Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Dear Santa

All I want for Christmas is a wok with a proper lid.[1]

All I want for Christmas

When I was a kid, my mom decided that my older brother and I had to learn how to cook, and so she instituted a twice-a-week plan where one of us had to cook dinner for the family, and then the other. A few months later, after one Kraft dinner too many, she admitted defeat.[2]

Around the same time, we had a conversation in which she asked me how on earth I was going to take care of myself when I moved out of the house if I didn't even know how to cook. In my 10-year-old wisdom, I replied, "Easy. I'm going to marry a chef."

She pointed out that someone who cooked all day long in a restaurant probably wouldn't want to come home and cook some more. "You're better off marrying a lawyer who likes to cook as a hobby."

So, some dozen-or-so years later, I decided to do one better, and went to law school myself. No, not to find myself a husband! In fact, I had a non-law boyfriend most of the time I was there. Who - purely coincidentally, I swear - loved to cook. His idea of "relaxing" was reading Thackeray's Vanity Fair whilst occasionally stirring a pot of something delicious-smelling.

Post-law school, I picked up some tips from one of my best friends who was my roommate in Toronto. That is also when I developed the 7 different forms of pan-fried chicken for which I am famous.

Then I hooked up with a lawyer who cooks. And the rest, as they say, is history.

However. In an obvious sign of the impending Apocalypse, I have cooked dinner 3 times in the last 3 days. Yay me. Sunday night, we decided to "scrounge" and make our own separate dinners. I was about to reach for the Mr. Noodles package when I suddenly decided to try something different. I made shake-n-bake chicken drumsticks with tandoori masala mixed into the crumbs, an instant curry rice package (yes, cheating), and edamame. It was delicious. And tonight[3], I'd been going through the dozen or so cookbooks that we own, and decided I should find something simple to make for dinner. From a book on casseroles, I picked "Orange Ginger Chicken & Rice", since I figured I had most of the ingredients already in the house.

Well, not quite. Since it is a casserole book called Favorite Name Brand Recipes, everything recipe includes one or more name brand ingredients.[4] Including, in my case, Rice-A-Roni. I've never had Rice-A-Roni, and to be honest, the concept seems slightly suspect to me, but I figured what the heck? I quickly Googled a recipe for a Rice-A-Roni substitute. But then I didn't have everything it needed, nor did I want to make as much as the recipe said. So I decided to just kinda...wing it. I wasn't supposed to use instant rice, but that's all I had. I was supposed to use vermicelli, but all I had was rice vermicelli - same thing, right?[5] I had no onion powder, so went without, and used minced garlic instead of garlic powder.[6] I also only made about half of what the recipe called for.

Home-made Rice-A-RoniHome-made Rice-A-RoniHome-made Rice-A-Roni

Fake Rice-A-Roni. Don't put the full 2 1/4 cups called for, as I did here - too watery! Also, forgetting to add the thyme until the last minute does not negatively affect the taste. However, I put in 6 packets of chicken bouillon, which measured out to about 3 tablespoons, and it was TOO SALTY. I will try just 4 or 5 next time.


I chopped up some carrots. Yup, when I go all out, I really go all out.

Chicken for the casseroleStarting to look casseroley

I had some frozen chicken thighs, so I defrosted them, sliced them into bite-sized strips, and fried them up with some 5-Alive (was supposed to be OJ, but beggars can't be choosers)[7], minced garlic, ground ginger, and dried red pepper flakes.

Then I remembered the poor carrots, still sitting, lonely, on the cutting board!


So in they went.

Anyway, it all took about an hour (I'm slow at prep, and that also includes looking on the Internet for substitutions, etc.), and it was delicious! There may be hope for me yet.

What it was supposed to look likeWhat it actually looked like

What it was supposed to look like, and what it actually looked like. (Though they cheated and used the more colourful broccoli instead of carrots. I would have too, but we seem to have a paucity of green veggies in the house at the moment.) Now that I've (obviously) mastered cooking, I just have to work on my food presentation skills.

[1] Actually, if you don't mind, Santa, I'd like it a bit earlier, since Christmas is almost 10 months away and I'll probably (hopefully) cook again before then. Maybe you could work out some kind of exchange-deal with the Easter Bunny? (I'm not Irish, so I guess that leprechaun dude won't be interested in helping me out.)

[2] In our defence, I was only maybe 10, and my brother, 12. Kraft dinner truly is an enjoyable meal meant to be oft-repeated at that age.

[3] What's that? I neglected to mention what I made last night (the 2nd night)? Umm, there is no photographic evidence, but they really were deluxe tuna melts. With pickles chopped up into the mix, and real cheese rather than the usual Kraft slices. Yes, I'm proud.

[4] We got it at Costco, and it was cheap.

[5] In retrospect, rice vermicelli is nothing like vermicelli. It also makes a frickin' mess all over your countertop when you try to measure a half-cup of rice vermicelli broken into small pieces. Just trust me on that one.

[6] Those of you who are related to me or who are otherwise familiar with my mom's style of cooking may find these substitutions amusing. My mom is known for making meals like "orange ginger chicken with rice, but I didn't have any oranges so I used apples instead, and I was out of ginger so I put some raisins in, and I had no chicken but pork is a white meat too so what's the difference, and I didn't have enough rice so I made mashed potatoes instead."

[7] See note 6.


Jerome said...

That twice-a-week plan was during our stay in Quebec, so we were much older than you'd have your kind readers believe. Likely 16 & 14 (give or take a year). It started off well until we discovered that KD was an acceptable menu choice and from there it was a race to the bottom...

julie said...

Oops, really? Are you sure? Maybe that was a second attempt at it?

Well, in that case, we really had no excuse :)

Waterlily said...

Yes you were both in high school. So much for the sad tale of child labor... When you were 10, you were allowed to butter your own toast with a dull knife, stir milk into cereal, and oh yes! peel apples.
Next visit, I'm looking forward to kicking back and relaxing while you cook those SEVEN famous chicken treasures, yum!

julie said...

Well, it's actually 8 now. Since, well, last night's dinner was technically chicken casserole; however, I pan-fried the chicken (and then the rest of the casserole while I was at it) - LOL. And tonight for dinner, we had frozen pizza. I wasn't even the "cook" who placed it in the toaster oven. So balance has returned to the universe.