Learning Something Useful

The Really Rosie Special
The Really Rosie Special

In the past, my idea of cooking involved a box of something, a package of something frozen, burning the cooking implements beyond the ability to use them again, and then mircowaving something in its place because I screwed up the thing that I was actually going to eat.  The funny part is that I actually understood a fair amount of what I was doing wrong.  But every time I would step into the kitchen, I would undergo a horrible transformation, and could only approach the world as if I was a 20 year old male living in a bizarre flop-house where budgetary constraints, combined with a cigarettes-and-40-ouncer priority, reduced my view of eating to a pizza-and-burritos diet.

I have made a few efforts to overcome this handicap in the years past.  At one point I bought an extremely heavy cookbook that contained “over 1000 recipes” with the misguided notion that I would start going through it in an effort to learn how to cook.  To this day, that book as remained un-read, and the only action it has gotten was when I used to have roommates who would occasionally thumb through it and point to all the things they could cook, usually while I was microwaving a can of chili.  There was also the summer where I was making home-made bread, which actually worked out pretty well until school started and I reverted back to buying Gyro’s at Foti’s on a near daily basis, until I moved out of the neighborhood and they changed hands.  I have also mastered a breakfast scramble that is mostly edible because of the amount of cheese and curry I put on the potatoes.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to learn how to cook, or that I didn’t appreciate good food.  When I would gain access to some delicious meal of some kind, I would sing its praises, and wish I could make something this good.  But when I would try, the finished product was a pretty lame version of what food could be, and the disappointment led me back to Indian Food Carts, granola bars, and more coffee than I needed.  In my dreams, I was mocked openly for being so ignorant in the kitchen as people in chef hats threw delicious biscuits at me.

Stubbornness has served me well in many areas of my life, and if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t have many of the things I currently value.  So as I stubbornly continued to problem-solve my inadequacies in the kitchen, I eventually weeded out a few of the habits that were clearly hindering my success rate.  (Like: leaving the food unattended for 10 minutes at a time, and only cooking things on High.)  My girlfriend gave me a lesson a while back that led to the successful addition of “Taco Tuesday” to our calendar, and with the exception of one or two hiccups, it has become a hit.  (At least: I didn’t fuck it up too badly.)

So, last week, against my better judgement, I decided to tackle making chili from scratch, using the rationale that if I really botched it, I could just add a bunch of jalapeños and no one would notice.  And, somehow, it actually came out okay.  At least, everyone ate it, no one complained, and even my girlfriend said she was not lying when she complimented it.

No one was shocked more than I.

This success completely changed my view of cooking, and I decided that I should really go all out, and try something I’ve never tried before: making chicken, soup & quinoa.  (Or, as I’m calling it now, The Really Rosie Special.)  The impulse was completely driven by the fact that we have a ton of sweet potatoes in the house, and it was the first thing that sounded fairly appetizing.  You can see the results above (and the glass of vodka that I was drinking so I could get my Julia Child on while I cooked).  To make it, I followed a very basic recipe I found on The Inter-Web-A-Tron.  I made it more or less how the recipe said I should, minus a couple of things I determined were optional.  (Like: the whole “for garnish” section.)  I think it was pretty okay, or at least, need to start thinking that, as there’s a ton leftover.

Now that I’ve had a couple of successes in the kitchen, and given that circumstances have changed in our household routines quite a bit in recent months, I am attempting to take on the job of preparing dinner.  I do not expect I will be doing this every night, nor do I expect that I will become an overnight sensation.  I’m not starting an Instagram account, and I am most definitely not becoming any more of a foodie than everyone else on the planet already is.  But I want to get to the point in my life where I have a set of useful skills in a number of areas that allow me to contribute to the world around me in a positive way, and I have to say, putting food in someone’s belly – and having it be food that’s actually pretty good to eat – is a pretty excellent place to start.

So, I’m starting a new section of this blog, dedicated to my on-going education in the culinary arts.  All of these entries will be tagged “Cooking,” and no, I will not be offended if you skip them.  However, if cooking is your bag, and you have any hints, tips, recommendations, websites dedicated to your own cooking activities, recipes that you enjoy, or just a friendly word of encouragement, I would very much appreciate it.  I am on the prowl for ideas I can try that are beginner level, but are fairly rewarding when done right.  (Or, if nothing else, will make a girlfriend – who has more cooking chops than your local butcher – to say, “Not bad,” without having to pretend she likes it.)

I will occasionally post pictures of my successes and / or failures, with a little information about what I did.  I would love to get some feedback if you happen to be into that sort of thing.  I’m also trying to do this on the cheap, so if you have advice on alternatives that save money, I am all ears.  I am not limiting my recipe book to any one kind of food; I’m curious about vegan, veggie, paleo, international, greasy, and any other diet you might enjoy.  My goal here is to learn how to navigate in a kitchen, with a tangental hope that I can give my girlfriend the night off more and more.  I’m not expecting to become an expert; rather, I just want to be able to do something that most people learned much earlier in life.

Thanks!  We’ll resume weird, abstract culture reviews and existential musings on life when we meet again.

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