Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Cooking with Me

My cookbook collection.
I love cookbooks, and have been collecting them for over 30 years.  Some of my favorites are the one published by the Nebraska 4-H Clubs, which my aunt and cousins gave me as a wedding shower gift.  That's the one with the binding falling apart to the right of the Gordon Ramsey cookbook .  I also love my Pillsbury Baking cookbook, which is out of print, so I make sure to take really good care of it.

The problem, though, is that while I love looking through them and thinking of all the wonderful things I'd like to make, I never seem to have the time to actually make all the recipes in them.  Add to that the fact that my husband is a somewhat picky eater, and there are just the two of us, plus my own weight issues, the cookbooks are really just kind of taking up space.
I also enjoy cooking shows on TV, particularly Top Chef.  The thing I like about them is their skill in creating new dishes out of nothing, except their own talent and knowledge of food. This is an ability I do not possess.  I'm a skilled recipe follower, and enjoy cooking and baking, but there's no way I could be given a challenge involving scallops and quinoa and have any idea what to do with them.

Which is also why TV cooking shows are so frustrating.  For cooks like me, I look at them and admire them, but they really make me feel incompetent.

So, here's what I think I should do.  I think that what the Food Network needs is not one more chef coming up with new and exciting recipes.  I think it needs a show where a competent, workmanlike cook prepares a meal each week using the recipes in her collection of cookbooks.  It would show those of us whose own self-esteem takes a beating during each episode of Iron Chef or Top Chef that cooking can be fun and rewarding even if you're just following a recipe. And, it would give me an excuse to actually try the Beef Wellington recipe in my Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

I think a show like that could be a lot of fun, even more so with a wacky sidekick.  Let me know if you're interested.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

(Mis)Adventures in Cooking

I don't know why I do this.  I always think that I'm a more competent cook than experience proves.  As a result I wind up trying to fix my mistakes with not-so-satisfying results.
Take this weekend for example.  Our church is having a potluck lunch tomorrow.  I signed up to bring a main dish.  I decided that I would make my Chicken and Wild Rice casserole.  Tonight is the night our dinner circle, also from church, is meeting.  I told the hostess that I would bring the same thing for dinner tonight, that way I would only have to worry about preparing one thing.

The Chicken and Wild Rice casserole is fairly simple, but it only serves 8, and I really needed it to serve double that.  Therefore, I decided that I would make 2 casseroles, each a double recipe.  No problem.  

The first thing I decided to do to simplify my life was to prepare the wild rice and bake the chicken ahead of time.  I did this on Thursday when I was off for Veteran's Day.  Everything ran smoothly.  The rice was done, and the chicken was ready to be diced for the casserole.

So, it's now Saturday morning.  After working out and finishing breakfast I got started. I cut up the chicken, which really worked well.  Usually when I make this I'm trying to cut the chicken while it's still hot, and it's more difficult that way.  The only problem was that the original recipe calls for 3 cups of chicken.  Since I was making 2 double batches, I really needed 12 cups of chicken, and I really only got about 11 cups.  But that was minor.

Then comes the sauce preparation. I decided to prepare the sauce for each casserole separately, rather than making a quadruple batch and dividing it up.  So,  I doubled the amounts of chicken broth and 1/2 and 1/2.  But when I add the sauce to the chicken and rice it was way too much.  I tried to ladle out some of the sauce, thinking I would add it to the 2nd casserole, but I couldn't get the sauce without taking out the rice. So, I just covered it with foil and put the whole mess in the fridge.

When I went to make the 2nd batch, I didn't double the sauce recipe.  So, while I have double the chicken and rice, it's not swimming in sauce.

I decided that I would try to repair the 1st casserole by adding chicken and rice.  So, I now have some chicken breasts baking in the oven, and wild rice cooking on the stove.

Now, here's my 2nd catastrophe (maybe).  I also signed up to bring deviled eggs to the potluck tomorrow.  I had found a recipe in a magazine and wanted to try it. What sold me was the addition of bacon. Is there nothing that bacon can't make better?
Everything went well - hardboiled eggs aren't that challenging, and they peeled and sliced perfectly.  I mashed the yolks, and added the bacon, mayo and lemon juice.  The recipe only called for 3 tablespoons mayo, but it was still really too dry, so I added more mayo.  Still no problem.  Then I added the chives and dried mustard, mixed it all together and filled the egg whites.  Everything went smoothly; the only problem is the taste - they're okay, but not great.  I'm not sure what is off, but I'm hoping that after mellowing in the fridge the flavors come together better.

So, what I thought would be a laid-back Saturday with minimum of muss and fuss didn't quite work out.  I'm hoping the casserole at least works out, but I'm definitely re-evaluating my culinary skills - and sticking with cookies.