Sunday, November 02, 2008

My Kitchen Disasters

This is the speech (or a variation) that I will give to my Toastmaster's group at the next meeting. The speech is supposed to be entertaining, starting and ending with stories. Let me know what you think.

Disasters in the Kitchen - - A Learning Experience

The first time she made mashed potatoes and gravy, my friend Dorothy said her husband had to pour the potatoes over the gravy. Dorothy became an excellent cook. You can, too, if you laugh at yourself and learn from your mistakes.

Between the spring I graduated from college and the fall when I was married, I lived in Denver with my parents. My fiancĂ© would visit on weekends and we would pick out dishes and glassware and look for furniture. Back then, I didn’t realize my good fortune in that I had actually found a husband who loved to shop.

Sometimes we had lunch at the Denver Hilton, and because it was summer, the restaurant served a cold cream of potato soup called Vichysoisse. The waiter brought it to the table on crushed ice in elegant little soup cups sprinkled with a scattering of bright green chives.

As a soon to be married woman, I had begun to take more interest in cooking, eager to advance my repertoire beyond meat loaf, pork chops and toast. One of the obstacles to my learning to cook was my mother, who had no objection to my cooking, but always found fault with my cleaning the kitchen afterward. She invariably discovered an overlooked blob on the counter, a spatter of grease on the stove, a piece of onion on the floor.

Nonetheless, when I announced I was going to make Vichysoisse, my mother showed no objection, and I drove to the University of Denver to find a cookbook with the recipe. An old cookbook.

Armed with a list of bizarre ingredients, I encountered the first obstacles in our local Safeway. The produce man had to show me the leeks. Who knew? They looked like onions, only different. In the dairy department, the person I asked had no clue what 10 percent cream was, so I bought plain old cream.

I read the recipe again for instructions, and wondered about the advice to “force the cooked mixture through a layer of fine muslin.” My mom provided a worn but sturdy muslin pillowcase, and my adventures in cooking began.

Never, ever, try a recipe where muslin is mentioned in any way, shape or form. I had potato glop up to my armpits. It was smeared all over the counter, the stove and the floor. In my hair. I had created the mess to end all messes. Worse, I had a measly amount of the strained potatoes. Maybe, just maybe, enough for two minute cups of soup. That was with the cream added.

My mom was strangely sympathetic and made no comment about my kitchen cleanup, which was long and arduous.

When my fiancĂ© arrived Friday evening, we each had a small cup of Vichysoisse with chives from my mother’s garden. It tasted good, almost like the Hilton’s. My first failure was also my first success.

Fast forward twenty plus years. I am now a working woman, as well as an experienced cook. My husband has a new job and the corporate brass is coming into town from Rochester. We will invite them to dinner. What might be worthy of the occasion? What could I make in advance and heat up quickly after getting home from work?

Sunday’s New York Times recipe provides the answer. A venison ragout. It sounds delicious, with a long marinade and 28 different ingredients. I’ve never cooked venison, but a friend, a bow hunter, has given us a leg of venison which has been in the freezer ready for such an event. Before leaving for work on Monday, I put the package on the counter to thaw. I have actually never looked at the venison, which was wrapped and frozen when we received it.

Monday evening after a dinner, a most unpleasant experience ensues. I have to cut the meat off the leg, and there is lots of blood and the leg looks like, well, a leg. There is much bone and little meat, barely a pound. Enough to feed two but not six. Still game, no pun intended, I make the marinade with its 19 ingredients. Then I race to the store and buy a pound of round steak and add it to the marinade with the venison.

I have to admit that even half-soled with round steak; there will not be enough meat. The next day at work I tell my colleagues of my dilemma and one of them asks, “Haven’t you ever been to John Dewar’s meat market in Newton? They have all kinds of stuff like venison and buffalo and game birds.”

John Dewar has flown under my radar, but moments later, I am on the phone to the market. Do they have venison? Yes, but it’s frozen. I order a pound and a half, and tell them to put it out to defrost.

After work, I arrive at John Dewar’s astounding market. The man behind the counter hands over the thawed meat. I fork over $27.00. Who knew that venison was gold-plated? I could have served filet mignon for less.

Back home, I cut the meat into cubes and into the marinade it goes. A day before company arrives, I cook the ragout according to the recipe. It smells divine. The next night, we serve it up to many accolades. The guests don’t realize that part of the venison ragout is round steak, and I don’t tell them.

Our friend stops hunting, much to my relief. I never cook venison again.

What wisdom did I acquire from my misadventures in cooking?
· Buy mom a blender.
· Avoid muslin.
· The folks running the supermarket and the meat market are your best friends.
· Be humble.
· Unwrap and inspect frozen foods before making menu decisions.
· Learn from your mistakes.
· Leave your comfort zone and be adventurous.

We were having a big party, and I was baking my mom’s old standby, Bisquick and cheese bits. I forgot they were in the oven and burnt them. Not wanting the smell of burning food all over the house and it being winter, I threw the charred cheese bits off the deck into the snow. My son’s dog discovered them. Ate every one. Then the dog kept looking up at the sky as if these delicious cheesy morsels had descended from heaven.
No matter what you cook, someone will love it. ©


Janet Reid said...

I love love love the image of the dog gazing up to heaven for cheesy bits.

I used to throw my Thanksgiving turkey carcass off the back deck (back in the day!). Come morning...gone. Critters had reservations I think, and the local raccoon was the maitre 'd! Ahh, cooking. I don't miss it at all!

Grapeshot/Odette said...

Our most interesting experience with a turkey carcass, besides making "dem bones" soup, came once when we put the whole carcass out on the bird feeding platform on a summer's day. The red-headed woodpeckers descended en masse and picked it clean. Cannibalism,don't you think?

I haven't seen my read-headed friends for ages. They left and never came back. Now we make do with downies, hairies and the occasional flicker. And a sapsucker or two.