I'm a pretty good cook. I'm not the intuitive gourmet cook that Tom is, but I'm not afraid of following any recipe. Sometimes I'll look at a recipe and decide against it because it's just too much work, but I usually feel pretty confident that if I decide to follow the recipe, even the complicated ones, it will turn out all right.
I know people who are afraid to cook, afraid to try anything new. If they are having guests to dinner, they try out what they're going to cook first to make sure it tastes OK.
Not me. I just barrel on ahead. In fact, I almost always cook something I've never cooked before on those rare occasions when we have guests for dinner. (The reason we don't entertain more often has nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with housecleaning!)
My mother is an excellent cook, but she usually cooked pretty basic fare. Pot roast, meat loaf, a great fried chicken, lasagna, etc. I have yet to be able to match the quality or taste of her pot roast, but she did pass along the secret(s) of her famous enchiladas (which she learned at the knee of a Mexican woman who lived in the flat over ours). Her stuffed eggs are in great demand for any social gathering.
I learned to cook by immersion. I don't really remember cooking when I lived at home, but when I got into college, I started helping the guys who lived in an old house run by the Newman Center, where Walt lived. They all took turns and one of the guys couldn't cook at all, so I cooked dinner on his night to cook. It evolved into my cooking the dinners every night except one (for the guy who insisted on doing his own cooking).
In those days you could find breast of lamb on sale for 10 cents a pound and, given that I was operating on a real shoestring budget, we ate a lot of breast of lamb and I learned all sorts of ways to cook it.
I discovered I really enjoyed cooking and started experimenting. I collected cookbooks and until I started "clearing out" a few years ago, I had a very large collection of them (a tall, wide bookcase full). In fact, my wedding gift from Walt was a set of Gourmet Magazine cookbooks, embossed with my new name.
I took cooking lessons from Martin Yan, learned cake decorating, can cook Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian, Greek, Brasilian (they tell me I cook many Brasilian dishes like a native) and Chilean.
However, being a good cook doesn't mean that I always cook something fancy. Usually it's "something with chicken in it" or "pasta with something poured on top of it." But I like knowing that if I want to cook something fancy, I'm not afraid to.
That said, I've had my share of spectacular culinary disasters. When I was working for the UC Berkeley Physics Department, my boss was famous for not caring about food, but he did once admit that he liked hamburgers. I felt I made the "perfect" hamburger and invited him and Walt to dinner (Walt and I were engaged at the time). It was in December and I planned a whole evening of Christmas music (forgetting that the boss was Jewish!). Then I burned the hamburgers. We could just barely choke them down. I'll never forget how mortified I was that night.
Then there was the night David's godfather came to dinner and I found this intriguing recipe that called for avocado. Just as a word of warning, don't ever try to cook anything with an un-ripe avocado!!!!!
There was the time I cooked curry for Gilbert, knowing he detested curry, but thinking that if I mixed the spices myself and didn't use curry powder, it would be OK. It wasn't.
Then there was the night Steve came to town and I threw a big dinner party in his honor so he could meet some local folks in theatre and music.
And the night I decided to show off for a Brasilian woman who was visiting Davis and taking classes at the University. We had agreed to be kind of a "host family" for her, a contact person in town that she could relate to. After our dinner we never heard from her again!
And I know Peggy is just dying to add the story of my roasting the broccoli when she told me that she liked roast vegetables (I didn't realize she meant root vegetables, and that she expected I would be steaming the broccoli!).
(However, I still maintain that the risotto I served the first night she was here was delicious, dammit! In spite of how sick she got at the sight of it.)
At least my cooking disasters haven't dampened my confidence because I can usually figure out where I screwed up. I still like cooking, and still enjoy being adventurous, even if the thing I cook most often is still "something with chicken in it."
I am feeling better about Comcast, though. I called them today and discovered that it was, after all, just a glitch. She had me unplug the box and then she did something to reset it again and voila! I'm back in the DVD-making business again. Too bad I deleted all the Celine Dion stuff!
NOTE that I've finally uploaded a selection of photos from my weekend-plus in Santa Barbara to Flickr.