I abandoned my omnivorous desirous maximus diet with regard to cooking. I harbor no resentment – really –about not eating these things at home, but am at a loss to cook seafood and vegetarian options. Fourth, I tend to do better sometimes cooking things with an interesting ethnic flair, but that’s not in style anymore. I don’t know where to turn.

Baked. Of course I love to bake things. But baking results in things that are often unhealthy. And nutritional value indeed has some value.

One of the first dishes I created as a child was a recipe I called healthy potatoes. I served healthy potatoes #1, about which I can recall only that potatoes were an ingredient, among other things. I don’t recall whether it was really healthy or not, but I left on the potato skins which was the inspiration for the recipe’s moniker. The next time I made dinner, I made Healthy Potatoes #2. I couldn’t remember what I had put in Healthy Potatoes #1, so I created it as the next in a series that culminated a couple of years later with Healthy Potatoes #8, piping and waiting on the stovetop when my mother returned home with my leotard-dressed sister, post intermediate gymnastics class. I have some recollection that it may have included basil or another herb, because our family was growing herbs by then and I thought it was elegant to cook with herbs. Nowadays, I still threaten my family that I will make dinner and include a nice side dish: Healthy Potatoes #9.

All of these tuber compilations were originally inspired by the children’s cookbook my sister and I had. We made dark Spanish rice and catsup-clad meatloaf and other things that kids can make with minimal adult supervision when using a Betty Cocker cookbook for kids. I still remember my immense pride at uncovering and serving a plate of Spanish Rice. The wonder that one could measure white grainy bits into a pot with a mix of spices and other things, and that it would turn out to be a colorfully seasoned one-pot side dish that I served to my parents as a main dish.

My sister and I would often “play” restaurant, setting up a table and making a menu using chalk on a small chalkboard tablet like the ones the swishy waiters would use to tell us about the menu at any of Atlanta’s Pleasant Peasant-owned restaurants. We would talk about the special toasts of the evening and the chutney, featuring Callaway Gardens jam, and other seemingly gourmet delicacies that we crafted from the jars of condiments and cheeses and leftovers in the refrigerator. My parents, or sometimes my uncle, or perhaps a friend of my parents graciously put up with the alacrity of two children mimicking everything they’d ever learned by eating out.

Nowadays, I try to serve with a bit more of an understated effort, but one that is still likely to impress anyone whose usual dining adventures are conducted at dim bistros or omnipresent chain eateries. I have been baking gruyere-filled gougeres that look perfect on a common dining plate. I’ve made a couple of rounds of pickled mini carrots (not mini carrots ala Safeway: we’re talking about tiny whole organic carrots with a length of four or five inches and a diameter of 1/3rd of an inch), lightly spiced and brined, and served on a perfectly rectangular small linen serving dish from Heath Ceramics. A little fussy, but elegant in that “I live in a remodeled house in Northern California with a white kitchen and a view, and I only serve on ceramics designed by Edith Heath.” After having my cookbooks locked away, I’m getting back to Marlene Sorosky’s easy and flavor-filled recipes: always delicious even in my hastiest execution (though I made some marinated seafood kabobs that flopped miserably when the grill refused to light, forcing me to finish them under the broiler with a loss of crispness – and flavor.). A recent successful ginger apple cream cake reconfirmed by admiration for her recipes. Pre-Christmas, I made a great pot of Dal Makhani and some nearly as authentic Tandoori Salmon and Chicken, which were not as successfully re-created as part of my Christmas Eve Indian food cooking extravaganza, where the Dal was heavy and the Bengan Bartha too lemony and oily. Although the Indian food may not have been fit for a persnickety Vishnu, the Hummingbird Cake that was crafted the same weekend, thanks for Paula Deen’s recipe and some crafty cake cutting, was a bakery success and clearly okay for the southerners in attendance. Perhaps not as good, nor as beautiful, as the vanilla and framboise macarons that I baked the following week, but still lip smacking.

My goal is to keep cooking both premeditated dishes (those which require me to go to the supermarket and buy the ingredients in advance) and work to improve my cooking with whatever I can find in the house, without resorting to spaghetti & corn or other sad courses.

I’m getting better. I’m also learning that I can do a better job when I concentrate and stop writing about how bad I'm doing.

1 comment:

EspaƱa Local Prensa said...

Sus fabulosas recetas frescas para cada temporada.

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