A friend had — as women do — made dinner for our family when we were in a time of need, and her chicken cacciatore was so darn delicious that I asked her for the recipe. She graciously complied. I started reading it enthusiastically but stopped as soon as I saw “pound the chicken breasts.”
There are lines in the kitchen that I will not cross, and pounding chicken breasts is one of them.
Websites and cooking shows try to entice me into crossing my culinary line by presenting dishes that use just five ingredients, but I am not fooled. To me, it’s not the amount of ingredients that matters. It’s what I have to do with them. I’ll use 20 different ingredients if all I need to do is throw them into a pot. The number is inconsequential, as long as I don’t have to clarify, pulse, knead, crimp or spatchcock any of them,
I also don’t want to brush anything with egg wash. I enjoyed doing it with my grandmother when I was ten, but the appeal has worn off. Perhaps it will be fun again when I have grandchildren of my own.
And that brings me to another personal premise, which is that cooking is better with a partner. I need someone to distract myself from the fact that I’m doing it.
I cannot, however, cook while I’m entertaining. For me, that’s like texting while driving. In my opinion, if you are someone who unwraps a piece of raw meat from its Styrofoam packing as your guests are walking in the door, you have achieved a level of confidence in the kitchen that I can only admire and will never attain.
I need to focus heavily on the dishes I prepare, and I need to make them up to three days ahead if I’m having a dinner party. I also cannot experiment with something new if I’m entertaining; I need to use a recipe I have prepared 187 times before. I have four such recipes: a hot appetizer and roast for the fall/winter seasons, and a cold feta and grilled meat for spring/summer. That means that I can only invite you to dinner at my house twice.
So, I think you’re getting the point that I’m not that great in the kitchen. I believe that there is a talent to cooking, and in that department, I have no talent. I do however have a talent for finding friends who excel at it. How good are they, you ask? When I take a bite of something that they have prepared, I have to put down my fork and compose myself.
My food does not elicit that kind of response. Well it might, but for very different reasons.
A good cook can sense his or her way around the kitchen, intuiting when to flip the steak and when to stop seasoning the sauce, in much the same way that a lost dog can find his way home. A true cook knows when the cake is done … just by listening to it. A true cook enjoys cooking.
I am not a true cook, and the signs of that abound. I have no working food processor or juicer, no mandoline, no cream of tartar. I use a handheld mixer. My knives are dull. I have never, nor will I ever, brine poultry. And I will not pound a chicken breast.
I do, however, love reading recipes and imagining how wonderful it would be if someone made them for me.
If you’re interested, I’ll have a hot appetizer and a roast waiting for you.