A cursory glance through my cookbook collection might have you wondering exactly what level of cook I am. I have my tried-and-true easy family meals cookbooks, and then plenty of fancy shmancy Martha books. Plus, a few party planning cookbooks, alongside my literary themed cookbook collection (for that special day when I'll have an opportunity to make a meal focused on Alice in Wonderland or The Secret Garden).
Overall, I'm a decent cook. Nothing spectacular, but certainly not a candidate for America's Worst Cook contest. I'm great at following directions; I can substitute; I can improvise if I need to. I'm not as good of a baker as my grandma is, but that's partly for lack of practice and will-power to prevent myself from eating that whole pan of brownies. I made cookies yesterday, and so far I've had six of them for lunch today. Yes, baking isn't good for me.
I got to thinking about my cooking skills when--thanks to a post at violetismycolor--I found a clever New York Times food article...Recipe Deal Breakers: When Step 2 is 'Corral Pig.' (You have to free-register to read it.)
The author of the article writes about what ingredient, special equipment, or process prevents a cook from trying out a recipe. I'm not afraid of ethnic ingredients, but that Martha Stewart recipe for creme brulee (my favorite dessert ever!) that requires straining through cheesecloth? Hmm...not so much. I think I'd be more adventurous in my cooking if I didn't know ahead of time that my girls will 99% of the time refuse to eat whatever I make. That's why almost every time we are having guests over for a meal, I'm trying something new...because at least I know there will be two more adult mouths polite enough to try what I've concocted.
It used to be--and here's my semi-embarrassing confession here--that a recipe deal breaker was anything that involved chicken. Chicken! Oh, I can still feel a tinge of nervousness when I recall my dread of trying to cook chicken. You see, I came into our marriage knowing almost nothing about cooking. It wasn't because I didn't grow up eating wonderful homecooked meals; it was because I didn't pay an ounce of attention to what the adult women were doing in the kitchen. I'd wander through, comment on how nice it smelled, eat what was put in front of me, and be grateful. That was pretty much it.
So, when I got married, and found myself looking at recipes that included chicken in the recipe and yet NEVER directed the chef on exactly how to prepare said chicken, I was mad. "HOW DO YOU COOK THE CHICKEN?!" I'd rage at the cookbook. "Don't tell me just to COOK it! Tell me how!" I'm still convinced that authors of cookbooks could use a good education class on how to teach.
My fears were based on the knowledge that raw chicken is bad for you. I didn't want to poison my new husband, and raw meat just frightened the heck out of me. I could bake, I could pour milk, I could scramble eggs, but cook chicken? What kind of chicken? Skinless? Boneless? It sounded like an invitation to just dump a bucket of salmonella on our dinner plates. Clueless.
One time I did try to cook chicken, but at the last minute, when the chicken was sitting on the plate and Jason was about to eat it, I channeled my inner Anne Shirley--you know the scene from Anne of Green Gables? the one where just as she was about to serve pudding that had been the scene of a recently drowned mouse, but then screamed before anyone could eat it?--I cried out to Jason, "DON'T EAT IT!" And quickly threw the chicken away.
Some people gain weight their first year of marriage, but us? With our steady diet of cereal and instant rice? We were pretty scrappy looking kids.
Fortunately, at some point, chicken became an ingredient that didn't freak me out. The story would be sweeter if I knew the exact light bulb moment chicken was illuminated in my culinary life, but all I know is that a few years after we got married I finally decided to brave the big raw-chicken world and try to cook it. It might be that I saw a friend cooking chicken, or maybe there was some step-by-step recipe that showed me how--either way, I can say with full confidence that I can now cook raw chicken until it's ready for human consumption. However, I still am not about to try to "poach" a chicken. It sounds very feathery and illegal to me. I'll stick with my frying pan and oven, thank you very much.
These days a recipe deal breaker for me is more time or task oriented. I don't want to spend all day working on something. I don't mind a recipe that requires overnight marinating or firming, but if I have to babysit it, speaking to it in dulcet tones while it alternately boils and simmers in fresh seawater on the stove? Pass.
And you? Do you have a recipe deal breaker? If it involves chicken, I might be able to help.
PS: The title comes from one of my favorite Dan Zanes songs. I loved this song before I even had kids. Take a listen and dance around your kitchen.
This post was written for Parent Bloggers Network as part of a contest sponsored by the American Egg Board.