Wednesday, January 30, 2013

that one time I tried to cook.

Once upon three years ago, I moved to Minneapolis.
For the first few (“few” = eight) pitiful months I lived in Minneapolis, I couldn’t wine and dine my way through the Twin Cities because of my acute lack of money. I worked two part-time jobs and had one unpaid 20-hour-a-week internship, so my schedule was packed to the brim. A couple of months after my internship ended (and a couple of months of searching unsuccessfully for a full-time job), one of my part-time jobs promoted me to full-time and I was (finally) making more than minimum wage. (!!!) These newly found riches (ha) allowed me to branch out from my diet of eggs and pasta (read: cheap things) and start going to restaurants. Life was good!

A number of my friends and relatives lived in/around Minneapolis as well, so it was always a pleasure to get together with someone (or a group of someones) for dinner. If you’re familiar with the Twin Cities, you know that the dining options are practically endless. Whatever culinary treat your little heart desires, chances are Minneapolis has it for you.
I can almost hear the restaurants calling out to me.
One of my frequent dining companions was a college friend named Haakon, who worked just a few miles away from me. We’d get together every couple of weeks for dinner, and there would always be wine and good conversation.

One spring day, Haakon and I made plans to get together, which brought up the inevitable question: where should we eat? Haakon – ever a fountain of helpful suggestions – said, “Well, why don’t you cook?”

Friends: I don’t cook. I just don’t. It’s not that I’m particularly bad at it… it’s just that I’m lazy and have no interest in trying. I am a breakfast food master (you want good waffles? come to me), and I can make boxed macaroni and cheese like a boss (not to brag, but I’m also really good at boxed cakes), but you won’t find me messing with such scary things as fresh vegetables and raw meat.

I was fortunate enough to snare a husband-to-be who DOES like to cook. James has been known to whip up steaks and shrimp and pastas with homemade sauces (aka, not powder from a packet, which is as far as I’ll venture). I eat like a king (or queen, I guess) whenever James is in charge of cooking, and he once died of happiness because I made him a grilled cheese sandwich. I’m pretty sure James is getting the bum end of the deal in this impending marriage, but he hasn’t figured it out yet, so how about if nobody tells him?

Anyway, back to Haakon and the dinner. I hemmed and hawed and spluttered, but Haakon (himself prone to whipping up delightful meals) insisted. Haakon does not take no for an answer.

I panicked and called James, who was living four-ish hours away in Ellsworth, Minnesota. After a bit of whining about how I never cook for him (why on earth would I since he’s so much better at it?!), James agreed to help me out. He suggested chicken with mustard cream sauce: a meal he’d made for me a number of times, and it was consistently delicious. James gave me the recipe and assured me that I’d be fine.

I had something like three days to prepare this meal, and I spent all three days either a.) complaining about it to anyone who would listen, b.) fretting that I was going to embarrass myself with a terrible meal, or c.) hoping to God that I didn’t accidentally give Haakon food poisoning. I made about a zillion trips to the grocery store (including a special outing for a meat thermometer) until it was time for me to actually cook something.

The chicken – according to James and probably everyone else who has ever cooked anything – was apparently simple:

four boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
two tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine (chardonnay)
1/2 cup heavy cream
two tablespoons dijon mustard
one teaspoon dried basil

1.) Sprinkle chicken breasts with salt and pepper.
2.) In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat.
3.) Add chicken; sautee until cooked through (10-12 minutes), turning once.
4.) Transfer to a plate and keep warm.
5.) Pour wine into the hot skillet; cook - stirring until reduced by half (about one minute).
6.) Whisk in cream, mustard, and basil; cook - whisking until thickened (about two minutes).
7.) Pour any accumulated chicken juices from the plate into the sauce.
8.) Right before serving, drizzle cream sauce over chicken.

But for a novice like me, I didn’t want to take any chances. Everything else was packaged: Crescent rolls, instant mashed potatoes (surprisingly tasty!), and a salad kit. One made-from-scratch thing was more than enough for me.

Haakon arrived just in time to find me waving smoke out of the kitchen. No worries: I didn’t burn the place down, nor did I scorch the chicken into oblivion (I called it “blackened”). The meal turned out surprisingly well (aside from the crappy clearance-aisle mini-brownies, but who could’ve seen that coming?). My chicken wasn’t as good as James’s, but luckily for me, Haakon had never tried James’s chicken. Whew. Best of all? Nobody got food poisoning!
I did not make the chicken in this picture,
but it looks an awful lot like the chicken
I did make. Minus the blackening.
With my moderate success at cooking raw meat, you may be wondering if the world of cooking was opened up to me. Did I realize my unfulfilled culinary potential? Have I been cooking complicated yet scrumptious meals ever since? Hell no, I haven’t! That meal just reinforced my belief that cooking kind of sucks and is better left to those who enjoy it. Will I ever learn? I’ll never say never, but don’t hold your breath!

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