When Walt and I were engaged and planning a life together, I remember seeing a picture in Gourmet Magazine (to which I subscribed at the time). It was a simple picture of an orange, partially peeled, sitting on a plate with a strawberry on top of it. I thought it was the epitome of a fancy presentation, showed it to him, and said that when we were married, this was the kind of meal I would make for him....meaning that my meals would all be beautiful presentations.
Needless to say, in the past 47 years, I have made my share of beautiful meals and offered beautiful presentations (but, I have to say, never an orange with a strawberry on it).
I'm not afraid to try anything. I never once "practiced" a new recipe before serving it to unsuspecting guests. I always made it cold (not temperature, but without practice) and hoped for the best. Most of the time, even though disasters might have happened during the preparation, the end result turned out well. Not always, though. You might like to read about one of my more memorable disasters.
During our ten years having foreign students in and out all the time, I learned to cook meals from several different cultures and even, once, had to teach our Japanese visitor how to make tempura, since she didn't have a clue how to do it.
But over the years, the joy of creating something new, delicious and beautiful begins to fade. Especially when you have children and you know that at least one of them (if not all of them) will hate what you serve, no matter what it is. Nothing more depressing than to work on a meal all afternoon and have at least one of the recipient say "Yuck" and refuse to eat it.
(Amazingly, the kids grew up and became gourmet cooks. Either I was an inspiration or they learned to cook to finally get something to eat that they actually liked.)
With only two of us to cook for now (yes, I cook almost every night), my repertoire has shrunk to things like "something with hamburger in it," "something with cheese in it," stuffed potatoes, "something Mexican" a "tuna thing," and, on nights when I have to review a show, Bertolli frozen pasta entrees.
But occasionally I get inspired. This week I got a flyer trying to get me to subscribe to a cooking magazine. The flyer came with beautiful photos and delicious sounding recipes. I chose several recipes from the magazine and made a list of food, deciding to make special things this week. The first was the orange glazed salmon steak that I made the other night. It was good, but I forgot that I don't really like salmon.
I had also planned on making a coq au vin. I had all the ingredients and the recipe I was going to use involved the crock pot and several hours cooking time.
But I kept forgetting to make it until too late. I was worried that the chicken would start to go bad, so today was the day I was going to finally do it. Only it got to be 3 p.m. before I remembered and again it was too late. Instead, I went looking for a non-crock pot version. I finally settled on this recipe from Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. Even having chosen that recipe, it was 5 p.m.before I thought about it and I decided it was too late to make it. I decided on something else, but then thought about the fact that Walt will be at the opera tomorrow night and I'll be at Cousins day the next night, and I will be home too late the following day to make it, and the chicken would DEFINITELY have gone bad by then, so what the heck. I decided to cook it anyway and we'd just eat late.
It's one of those recipes that involve several pots and pans lots of chopping, fresh herbs, brandy and wine. But it starts with a Dutch oven. It just so happens that I have a cast iron Dutch oven that doesn't get nearly enough use. It was my father's. When he died he had every possible cast iron skillet known to man, but his kitchen was such an unbelievably filthy mess that the cast iron -- all of it -- was so caked with months of grease that we could hardly bear to touch it to throw it away. Oh, how it killed me to throw all that beautiful cast iron away!
I did decide to salvage the Dutch oven. It took a long time...a very long time...to get the layers of baked on grease removed (and to this day, more than 20 years later, it still has a bit of black on the outside that won't come off), but it finally became usable.
So I cooked the bacon and then cooked the onions and carrots and then thought to find out if we had some brandy. Walt didn't think we did, but finally located a very old bottle hidden in a box upstairs. Voila! Brandy!
I drove the dogs nuts browning the chicken (because they could smell it and wanted some), but I finally got it all put together and in the oven, to cook for 40 minutes. Then I thickened with a roux of butter and flour, sauteed the mushrooms and added those, simmered a bit longer and finally, at 8:30 (not unusually late for us to eat) it was ready to be served. I was going to take a picture, but was too anxious to get at it, so all I got was what was left in the pot after I'd served the two of us.
I was quite jazzed about it. It was just delicious. I'd forgotten how good a really good meal could be and I'm wondering if it's going to inspire me to continue "preparing meals" rather than just "making dinner" for awhile!