September 12, 2005

A Chunk of My Identity Just Turned Black and Fell Off

I have long believed two things about myself: I like to read, and I like to cook.

The first one might be a lie--as I realized when the other night I couldn't name the last novel I'd enjoyed--but the second one is definitely a lie. All this time, I've been kidding myself.

I hate to cook.

Really. Many's the night I've turned in with my stomach growling because I couldn't be bothered to throw a couple of slices of bread in the toaster before bed. Or because there weren't any slices of bread in the house, and making anything more complex than toast was just too much work.

I hate to cook. What I like, I've decided, is having something to do with my hands while people talk to me. And I like eating good food, and I can't really afford restaurants, so if I want something good to eat there's no delegating the chore of cooking--either I'm fixing dinner or no one is.

Lately, no one is. Here, this is the most complicated thing I've made lately: An enormous pot of posole. This is basically a stew-like soup of pork and hominy and massive amounts of chile. It's not really complicated at all, in other words. I expended the effort to put that together because why? Because I knew I could spend the next three weeks not cooking anything but merely warming up a cup of posole here and there when I got peckish.

It's actually surprisingly good as breakfast.

I used to make fun of women in the grocery store who'd have one head of lettuce, one box of low-fat cereal bars, one 12-pack of Diet Coke, and 17 Lean Cuisine dinners in their carts, with nothing else--but by gum, I can see now how it could happen. I could wind up like that, except I wouldn't buy Lean Cuisines, I'd buy Marie Callenders. I loves me some country-fried pork chop, Marie!

This is terrible. I used to list cooking as a hobby. "Oh, don't you like cooking?" I'd inquire nosily, when a coworker would complain about having to make dinner that night. "I think it's so . . . relaxing, actually! I really enjoy it. It helps me unwind. Plus, at the end, you have something wonderful to eat!"

I was so full of it.

I have garlic. I have onions. I have mushrooms. I have tomatoes. I have lemons. I have vinegars, red wine and white wine and rice wine and balsamic. I could be making something really fabulous right now.

Wanna place bets on whether I'm going to?

UPDATE: Okay, I'm going to. But my gosh, I'm rusty. Having a hard time remembering what to do first or do next, that kind of thing.

I may update this afterwards and tell you what I fixed. Why? Because I may feel like it. And also because if that Greg Gutfeld character can post something like "IT'S MY BIRTHDAY!!!" on his double secret hidden blog or whatever, well, I like when others lower the bar for me like that. It relieves my performance anxiety. Please don't take that as "Oh, she hates Greg Gutfeld" because no, she does not. I love him (and belated happy birthday to the man). I'm just saying.

ANOTHER UPDATE: I am at a crossroads and you are all asleep and can't help me--except maybe Pixy, who has just announced our engagement in the comments here. Four words: FREE LIFETIME TECH SUPPORT. I'm so there!

But my dilemma: Basically either I food process the mixture of spinach/onions/tomatoes/garlic I just sauteed before I throw it on top of the chicken, or I don't. I think I'll like it better if I give it a few quick pulses, but that will mean more dishes, and I am not good at dishes--one more argument against my ever cooking again. The boyfriend used to do them all. Don't ask me how I worked that stroke of luck out because if I knew, I wouldn't be here; I would be negotiating the advance for my soon-to-be bestseller, How to Get Your Man to Clean Up (After Your Ass). I would have speaking engagements. Women would trample each other to get me to heal their sick children.

Well, at least two weeks hence there definitely won't be any cooking. How rude would it be to bring a doggy bag . . . ?

AND ANOTHER: There, in the oven. We Will See.

I pulsed, by the way. This turned out to be a good thing as I'd forgotten I'd need to dump the whole mess in a half-cup of white sauce. I don't think it would have blended as nicely if I'd left the spinach leaves whole and, anyway, I hate stems.

It's a bad thing in the sense that the dishwasher is full (and running) and I still have a sink-and-a-half's worth of stuff to clean. I don't know why some people get so excited about stem cell research and nanotechnology when clearly what America's scientists should be working on is cloning my boyfriend.

I aborted the panzanella I was going to make with this. What am I, a pig? Well, yes. But I used two pounds of spinach in this dish. That's enough greenery for one day I think.

Recipes in the extended entry.

Spinach-Smothered Chicken

NOTE: I crib heavily from this recipe. Credit where credit is due and all that.

2 lbs fresh spinach
1/2 white onion
3 cloves garlic
3 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped
Some button mushrooms--I don't know, say 5 or 6?--halved and sliced
1/2 can (14 oz.) artichoke hearts, drained, rinsed, and quartered
Cooking oil, and I don't care what you use honestly
1/2 C milk
1 T flour
1 T butter
2/3 C grated parmesan
Seasonings of a vaguely Italian type (see below)
And about a pound of chicken breasts, or at least 3 of them, pounded to tenderize

Mince your garlic and chop your half an onion.

Peel and seed your plum tomatoes. I score an "X" into the bottoms, drop them in a pan of boiling water for 15-30 seconds, remove them (WITH TONGS!) to a bowl of cold water, let 'em cool a sec, and peel them that way. To deseed, slice off the tops, then slice in half vertically, and squeeze. Seeds-B-Gone. Purists may moan that the tomatoes get too much water into them this way. Purists can go to hell.

Oh!--and when done peeling and seeding, dice them. Not too finely.

Halve and slice your mushrooms. Drain, rinse, and quarter your half-can artichokes.

Now throw some oil into a nice Dutch oven sort of pot, let it heat over medium, and then toss all the above in. Okay technically, you will want to start with onions and garlic, stir stir stir, then mushrooms, stir stir stir, and then tomatoes and 'chokes. Stir around, do a little dance, make a little love--no, don't do that last one. The garlic might burn. Don't let the garlic burn!

Pat yourself on the back (read: have a beer) for having got this far. Then throw in the spinach. I would give you that "washed three times well and dried" business here, but you know to do that anyway, right? Or just do what I do and buy the prewashed 20-ounce packet and throw very nearly all of it in, so as to kid yourself that you will use the remainder later "in an omelet or something" instead of "throwing it away two weeks later, after it's started growing horrible, awful things all over it."

Cook the spinach just until it's cooked down. You really aren't cooking it so much as wilting it.

Throw the whole mess into a colander and drain off the worst of the liquid. Don't knock yourself out draining all the liquid; you'll need some of that later.

Now either food-process it all or keep it rustic, meaning, don't do anything to it.

Wipe out the Dutch oven pot in the lazy sort of way we all do when we think no one like the health department is looking. Put it back on medium-low and make half a cup of white sauce, which is in this instance: 1 T butter, 1 T flour, stir stir stir, and the slow addition of 1/2 cup milk. You can even use skim here because it's such a small amount. See if I care!

Into this throw the chopped (not pureed!) spinach mixture. Stir stir stir, just to coat. Enough! Take it off the heat and remember you forgot to pound the damn chicken breasts.

Pound the damn chicken breasts. Coat these in a mixture of grated parmesan, dried basil, dried oregano, dried thyme, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and pepper. For the love of man do not ask me to specify the proportions (although I just realized, I tend to go in the order listed, most to least). Use your judgment.

Lay the chicken breasts in a casserole dish which, believe it or not, you do not need to grease first. The recipe I cribbed from specifies an 8 x 8 x 2 inch size dish. I don't know what chickens that lady is buying, but every time I go to the grocery store anymore, I am amazed and horrified by the steroid-packin' chickens we have in this country, and 3 chicken breasts pounded out will not fit in an 8 x 8 x 2. I have to use, ah, whatever the next size up is. Is it 13 x 9 x 2? Anyway, it's oblong and I recommend it. Or I suppose you could roll up the breasts and hope the whole thing doesn't overflow, but given what a mess I make in a kitchen anyway I do not myself choose to risk it.

Spread spinach mixture over breasts to cover.

Bake, 350 degrees, 45 minutes. You do not have to cover it! That's the neat part. Let cool when finished. Eat. Be shocked that something relatively nutritious tastes THAT good. Which it does. I've made this several times and it's never failed.

Panzanella, or, what to do with the rest of those artichokes

You remember the other half-can of artichokes? Good. Mine are sitting in a small Tupperware at the moment but that's no reason yours should. You will need:

Some sturdy bread. Technically, day-old. I've been lazy about making bread from scratch so I never have day-old around anymore and you can't get it in stores here.

Which reminds me, a note to all back-East cooks: Not all of us have these marvelous bakeries you people take for granted. In fact, most of the country does not have these marvelous bakeries you people take for granted. So please shut the fuck up about day-old bread and how easy it is to procure. It is not. I am talking to you, Rachel Ray.

There, I feel better. Anyway, cube the bread, crouton-fashion. Now where were we? Right.

4 plum tomatoes
2 roasted red bell peppers (or just take some from a jar of roasted sweet peppers)
That other half-a-can of artichokes, drained, rinsed, quartered
Olives if you like them (I don't, and please don't get on my ass about that)
Some lettuce that you like
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/3 part red wine vinegar
3/4-2/3 part olive oil
Seasonings for the vinegar-and-olive oil like, say, basil oregano salt pepper and maybe thyme and just possibly crushed red pepper, depending

Whisk together the minced garlic, vinegar, oil and seasonings to taste. And do taste it, if you don't make vinaigrettes all the time and know already pretty much what you like. If you don't like the taste now, you won't like it later, and you will have ruined perfectly good other things with it. This is the sort of thing that gives old Italian women (and/or Mario Battali) heart attacks to hear, but you know something? Every once in awhile, when I can't get one to come out the way I want it to, I have been known to (ssssh!) sneak about 1/8 teaspoon of sugar into it. Fixes it every time. But no telling!

Chop the tomatoes as coarsely or as finely as you like. No peeling and seeding this time, hooray.

Do whatever it is you olive-eaters do with olives. Ugh.

Combine tomatoes, bell peppers, artichokes, and actually anything else you feel like throwing in, vegetable-wise. I'm planning on adding seeded, sliced cucumbers when I get around to doing this tomorrow, AS WE ALL KNOW I CERTAINLY WILL. Oh!--and add the cubed bread which may or may not be strictly day-old but whatever.

Pour some dressing over. I don't know, 1/3 C? 1/2? I always make a cup, use whatever amount I think is right for whatever I'm doing that minute, and save the rest for later. Anyway, toss it. That's right. I said toss the salad. You may all have your Beavis and Butthead moment now.

Put some lettuce on a plate or in a bowl or whatever you prefer--use a sippy cup if you insist--and put dressed bread-cubes-and-assorted-veggies on top of it. Very good stuff. Unless you fucked it up, in which case, that's all your fault.

Posted by Ilyka at September 12, 2005 10:33 PM in navel gazing | TrackBack

I actually like to cook, so long as I have the time (which generally requires most of a day), and I can do something interesting. I like to make my own stuff rather than buy pre-made, even if is a bit more expensive, because it's better tasting and I like putting it together. When it's a special project, something new or differant, I enjoy it.

But I hate the drudgery of daily cooking. If I didn't have my girlfriend, I'd probably wind up not eating more often than bothering with it. When she went on vacation for a week, I ate out with my Dad twice, made big huge fancy meals (mostly of stuff that she dosen't like) twice, and drank my dinner the other few nights, because I couldn't be bothered. I usually have coffee for breakfast and a coke for lunch, so if I have a twelve-pack or a bottle of gin for dinner, that dosen't equal out to much in the way of solid food. I knew all that, but I still couldn't be bothered to nuke a Marie Callander (the baked chicken with mashed potatoes is my favorite, by the way) and stuff it in my face. Too much effort.

No wonder the celebrity I most resemble is Jack Skellington.

Posted by: francis at September 12, 2005 11:01 PM

I like to cook, but not every single night after nine hours at the office and walking home. Thankfully, with only the two of us, I get three meals out of most recipes, so I split up the two left and put them in the freezer. Some weeks all we eat is 'freezer food' . And bean dip is my friend. My version is a can of refried beans, lots of cheese, microwave, stir, eat with tortilla chips. I just did my menu for next week -- the freezer food is running low, and I'm plum outta beans!

Posted by: Ith at September 12, 2005 11:03 PM

But I hate the drudgery of daily cooking.

That is exactly the problem. Like I forced myself into the kitchen just now and tore up some lettuce for a nice green salad, put it in the salad spinner, gave it a spin or two, put the spinner in the fridge--and now I'm like "Ugh, that's enough for one night. Don't want to over-exert myself here. Let's ease back into th--oh hey, I know, let's go buy some beer."

Posted by: ilyka at September 12, 2005 11:39 PM

And Ith, I wish I liked beans because I'd never cook again. But for some reason I just don't like 'em.

My grandmother has this great story of when she was about 12 or so, her mother went off to NYC to look for work and took my grandmother's two older sisters with her, leaving my grandmother to tend to her father in Pennsylvania. She didn't really know how to cook at the time--between her mom and her sisters she just hadn't had to learn yet--so night after night she'd throw on a couple of potatoes and warm up a can of beans, and that was dinner. She says by day 6 or 7 her father finally said to her "Margaret" (you have to hear that in an Irish brogue) "Margaret, that's enough with the beans."

Posted by: ilyka at September 12, 2005 11:44 PM

Honestly, I feel ya. For me, however, it's 17 years of cooking "kid food." (And please don't remind me that I will have to CONTINUE THIS TREND FOR ANOTHER 17.)

After PB&J, corndogs and mac n' cheese for the life of me, I FORGOT HOW TO FOOKING COOK!

Fortunately, hubby also likes to and will cook, so that lets off the pressure. But I confess, if it's just me, I just don't do it. But I was actually starting to try new recipes and liking it again. . .

And just when I was getting my groove back. . .

P.S. Can I be a bridesmaid?

Posted by: Margi at September 13, 2005 01:46 AM

P.P.S. I'll, like, bring a casserole.

Posted by: Margi at September 13, 2005 01:46 AM

P.P.P.S. I really wanna go to the Whole Enchilada Festival. Imagine -- the Pregnant Lady Who Ate Las Cruces.


P.P.P.P.S. I love to hear my name in a Scottish brogue. Rowrrr. Frankly, 'tis what got me into this predicament. (Aheh.)

Posted by: Margi at September 13, 2005 01:48 AM

Marie Callenders - Pies that taste so good if you put one on top of your head your tongue would try to dig through your brain to get to it.

Training your fella to do the dishes is simple. Lovely Wife succeeded in this in record time. All you ladies have to do is completely and consistently screw up loading the dishwasher. Bowls go ON THE TOP RACK. Cups go ON THE TOP RACK. Plates all FACE THE SAME DIRECTION. They are also ON THE BOTTOM RACK. Silverware goes POINT DOWN.

Eventually the anal retentive inside every man will take over and they will WANT to do the dishes just to keep you away from the dishwasher.

Posted by: Jim at September 13, 2005 04:24 AM

Beats there a heart so black
As to put cups on the bottom rack?

Posted by: Pixy Misa at September 13, 2005 07:44 AM

Marie Callenders -- I guess I'm the odd man out on that one. They're okay. I mean I'll eat it if I'm hungry enough :) My preferred frozen food is Stouffers. Either escalloped chicken and noodles or the fried chicken breast with mashed taters.

Knives point down, but everything else up so they actually get cleaned properly. The knives point down because I have a bizarre fear of tripping over the open dishwasher door and stabbing myself.

Nin doesn't like beans either, except for the bean dip. She says it's becuase I use so much cheese it's more like cheese dip with some beans for ballast. Bummer though on the beans, because I have a great recipe for black bean and goat cheese enchiladas with tomatillo sauce. It has many serrano peppers in it. Now I'm craving Mexican food! One of my goals is to try and make my own mole sauce. Can you tell I'm bored and I should be working?

Posted by: Ith at September 13, 2005 10:28 AM

My husband and I shared the cooking when I was working full time and he would have to do his own dishes (since the kitchen would look like a bomb went off). Now, though, I don't work full-time and the husband has turned into Ozzie Nelson. "Hi Honey, I'm home! What's for dinner?"

I hate cooking.

Posted by: Anna at September 13, 2005 09:03 PM