20 September 2009

Adventures in Cooking 1

As I noted in my previous post, it is Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish new year. It is the start of the High Holidays for observant, and even not-so-observant, Jews. I grew up in a somewhat observant household. We weren't kosher in or out of the house (mmmm, shrimp; mmmm, cheeseburgers), and we did not keep Shabbat. We celebrated the holidays that most Reformed Jewish households celebrated -- the High Holidays, Passover, and Hanukkah. As kids we were dragged ... er, um, I mean went to temple on the High Holidays (specifically Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur -- evening and daytiome services.). But really for us the holidays all revolved around family and food.

I grew up in the same town as my close-in-age cousins and about 20 minutes away from my maternal grandparents. My other cousins on my maternal side lived in VT until I was in college, so their presence at the holidays was not constant (but always pleasing). We alsways had dinner at my grandparents apartment on Rosh Hashanah. Baked chicken, brisket, mashed potatoes baked in chicken fat (beyond amazing, but too scary to eat nowadays due to the instant cholesterol deposition that occurs), kasha varnishkes, my mom's jello mold, nut cake at Passover (drool, drool), chocolate chip cookies, chopped liver... Not all at once, but eaten over a few hours. Sometimes we all ate at the dining room table with it opened all the way. Sometimes there was a separate kids table. Was my grandmother the best cook ever? No, but in my memory, the food was fabulous in every respect.

As I have said before, I find cooking to be scary. I never learned the basics (e.g., to brown meat before cooking it in a liquid so that the juices stay in). I am nervous in the kitchen and tend to follow recipes slavishly. Except that I never plan ahead and have the correct ingredients. So then I have to improvise, making me even more nervous. When I get home at the end of the day, I am not often in the mood to cook -- I am too tired. I swear that TPT thought all cooking was done in the microwave for the first 2 years of her life. But I want to cook. If I cook for us, we will inevitably eat healthier foods, less processed, less salty, less fatty. So I am determined to learn to cook some basic foods and make them well.

Last night I made chicken. All three of us prefer dark meat, so I tend to buy chicken thighs. I had about 3 lbs of chicken thighs to cook, and I wanted it to be extra good (Happy New Year and all that). So I incorporated what I had observed my aunt do when she visited, and also what Claudia did with chicken. While it was a totally simple meal, it came out great!

Basically I browned the chicken on all sides in my wok, then I poured in about 1.5 cups of water and the appropriate amount of bouillon, covered and let it simmer for about 15 minutes. I then made my own gravy for the first time ever. I listened to Claudia and made sure to mix the flour in cold water before mixing it with the drippings. Then I served the chicken and the gravy with noodles. Sliced cucumbers were the vegetable, eaten by TPT and me. Not a fancy meal, and probably not impressive for those of you who cook regularly and well, but an accomplishment for me.

Tonight I am having a coworker over to dinner, and I will be serving pot roast, egg noodles, and broccoli. What's for dessert you ask? Brainzzzzzz, of course. (It is actually peach jello made in a brain jello mold, but that's good enough for me.) I'll tell you how it all came out tomorrow.


WendyB_09 said...

Sounds like it turned out well. Good luck with tonight's dinner.

Me, I'm doing simple comfort food tonight...tuna casserole. We had it once a week when I was a kid, still love it and fix it about once a month.

Janiece said...

Good for you!

Lorraine said...

Wow, you *are* cookin'!

As an Un-chef, I too delight when it *works* :)

Tania said...

Natalie, all that matters is that you and yours liked it. And that the company was excellent. The rest is just pretentious posturing.

Congratulations! :)

(btw, I did have a pomegranate cocktail for you last night)

neurondoc said...

Tania, I love pomegranate, so you picked appropriately. :-) And the company was great -- there will be a post about the hijinks tomorrow...

Anonymous said...

I cheated, I married a man who likes to cook! :)

Mind you, I did know the basics by the time I left home. I'll see what sort of simple meals I can dig up for you. Any dietary constraints, eg do you eat pork?

Jeri said...

Yeah cooking! Gravy is not exactly on the beginner class syllabus - so congrats!

Danny G said...

Don't forget those carrots made with honey and raisins - ick! and i had such a weird relationship to the chopped liver - never truly liked it but i wanted it anyway because it was so Grandma and special. For me, it was really mostly about the jello mold and the choco chip cookies - even if some of them ended up, well, catapulted. And a few times when i got a turkey leg.

It's odd that we ended up so different in the kitchen - i think geography ultimately had something to do with that. TPT probably wouldn't like my cooking!

neurondoc said...

I thought about mentioning what happened to the chocolate chip cookies and the grapes, but I just couldn't (what if G&Z start reading my blog again?).

Tzimmes (the evil carrot dish) is what ruined me for life on cooked carrots.

If you cooked for TPT, I'd make her eat it. :-)