I'm not really a cook. I mean yeah, I can boil spaghetti noodles and dump a jar of sauce in a pot and 40% of the time it tastes decent, and I make a mean tuna noodle casserole with potato chips crushed on top. I can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan and never let you forget that it's your turn to do the dishes. Sundays we have tacos, and I can warm up the tortillas in the microwave. I've even cooked two turkeys, though I managed to set a kitchen towel on fire on one of those occasions and lots of screaming and crying (and drinking) ensued.
So yeah. Julia Child I'm not.
But I sort of long to be, just like how I wish I could knit and cobble my own shoes. My friends will talk about how they made these dinners from Epicurious or whatever, with exotic ingredients and paired with the perfect wine, and I'll be befuddled as I try to remember what I ate the night before. (Something my boyfriend or a restaurant cooked, most likely.) Or I'll get all proud if I made chicken and the inside was cooked all the way through.
My friend Mimi claims she doesn't understand how anyone can be scared of cooking, but I'm here to tell you: I am. Not scared necessarily, but let's just say I'm always pleased when after I do cook something, no one gets sick and dies. That, to me, is a culinary triumph. Also I will buy cookbooks and then see some weird ingredient that is supposed to make something uber-fancy and I think, "Seriously? Pineapple and mango chutney over chicken? Why???" and then I figure I have the palate of an eight-year-old. (Which is probably true.) Plus -- I have been told by all my boyfriends that I am a fairly lousy cook. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but those words got me a pass out of the kitchen. I still make dinner, sure, and sometimes have an accompanying salad, but never anything terribly fancy or memorable.
So for this Accomplishment, I decided to challenge myself. Sure, I could make a three course dinner: salad from a bag, tuna noodle casserole with potato chips crushed on top and a freezer-burned popsicle. But no! It would be a nice meal, a belated Valentine's Day Feast. And so I wouldn't cheat, I would take pictures to chronicle the whole ordeal. And I was going to LOOK IN A COOKBOOK and pick something that I had never made before. Like the scariest thing of all:
SEAFOOD. And not Chicken of the Sea, either.
Seafood I am definitely scared of. I don't know how to tell if it flakes easily, and I always just think of The Simpsons when Homer ate the poisonous blowfish while Lisa and Bart karaoke "Shaft." It would be just my luck that I would make fish and it would turn out to be a baaaaad mother. (Just talkin' 'bout Shaft!) But this time, I was going to conquer my fears, and Jon agreed to be The Royal Food Taster. So I poured over my dusty cookbooks and picked Spring Greens with Radishes, Blue Cheese and Toasted Walnuts with made from scratch dressing (no help from Paul Newman for this girl!) for the first course, and Asian Style Sea Bass for the second.
What they were supposed to look like.
So armed with a list of stuff I didn't have on hand (sea bass, sesame oil, fresh ginger, walnuts, a shallot and a frozen pizza if it all went to hell), I went to the grocery store and marched right up to the seafood counter. "One pound of sea bass, please," I told Seafood Counter Man, hoping I sounded like someone who cooks sea bass on a regular basis.
He laughed like I was an idiot. "Um, no way," he said. "We don't carry it. It's thirty bucks a pound!"
Leave it to me to ask for the most trop cher seafood ever. (I may have the palate of an eight-year-old, but a spoiled one.) "Okay," I said, thinking fast and hoping I didn't come off like a total moron. "Give me the scallops." (Which, by the way, weren't cheap either.)
Once home, I did the first thing I believe every chef should do: don an apron. (And even better if it has cat heads all over it.)
OMG, does this apron make my butt look big?
And then I set to work on the third course, BROWNIES. Okay, they were from a box, but people, the box was 99 cents and there's a recession on. And I added THREE eggs to make them cake-like, which is trying something new. So there.
Mmmm... brownie goodness. And the cook always gets to lick the spoon.
And then, because it was belated Valentine's Day and we weren't going to be eating dinner in front of the TV watching DVDs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I set the table all purty.
But no, I didn't iron the tablecloth. There's only so much I can handle.
And then I prepped the asparagus for roasting in the oven when the brownies were finished baking, snapping off the ends, drizzling it with olive oil and Maine sea salt and pepper:
Yes, I need a new cookie sheet.
And then on to the scallops. I washed them to get the grit off, and cut up 3 scallions. Then regarded the ginger. I was pleased to find a little stump that had come off a big piece that cost a penny and looked to be just the right amount I'd need. But it also looked like a thumb. Peeling a thumb is super creepy, but it was all good.
Thumb size is the perfect amount. Remember that.
Then I took a square of foil and added the scallops, the scallions, the ginger, a tablespoon of reduced sodium soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil, and sealed the tin foil in a package all tight.
Meanwhile, I was boiling one inch of water in a skillet and as soon as it was bubbling, I plopped the packet in there and covered it, leaving it in there for 10 minutes. So I hurried and threw some instant rice on the stove (I know, but I don't have a rice cooker and it was ON SALE) which was perfectly timed, and started on the salad.
It was super easy -- 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice (I didn't have any lemon zest because lemons were a dollar -- pffft -- but there was supposed to be 1/2 teaspoon, oh well), and two teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of mustard powder. Mix all those up then add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped shallot. Then I added the greens and the radishes and tossed, and PEOPLE, I TOASTED THE WALNUTS:
And yes, I burned some because I got carried away chopping the damn shallot, but enough were salvageable. And then I added low fat blue cheese and VOILA:
Okay, so it doesn't look like the cookbook, but it still looked GOOD.
By then, the timer was going off and everything was ready at once and I felt like a chicken without a head. I uncovered the scallops and poked at them, but I couldn't tell so I just put them back on for another five minutes to be on the safe side. (Our stove is old and wonky anyway, so we always have to do that.) So I took the asparagus out of the oven and put it in the special Russel Wright asparagus dish, and it was toasted and crispy, just how we like it:
Mmmm, tasty. And it makes your pee smell, too!
I got the rice ready, and then it came time for the scallops! I took them out of their packet, and drizzled the sauce from the foil and another tablespoon of soy sauce over them (and a bit of the sauce on the rice):
What DO scallops look like in nature, anyway????
Not bad, if I say so myself.
And a little mood music:
I'll swing along with Sinatra, no matter how many courses.
Then Jon came home -- perfect timing -- and my three-course dinner earned five stars. Jon even said that it was the best salad he had ever eaten. It was even better than SALAD IN A BAG!
Look Ma! No leftovers!
And the third course was good, too:
cake-like brownie with low-fat French vanilla ice cream.
So I'm happy to report that not only was my three-course dinner delicious, no one got sick and died as a result of eating it. Which, in itself was an Accomplishment. But the biggest Accomplishment was that I conquered my fear and preconceived notions that I can't cook, because I can. Which, in a way, kind of sucks because now I'm going to have to do this more often.
Julia Child, eat your heart out.
Twenty-eight down, 69 to go.