Saturday, October 24, 2009

Now You're Really Cooking

For most of my adult life I have had fantasies of cooking gourmet meals.  I buy cookbooks and magazines with the intent of fixing various culinary treats but usually I do not whip up anything from those books and magazines.  I always have an excuse for not cooking, similar to those that I and others concoct for not exercising--too tired, not enough time, not really interested at the moment it must happen.

I am fascinated by someone like Julie Powell who spent a year cooking her way through Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  I am just about done with Powell's book on the experience and find her tolerance for the chore of cooking amazing, notwithstanding her many emotional breakdowns.  I am familiar with the breakdowns while cooking.  And I am not a connoisseur of French cooking in any event so her particular task does not tempt me in the least.  (Although it must be tempting others given that the sales of Child's cookbook have skyrocketed since the movie came out).

I am however tempted by the notion of taking a cookbook and systematically working through it.  So I keep buying cookbooks, many times while on vacation because when I am more relaxed cooking seems more feasible.  Last spring it was Hungry Girl's tome, purchased after our trip to Santa Fe.  I have not cooked anything from that book yet, but several times I have bought the ingredients for one or more of the recipes.  On this last vacation I picked up in one of the National Park bookstores, of all places, a cookbook called Southwest Slow Cooking.  The title has a sensual sound to it.  And the best part about it is the promise that the recipes can all be accomplished in a slow cooker, aka crockpot.

I own two crockpots of slightly different shapes.  I make stews, tagines (aka stews) and soupy type dishes in them.  I have tried roasts and they turn out like stews.  This new cookbook seems to suggest that dishes other than stews are possible in the slow cooker.  So today I put together something called Southwest Chicken and Rice.  I spent about two hours going to three different stores to get the ingredients, which I thought I could just throw in the pot--set it and forget it.  Unfortunately, there was more chopping and cutting and screaming about where my various utensils have gone than I had expected even though I typically read recipes looking for the hidden work so I can avoid it.  It took me a half hour to assemble the materials in the pot, more than I expected but less than any self-respecting cook would expect to spend fixing a meal.  

You see, I do not want my cooking to take any time or involve any work.

While reading Julie and Julia I keep saying ,"Why are you doing that?  Couldn't a butcher do that for you?".  Many of her vignettes concern cutting up various animals or crustaceans.  Others involve sauces which  I have always found inscrutable--except for basic white sauce and cheese sauce as taught to me by my mother.  Again, all of these tasks require time, patience and a fundamental interest in the process.  I just want to eat good food, not live with it.

One interesting thing that happened today in my assembling the ingredients of the dish, which is now slow cooking away in the kitchen, is the discovery that my hands truly do not work anymore as they once did.  I had tremendous trouble using the hand can opener and I had to open six cans of vegetables for this dish. (See why I was lulled into thinking it was easy.  It called for canned goods as ingredients.  How hard can that be?)  I have come to the sad conclusion that I must purchase an electric can opener.  Thirty five years of living in apartments or houses and I have never owned an electric can opener.  But after today's experience I think the time has come.  Luckily my hands still work well enough to type or I will be acquiring voice recognition software, like one of my friends, to write this blog.

Three more hours until the dish is done.  Cross your fingers.  I would mine but they are getting too gnarled to cross!

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