Saturday, July 26, 2008

Culinary School

When I was about 10 years old my parents decided it was time my sisters and I learn how to cook. We were each given a dinner night and were to choose a different recipe to make each week. It was our job to make sure we planned the dinner and got all the ingredients at the store. There was sure to be some not so tasty meals, but the rule was that everybody had to eat what was made and there was no complaining.

I don't remember Corinne having any disasters, though Annie and I both had our fair share. Tuna casserole was my first mishap. My only error was that I followed the recipe a little too closely. It never told me to drain the macaroni noodles after I cooked them, so of course I just dumped the whole pot, water and all, into the casserole dish with all the other ingredients. It ended up tasting ok but it was a runny mess. Yuck.

My second disaster was lasagna and it is still talked about to this day. I still have no idea what I did wrong, but somehow the lasagna turned out a bit runny and all the cheese separated into little clumps. It looked really gross. I have to give my parents credit though, they stuck to the rules and ate it.

One time during the summer I decided to make chocolate chip cookies. By the time I had made the dough I didn't feel like going through the trouble of making all the individual cookies and cooking all the batches one at a time, so I thought I'd just make one big cookie instead. I had no idea how long it would take to bake so I figured I'd just check on the cookie every so often and see how it was coming along. Big mistake. I got distracted cleaning the house or something and completely forgot about the cookie until I started to smell burning. I ran back into the kitchen and opened to oven door to find a giant smoking black mass on the pan. The cookie was toast and now the house stunk like burnt food. That wouldn't have been so bad except for the fact that my dad was having people over in a couple hours so we had to frantically try to air out the house before he got home.

Another time Annie and I tried to make churros using a boxed mix.
We needed to fry the churros in oil so I put a skillet of oil on the stove and cranked it up to "high" to heat it up fast. While the oil was heating up we made the churro batter. Well, after a few minutes I turned around to check on the oil to see how it was coming along and noticed that it had started smoking. I decided I should maybe turn down the heat a bit and just after I did so, the pan burst into flames. There were huge flames at least a foot high licking the bottom of the microwave mounted above the stove and I stood there for a moment panicking. I imagined the flames catching onto the wall and quickly spreading throughout the kitchen and then to the rest of the house. My family was going to be homeless and it would be all my fault. My brain slowly began to think straight and I tried to find a lid to smother the flames but we didn't have a lid big enough and all the flames kept shooting out the sides. I thought of the 30 year old fire extinguisher down in the closet and told Annie to run and get it. Luckily she was quicker on her feet than me and knew to dump baking soda on it. She found the orange box in the cupboard and doused the flames with the white powder. To my relief the flames went away and the microwave hadn't been damaged. However, the house was filled with smoke so we opened all the doors and windows to try to get rid of it. The neighbor across the street saw the smoke pouring out the front door and asked if we were ok. We sheepishly told her that indeed we were ok and then proceeded to dump the churro batter down the drain. I am still very paranoid when it comes to cooking with oil.

(ok maybe this picture is a bit of an exaggeration)

Annie had a couple cooking mishaps as well. She and her friend Christina decided to make cupcakes using a boxed cake mix one day. When neither of them could find the recipe for the cake (staring at them on the back of the box...) they decided to make another recipe they'd found on the side of the box and just take out the ingredients they felt weren't necessary. The result was a muffin pan full of what I dubbed "crater muffins." I actually tasted one and though it didn't taste bad, the cupcakes did look terrible. Annie hid the pan of crater muffins under her bed for the next month or so, afraid she would get in trouble. I continue to tease her about those cupcakes to this day.

The most purposefully negligent cooking disaster goes to Annie. Once again she and Christina were cooking together and Annie decided it would be fun to be Betty Crocker for the day and make up her own recipe. The recipe ended up consisting of just about every canned ingredient in the pantry (olives, clams, tuna, spaghetti o's, etc.) all blended up into a delicious smoothie. Upon coming home my dad was pretty ticked at all the food she'd wasted and proceeded to make her drink some of her creation. Thankfully the rest of the family wasn't punished with a sampling as well.

We did receive some real cooking lessons over the years. We had always helped/watched Mom cook so we had a small foundation to build on. Annie and I were in 4H for a year or two and during that time we learned how to properly measure dry ingredients such as flour and brown sugar, as well as liquid ingredients. We learned not to stir the muffin mix too much or the muffins would end up with peaks instead of nicely rounded tops. I still remember those lessons and use them all the time. My Grandma Holley taught me how to brown hamburger when she and my grandpa were staying with us. It seems funny to me now that I didn't know what it meant to brown hamburger, but the only way to learn how to cook is to learn the basics first I guess.

The good news is that all three of us girls eventually learned how to cook and actually like it for the most part. We all learned from our mistakes and continue to do so. I haven't made anything inedible or even that tasted bad for I don't know how long. Although I may not make gourmet meals every night, I'm grateful that my parents saw cooking as an important skill and made it a priority to teach me how.


Rachel said...

Those are fantastic stories. I'm very glad that you didn't try to put out the fire with water.

heidi said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! The Giant Cookie story made me laugh so fondly! And thank God Annie knew about the baking soda trick! I still freak when anything lights on fire in the kitchen, even just a tiny bit of something that fell into the bottom of the oven. It's risky, "playing with fire"--but we do it so often it's easy to become blase about it.

It's neat that you got an early start at something you enjoy so much and are so good at. I just wish I could benefit more often!!!!

(And, the miscellaneous-canned-goods Smoothie cracked me up! Sounds like something my brother would do. Although, he was rather serious at cooking, even from a young age. He made chocolate mousse at age 10! Without any special instructions of any sort. He just figured it out. He cooked for his entire dorm in college and had a job as a chef for a short time. Those early years really can impact our later passions, I guess.)

I'm with Rach--lovely stories.