Tuesday, January 19, 2010

First you put the chickie in the da oven

I absolutely love to cook. I adore cookbooks and my spice rack rivals Emerils (sorry JohnnyMac there is no remaning space in that pantry for anything you might want.) Dinner parties are one of my favorite things to host and the number of people attending never makes me flinch.

And this past weekend, as I simultaneously made a three layer cake, frosting for said cake, strawberry-mascarpone pizza, and piped filling into deviled eggs (according to my little brother, the hors d'ouvres that is making a comeback) I thought not only how great it was my Mom is such an awesome sous chef as I was in the "please sift this..." and "please simmer this..." frame of mind, but also that I have come a long, long way in the kitchen. 

Once in high school, I attempted French Toast. I emulated steps I had many times witnessed in our kitchen. Egg, milk, mix, dip. Place bread in the pan. Except I left it in the pan. For apparently about 10 minutes too long. Smoking pan not a signal? Non. And once I removed the single piece of French toast or French Soot  as it was in this case, there remained a perfect black outline of the bread. A permanent scar and the reason my Mom told me to take a long vacation from her domain.

The summer after my freshman year of college, I lived in our house in Seattle. Alone. My parents had moved to Alaska but kept our house in Seattle. Orphaned for the summer, I survived on fruit and cereal for three months. A male friend called one night and offered to come over for dinner. How tricky, you rogue. It is called inviting yourself. 

I assured him I had no culinary skills and doubted he had a palate for Cream of Wheat. He laughed and tried to coax me in his foxy voice saying I could just make whatever I knew how. A good listener? No because clearly I just told him. So when he arrived I gave him red Kool Aid and a bowl of popcorn. Did it matter? No. Because had I realized at the time his primary objective I could have just stood at the door in a nurse’s uniform holding a 12 pack. Silly boy. Going hungry is just what you get.

I attempted only minor nibbles for a long span of years ahead.  Apparently I thought healthy living included hundreds of scrambled egg whites (microwave version), chips and salsa which I ate religiously, protein shakes, and vitamins. Oh, and the occasional splash of alcohol which was likely Keystone Light and Vodka Lemonade back then.

One day in grad school, I flipped through a food mag at the grocery. I saw the most amazing recipe that reminded me of this incredible dish my Mom makes. I bought the mag and crafted a plan. I would make dinner for this boy I was fraternizing with at the time. Cracked Pepper Linguine? That can make any man’s mouth dance.

The recipe was simple and straightforward. Upon his arrival to my abode, he commented that it smelled fantastic. I appreciate that this is now a cautionary tale. For the neophyte cook, the recipe has a definitive function which is why it is called THE RECIPE and not “Notes from the Theater of Improv.” I didn’t realize that “cracked pepper” and “ground pepper” are not to be used in lieu of one another in the same quantities. Uh oh. And since I didn’t know, how could I have warned my dinner guest?

One bite in and his face turned quite red. Being as courteous as possible, he said, “Wow, that is very peppery.” And then I tasted it. Spitting it on the plate was a serious temptation.  One pound of pepper for one pound of pasta? I will pass but it was too late.  Since the food had to be thrown out, I offered to at least serve the herbed bread I made. I placed it under the broiler…and just a wee bit too close so the bread was almost touching the broiler element. Which heated it up alright. And then caught it on fire. Fire extinguisher and garlic flavored coal do not a dinner make. The muppetized Swedish Chef wouldn't have blundered as much.


Take out? Certainly. My inner Giada de Laurentiis could slumber for another day. And when I finally did start cooking and really learning about cooking, I can only look back on these mistakes and laugh. And I have never caught food on fire since. At least not unintentionally.

87 comments:

Gillian said...

LMAO! TG for take out!

Confessions of a Mother, Lawyer & Crazy Woman said...

As someone who has, in fact, caught the house on fire while cooking, I appreciate the earlier trials and am envious of your new found chef chops.

Lee the Hot Flash Queen said...

Great story. So, come over and make us dinner...oh yeah...we STILL don't have a range...never mind!!

the walking man said...

Until the very last two lines I would have sworn you were channeling my mother. Dear woman never could flip an egg but once she discovered the microwave look out she thought herself the best of chefs.

Chez Zizi said...

That is so funny. A friend has a blog that any of her friends or followers can contribute to called the Worst Recipe Ever just for blunders like that, mishaps and just bad recipes.
It's good to hear you have gotten better at cooking. At least you kept trying.

Zizette

af1blog said...

Oh I can sooooooooo sympathise with that - and my mother could burn a cup of tea!

I absolutely love to cook, but I always want to experiment as well and it's often a case of "making it up as I go long". But then making love is a bit like that, isn't it? The ability to improvise successfully comes with experience - with luck it does, at least!

BigSis said...

It's funny because I love to cook and most of the time consider myself a good cook, yet I've definitely set some things on fire. Especially the toaster oven - once when I wasn't even using it!

Too Many Hats said...

This means there is hope for my teenage daughter who managed to burn the no-bake cookies not long ago.

kys said...

LOL! Great story. Reminds me of the dinner I attempted last night.

Lisa and Laura said...

I'm still at the beginning of my learning to cook journey. There are nights when we eat rice and beans and laugh the whole time. But if you promise that one day I could make something called strawberry-mascarpone pizza, I'll keep trying!

KatieSPerk said...

Such a good story! You have come a long way. When I lived by myself for a Summer between college I also lived off of cereal. So weird. Now I love to cook!!

Cee said...

That sounds a lot like me. Growing up my mom wouldn't even let me in the kitchen. All I could make was raman noodles and cheese and crackers. Then one day I just started cooking and loved it!

Alyssa said...

It's a good thing my hubby doesn't read blogs...at least, I don't think so...What he doesn't know doesn't hurt him. The choice between strawberry jam and grape jelly with peanut butter is what we call gourmet.

mo.stoneskin said...

I've never been a big fan of French soot. For starters, it is French, which is a big turn-off. And if that isn't bad enough, it gets you all grubby...

Tia said...

I too had a rough start into cooking. Not so long ago I attempted to make my own salsa. I had never been taught the difference between a BULB of garlic and a CLOVE of garlic. So instead of adding the 4 cloves it called for, I added 4 entire bulbs of garlic. People were NOT pleased. And I felt like an idiot.

Jenn@ You know... that blog? said...

Oh, you are a rock star, my friend!

I loathe day to day cooking. Hate it with a passion! Cooking for guests at a dinner party though? Sublime. I'm a Jeckyll/Hyde in the kitchen.

Might have something to do with the eye rolling and whining and huge sighs over the fare. Oh and the kids do their share of that too ;)

jinksy said...

Everyone does have to start somewhere - but preferably, NOT when a guest is coming to dinner! lol :)

Dining Diva said...

This post gives me hope.

Eric said...

So you didn't get your nick name from your macaroni and cheese skills?

I like cooking, it's like less lethal chemistry.

My name is PJ. said...

There you have it: The comprehensive culinary experience!

Gosh, I had my years of cooking and prepared some lovely meals in my time, but the instant Chef Stu came into my life nearly 23 years ago, I lost the skill of turning knobs on the gas stove, the grill or either oven.

Out of necessity, there have been a few times I've had to heat something, but I actually had to take lessons on how to use the microwave. Sad, but true. ;)

Susan Erickson said...

Cookong still makes me nervous. I'm having a dinner party on saturday for 12 and still don't know what I'm cooking. I just go to the store and see what looks good and then I wing it. Plus my husband barbecues ribs and steaks so nobody notices my contribution.

Slamdunk said...

Glad to hear that you stuck with it an prevailed.

On one of our first dates, when I was courting the Mrs., I found out what she like to eat, and ordered a nice carryout dinner at my apartment.

I removed the food and sides from the boxes and arranged them colorfully on nice plates--an attempted an elegant dining experience.

When she saw my work of "art," she said: "You cooked all of this?"

I confessed that it was purchased and I had no talent in the kitchen, but for a brief moment, I was that one of those desirable chef guys.

JenJen said...

My mother in law taught me to cook, and I, like you, thrive on the dinner party. Quite frankly, the more people I have to feed, the bigger charge I get out of making something spectacular. And? they keep coming back for more....

Tsquared417 said...

That is hilarious. I have some good "learning to cook" stories too!! I've come a long way!

Kaela said...

As I mentioned on my blog about baking (and how much I suck at it), it was very late 20th century to suck at cooking and baking and now there seems to be a return to cooking skills being IN. Back when I was OUT, the microwave was also my preferred method of cooking. It was either a Lean Cuisine, chicken nuggets or fish sticks. And I also cooked French toast in the microwave ;)

Ed Adams said...

Pretty sure I gained 10 lbs from reading this.

Thanks.

P.S. The red Koolaide and Popcorn would have worked on me.

Summer said...

Ok...that last paragraph has me snickering here at my desk...hehe....

You know...I graduated from culinary school about 3 years ago and feel as though I've been wasting those skills I learned. I never cook! I guess it's just not as much fun cooking for one....but, that's one of my resolutions this year...To cook at least twice a week!

I actually prefer baking and making pastries and confections, but I really do enjoy cooking savory foods as well....

{lifts my glass} Here's to mouthwatering meals and having fun in the kitchen! :)

fromatopink said...

Haha that story is fantastic! My cooking skills are seriously lacking, but I'm hoping that I'll improve just by trial and error. :)

Secretia said...

He didn't marry you for your cooking skills, don't worry.

The Boob Nazi said...

hahaha I took a cooking class in college, and it helped me immensely. Now I love to cook!

i am playing outside said...

i must say i've never had such terrible cooking experiences... i once made clumpy pesto [first attempt], but that's about it.

unfortunately, i don't cook enough different things. i need to diversify my meals and learn new recipes!

Intense Guy said...

I can sympathize with you - having once mistaken baking soda for baking powder (or was it vice versa?) At any rate it wasn't edible but it had to be eaten (I was away on a boy scout trip and "take out" wasn't an option).

I think I had a bad case of upset "tummy" and "good god, open the windows man!" gas for about 2 weeks.

I'm glad you've come a long way... But I bet JohnnyMac still comes home some nights, looking for you in the nurse uniform with the six pack sometimes..

Herding Cats said...

I'm FINALLY at the point where I can boil more than just water. It's making my mother truly proud. I love to cook as well, but my tiny ass kitchen does not make it easy for me!

Corrie Howe said...

You have come a long way. Congratulations. And by the way, deviled eggs are a stable in our house along with chips and salsa and relish trays.

carissajaded said...

LOL i laughed so hard at this... boy can I relate. Last time I tried to cook something I accidentally left the cardboard on the bottom of the pizza. Yah... I rock. Hopefully one day I'll follow your lead and learn some skills!! Until then, its peanut butter on bread and cheese and crackers.

Myya said...

How funny that you were that horrible of a cook & now you can rock it. I love to cook, love to take a new recipe & run with it. Do I do it very often... Nope! :( You have inspired me... time to find find a new recipe & give it a try!!!!

La La La Leah said...

Really a pound of pepper for a pound of pasta! CRAZY. My Juila cookbook has not come in yet =/ Also I would like to know how you have so much damn time and energy ??? To do all your crap you have to do.... I can barely read my friends blogs......

Kristina P. said...

I never would have guessed you were a horrible cook at one point!

Nyx said...

That is ten kinds of awesome.

I thought I was the only one who set toast on fire (which led to me (complete with pink oven mitts that had kittens stitched on them) throwing a flaming toaster in the snow one fine Sunday morning).

I can bake. Cooking, however...erm...soups and stews are about all I've managed to master.

M-Cat said...

I will never be a great chef, and have no aspirations towards it. I let Splenda do all that stuff.

And since my youngest DOES want to attend culinary school and become a REAL chef, I figure I am taken care of : )

Busy Bee Suz said...

That is so funny Jenny!
Thanks for clarifying the difference in the pepper...luckily I have not needed cracked pepper. Yet.

Michael Rivers said...

I'm an okay cook. I've been getting more adventurous the last couple years. One of my new friends is a master chef so he's always pressuring me to try new things!

VandyJ said...

I knew the basics when I left home but my husband teases me to this day that I could burn water when we first met. He cooked in several restaurant kitchens and can start with the ingredients and make up pretty good food. I need a recipe. I'm getting better and can now make stuff up or follow a recipe and have pretty good food as a result.

Everyone has those kitchen disasters in their past.

Postman said...

Ha! That's a positively scintillating story. Improvisation is a recipe for disaster. I had trouble there too. Didn't look closely enough at the pancake recipe and put baking soda into the batter instead of baking powder. Fizzy pancakes anyone?

And as a side note, why is it that you seem to have been peppered (no pun intended) in your youth with such a huge selection of sleazebag guys? Seems like every story has at least one thick-headed lecher in it.

And finally, I wanted to thank you in the most heartfelt manner possible over a blog comment for taking the time to reply to me. I appreciate it.

Kris said...

Take out saves the day!

ps I have a giveaway going on my blog. Stop by if you can to enter!

Buckeroomama said...

For some reason, I'm totally the opposite: I do extremely well on first-time recipes, but go steadily downhill on the subsequent tries at replicating my initial success at the same recipe!

JennyMac said...

Postman...good question. haha. I was actually quite boy crazy and am making them look bad when they were actually good guys just quite distracted by girls and primarily: how do I get the girl to do what I want. HAHA. I am sure you were a PURE gentleman and never had lascivious thoughts on the brain? :) If so, teach my son to be a good boy. My Hub is a fantastic man and even he, back in high school, called Wine Cooler "panty droppers". Good thing we didnt meet then. LOL.

Mommy Lisa said...

Wow...cannot imagine the pepper lingquine!

:)

I lived off Ramen myself.

Grand Pooba said...

Hahaha! Oh my gosh, that's just out of a sitcom isn't it? I need to post about the time I burnt toast at work and they had to evacuate all 23 floors and yes, the fire trucks came and everything.

Molly said...

ouch, I can feel the pepper burn....I love to cook myself, my newest cookbook treasure is Nigella Lawson's Christmas, I squealed when I opened it.

Existential Waitress said...

I haven't caught anything on fire in a while, but that's certainly happened. Right now I'm just trying to learn how to cook meat without having an anxiety attack (I have an irrational fear of raw meat, whatever that's called). That's going to be my goal this year: learn how to cook meat. Never mind the fact that I'm 35 and still can't cook meat. lol.

Libby said...

Once I tried to make breakfast in bed for my parents including a bologna omelet, not washed or peeled hashbrowns, and something that came out of our coffee pot...ugh.
Everyone has these stories. If they don't I can't appreciate their current culinary abilities as much!

The Vegetable Assassin said...

Bahaha! Sorry. But at least you're now all gourmet with your delicious cooking.

I once made a custard for a dessert trifle at my grandma's house, only I mixed up the canisters and put salt instead of sugar in it and well...let's just say you never want to do that and if you DO, have a camera ready to photograph the expressions of anyone eating it. Then pretend you meant it. And try not to blush.

Yup.

Martha in PA said...

LOL. I love to cook too, but don't entertain often. I have noticed the deviled eggs seem to be coming back!

The hardest (most labor intensive) thing I ever prepared were bagels... this was before there were bagel shops on every corner. Way too much work!

Mighty M said...

What a way to impress a date! Thanks for sharing your early food beginnings with us - great read!

Vodka Logic said...

Great post.. Maybe someday I'll try to show some interest in cooking. Husband is away and I have a crock pot going..I'll let you know.

Pricilla said...

Trial and error, eh?

Bird Shit and Baby Caca said...

I am sssooo hungry now!

Emily said...

Hahaha! I've had similar mishaps. So, how did you finally perfect your culinary skills?

Dumblond said...

Yeeeyah. I don't cook. I don't particularly enjoy it and I would call myself talented by any means. But I'm tired of processed foods and I would like my children to know that food does not come from a box or a can. It is a relief to know that an amazing foodie like yourself started rough.
Have you seen that new Food Network show "Worst Cook in America"? Now those people make me feel real good about myself...

mandatorybloghere said...

I burnt up a stove right before I was hosting thanksgiving.No way was insurance going to come through that quickly so I had to rent to own a stove for a week. So funny

AmyLK said...

Lovely post. And shows there might be hope for me to learn to cook too! Enjoy the intentional fires!

HalfAsstic.com said...

Oh, hysterical! Why does this post make me feel so much better about my own cooking skills? Hummm, I wonder...
I have to tell you that I am, ultimately, quite impressed by your dinner party throwing abilities!

DeNae said...

The good news about your tale is that you were in Seattle. We lived on Mercer Island for seven years, and honestly, we could have eaten at a different, FABULOUS restaurant every weekend. Oh, how I miss it! I'd even take an Ivar's Fish Bar on the corner at this point!

The first meal I ever cooked for my brand new husband was steak. Which I cooked as long as my mother always cooked a roast.

That's right. 2 hours later, it occured to me that perhaps different cuts of meat require different cooking times. Charcoal for two...yummm.

Jen said...

jennyMac, how did you get from almost lighting the kitchen on fire to gourmet chef? Do a lot of reading? Take cooking classes? Trial and error, with fire extinguisher in hand?

I'm dying to know! I still burn things occasionally, but I'm really trying to learn to cook!

Erin said...

I am a pretty decent cook when I put my mind to it. I'm in love with Giada and Barefoot Contessa. I think once my kids are older and out of the way a bit more, I'll be better at it. As for tonight, we're having turkey chili. Love it. Easy and healthy, kids chow down on it.

shortmama said...

I say the more guests the better! I love to cook too, no matter how big the gathering. I was lucky enough that both my parents worked and when I was a teen my mom told me I was in charge of making dinner...ya know earn my keep or whatever. And Ive never looked back!

Arielle said...

I'm glad to know the only time I've truly fucked something I was cooking, I was eight years old and not following any actual recipes. I was making cookies and forgot sugar. But I've done really well since then.

Kato said...

Loved this one JennyMac!

I too was the SAME way. I went through a phase at 9 or ten years old that I could cook and bake. My first baked good attempt? Lemon meringue pie. Wha what? At least we know I aimed high.

Then I started wanting to cook for my parents and I would: an entire meal of chicken, rice, and a side of veggies. One look at their faces turned me of the cooking thing altogether.

15 years later I finally got the hang of it :)

Great post!

Jules said...

Holy cow. I can't cook at all! I'll be down to eat soon!

Nathanael Rey said...

HAHA oh man!!! I pride myself in being June Cleaver on a stick. I am actually a very good cook, but the only problem is that I have to focus on what I am doing. I have a tendency to multi task and end up burning/ overseasoning/ underseasoning/ undercooking/ making a huge disaster when i try to do to many things at once. However, when I am focused, Martha Stewart ain't got shit on me.

Also, let's just be happy I didn't inherit my father's culinary (non)skills. i.e. the time my mom was in the hospital with my brother and he made my older sister and I bologna and jelly sandwhiches. yeh. you can't really trade those.

bluzdude said...

I learned everything I know about cooking from the Swedish Chef. The biggest problem is keeping the chickens from getting out of the pot.

Bork bork bork!

Bossy Betty said...

In high school home ec class we accidently used salt in place of sugar. The cupcakes were hideous but ti was fun offering them to all the bullies and then watching their faces as they ate them!

Lauren said...

My poor husband ate a lot of inedible food as I learned how to cook. Thankfully for me he is not a picky eater or I probably would have just given up!

J.J. in L.A. said...

My s-i-l is (family) famous for char-broiling the hot dogs that she left on the stove for too long. The water that was 2 inches deep was gone and the dogs were blackened.

No wonder my nieces are so skinny! She did it twice while they were here.

Matty said...

These kind of stories are always funny long after the fact. But isn't learning the hard way the best way? I'm still learning how to cook. But it sure is fun. Mistakes and all.

Badass Geek said...

The only thing I'm good at cooking is pasta. And only half the time.

secret agent woman said...

This reminds me of a roommate of mine who made a recipe that called for three cloves of garlic. Only she used three whole bulbs.

Jen said...

I LOVE to cook too and I don't think that you would be a good cook if it wasn't for mistakes. Mistakes help you learn.

Ashley @ KiwisandCocktails said...

hahaha. The trials of learning. I still do not follow the recipes like I should and I only make a few things really. I really should TRY to learn to cook!!
Way to go for finally getting it!!
I have mistaken hot chilies in a recipe thinking they were just small peppers when we had dinner guests. NO one ate what I made. :(

Kathryn said...

Fabulous post, dahling. We now know that even Julia had her humble beginnings....so, you're in good company.

Okay, so does this mean I've got to give up that little corner of your pantry where I've stashed my take-out menus? I hope you haven't pilfered my VelVEETA mac and cheese...

Honey, I am the polar opposite of you in this department...a day without smoke is a day without me cooking.

I printed out the instructions for making gravy from chicken drippings the other day...it came out the consistency of somewhere between pudding and mousse.

Gee. No-one even tasted it...

CRY said...

so funny!
I blew up a glass pie pan
thank goodness no one was in the room

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

We grow and learn from our challenges ; -)

Vivienne said...

Just last night we were discussing my lack of culinary skills when I was in high school. I have burned a peanut butter sandwich.
I'm much better now.
Old mistakes simply show how fabulous we are now.
:)

Marcy said...

OMG, i totally remember the cracked pepper linguine episode! I wonder if he reads this blog. ;)

Laoch of Chicago said...

This made me smile.

Postman said...

Oh, sure, I have lascivious thoughts all the time...but chivalry forbids me from actually making them evident. Which means, yeah, sure, I never even get to first base, but hey, at least the girl thinks I'm a gentleman, right?

My mistake. I get it now. They're not sleazebags, but (a) the sleazebag bit makes for the funnier stories and (b) there just must be something about you that brings out the beast in guys, eh?