Friday, March 02, 2012

Another Reprise -- Learning from the Cooking Channel

Written on March 9, 2002 - before I had the blog. Disclosure: two summers ago I did winnow out the cookbooks, sold many on e-bay and sent boxes full to the Salvation Army -- and I still have way too many recipes stockpiled.
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Many of my favorite TV shows are on the Cooking Channel. I wander around doing housework (what little I do) accompanied by Emeril, Bobby, Martha, Mario, Ming, and Wolfgang. I’m learning a little Japanese with the Iron Chefs and I’m thoroughly fascinated by the rise of Morimoto (he wasthe newest Iron Chef, for those of you unaware of this fabulous fantasy of cooking – he was trained in New York City, but he could use those fish heads with the best of the Asian chefs -- this was before Iron Chef America).

What astounds everyone who listens to me rave on about the Cooking Channel is that I don’t cook very often. I might prepare a meal once every three months. It’s shocking, I know, but it’s the bitter truth.

For years I’ve collected cookbooks. I bought them at garage sales and on the discount book tables at Barnes and Noble. When we travel I bring them back from the places we visit. Two computers ago I gleefully collected recipes and formatted them on my hard drive using a very complicated and confusing software program. That particular phase didn’t last beyond that computer.

When we clean house, meaning we clean out stuff we no longer need, Will always suggests that my cookbooks be dramatically pared down and winnowed out. Ha! No one touches my cookbooks, which have now spilled over into two bookcases. If I need reading for the bathtub or while waiting for some particularly big piece of software to download , I read a cookbook. When boning up on places to visit, I read cookbooks from that area of the country. I even like historic cookbooks with recipes from the 1700 and 1800’s, or cookbooks with the recipes by the President’s wives. I especially like those cookbooks put out by companies as advertising. The Jell-o cookbooks’ are cool.

Periodically I go through stages where I buy fancy food preparing products. My sister-in-law in Texas perplexedly fulfills my wish lists every Christmas with some gadget or other. Once year it was a toaster oven which she figured I’d use to reheat fast food in. The next year it was a Dutch oven. “But you don’t cook. Why in the world would you want a Dutch oven?” she queried as she handed me the beautifully wrapped gift box on Christmas morning. The next year she gave me the ultimate in food processors with all the requisite blades. By then she’d quit asking questions. I love that food processor like it was my child. I’d grab the dogs, my diamonds, and the food processor if the house ever caught fire – in that order. Hubby can get out by himself.

Every month I read the Martha Steward magazine. If you haven’t ever seen one, I think the pictures in them are spectacular and by themselves worth the price of the magazine. But even better are her recipes. I know it’s chic to pan Martha, but my secret wish is to be her. I’d like to set a table like she does. I’d love to have the room to create the fantasy and elegance she puts into her table settings. Just today as I was buying hubby’s birthday present, I found a set of chargers. I’d love to own gold chargers to use under my antique pink Limoge dinner plates. But my house is so small I don’t have a dining table and it’s silly to use chargers on wooden TV tables set up in the living room. So I passed them up. Maybe I could ask for gold chargers for Christmas next year.

This Thanksgiving I did prepare Martha’s brine soaked turkey. A Texas friend of my sister-in-law heard I was going to use her recipe and advised me that Martha’s stuff was probably too complicated for someone who didn’t cook. My Texas friend hadn’t counted on the fact that if you’ve read 300 cookbooks and watched 5000 cooking shows and clipped bajillions of recipes from magazines, you gain cooking skills by osmosis. That brined turkey was real good, too – but my sister-in-law was up from Texas and helped me spend the day preparing the bird, so I can’t take full credit. That food processor was right handy, too.

Today I made Martha Steward’s pot roast. It’s made in a Dutch oven, so for the fifth time since I received it three Christmases ago, I cooked a meal in that nifty pot. It took two trips to the store to get all the fresh herbs and vegetables and red wine that the recipe called for. I never have fresh herbs in the house. Potatoes usually sprout before we use them up. Hubby claims he’s never even eaten a leek. So we were starting from the ground up on this dinner.

You roast the potatoes separately so they don’t get mushy and drop them into the Dutch oven the last half hour of cooking. Red wine deglazes the pot after you’ve softened the leeks in olive oil. You use cheesecloth to make a garnish with the herbs. The smells in our little home are incredible tonight. We’re having the pot roast tomorrow for dinner, but it’s all cooked and awaiting tomorrow night’s reheating.

Pot roast was a favorite dinner of my family when I was a kid. Grandmother had a Therma-well Oven, she’d put the roast on before she left for church, and when she can home she’d have us all for dinner. She made it look effortless. Her pot roast was the best thing I’ve ever eaten in my life. It was a simple meal – pot roast, boiled potatoes, carrots, onions, and gravy, often served with a cucumber and onion salad and bread pudding for dessert. I’d probably trade my left arm if I could have just one more Sunday pot roast dinner at Grandma’s table.

When Granny died, my mother took over the pot roast cooking. She tried. She’d have the same menu. But after two years I finally admitted to her (when she asked me) that her pot roast didn’t hold a candle to Grandmother’s. Mother was shocked – and unhappy. Grandfather, who didn’t cook much anyway after Granny died, gave Mother the Therma-well and Mother tried cooking her pot roast in that. Still it wasn’t anywhere near as good. I was in my 30’s before I realized what the difference was between Mother’s and Granny’s pot roast: Mother always bought the cheapest roast available; Granny used the equivalent of prime rib.

So my own pot roast has bubbled away today. It won’t taste like Granny’s though. I don’t have that “cooking every day, making everything from scratch” touch. Still, hubby will be pleased to have a home cooked meal. The boys, salivating all afternoon by the kitchen door, will be thrilled to have pot roast scraps mixed into their kibble. I’m feeding our souls, I think, as well as our stomachs. That’s a nice thought. And right now the Iron Chefs are battling away on my TV with asparagus as the main ingredient, which must be used in every course of the meal the two battling chefs serve. Asparagus ice cream, anyone?


1 comment:

Donna said...

It just so happens I have a roast thawing on the counter for the crockpot tomorrow. Coincidence? I think not. I choose to believe the universe is telling me I made the right choice.