Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Baby, I Can Cook

One of the biggest surprises I've found since I've been a stay-at-home mom is how much I enjoy cooking. I'd lived alone for most of my adult life, so I'd mostly just done quick single-serving meals, rarely from a recipe. I always enjoyed hostessing when I got to cook for larger groups, but I never really enjoyed cooking for one all that much. But now that I'm cooking for two (and someday three - or more!), I'm finding that I enjoy the challenge!

When we were first married, I stuck with tried and true recipes from my mom, or easy online recipes that promised to be "never fail". I was (and still am, actually) the queen of comfort food. My specialties were things like shepherd's pie, meatloaf, chicken casserole, and spaghetti and meatballs. But once I discovered that my husband not only ate but relished my cooking, I got brave and decided to branch out. I experimented with a few slightly more gourmet dishes. I tried making a simple lobster mac & cheese. I braved chicken marsala. I even did veal parmesan! And then I decided to get really crazy and, since my stepdaughter is a big fan of my sticky rice, I took a step into the world of risotto. Risotto sounds so elegant and fancy! The "cheftestants" always make it on Hell's Kitchen, so it must be gourmet. They also often screw it up, so it must also be difficult, right? Nope. I'm sure it IS difficult to make in 3 minutes, but when you're doing it from scratch in an hour, oddly enough it's not that hard. Really! It's time-consuming, but if you can measure a few ingredients and stir for 45 minutes or so without your arm falling off, then risotto is the dish for you. It's become my go-to "fancy dish" whenever I want to reward or impress my husband.

I've also gotten brave enough to occasionally dive into the world of cookbooks. I like that they have pictures. Sometimes that can be the deciding factor. Sometimes I look at a recipe and think it sounds great, but then look at the picture and realize it looks either too fussy or just plain nasty. And sometimes I look at a photo that looks delicious and realize I just skipped over the recipe and have to go back for a second look. Of course, the flip side of this is that if your result looks nothing like the picture, it's obvious you did something wrong. (That's why I hide the recipe book before Herb comes home.)

Naturally, I have had a few culinary disasters. Last night I tried a boneless pork chop recipe that was apparently designed for much thinner pork chops than I had. (Note to all chefs out there: Don't try to grill 1-1/2" thick pork chops. Trust me on this.) The result (which took 45 minutes longer than I anticipated) was edible but not especially enjoyable. Fortunately, I have a husband who was wise enough to say, "No, honey, they're fine" as he choked them down. Good thing I had also made risotto. Risotto covers a multitude of culinary sins.

I guess that's the secret: Perfect a side dish that's so good it can distract a diner from the worst culinary disaster and serve it every time you try out a new dish. At least then your guinea pigs will never go completely hungry...