The singular truth is… I really can't cook. I can't even make coffee. My parents are great cooks. My Husband is a world class cook. I've worked in restaurants most of my life. I am afraid that there is the very real possibility that cooking is an innate trait, like painting, singing or dancing. You can practice, study & improve, but either you got it, or, you ain't, & I ain't got it.
I gave it a try every once 35 years ago, there was the still talked about culinary creation- Steve's Pineapple & Pea Salad that was my offering at a pot luck. So very inventive. After the stinging slight about my kitchen skills, I challenged myself to learn to do a few basics. I got out my mother's copy of the Fanny Farmer Cookbook, & I went to work on a new Stephen: The Proficient Cook. After 3 weeks of trying out my offerings, my Husband, my strays & my friends asked me to stop trying to provide the occasional meal. They had an intervention, & they implored me to stop cooking. This really happened.
While editing a stack of magazines yesterday, I inexplicitly began to rip out pages of appealing recipes. The Husband’s pained expression might have told me all I needed to know, yet I still announced: “Now that I am a Stay-At-Home Mom, it is only right that I start to make dinner. You shouldn’t have to work at your shop all day & return home only to cook. I mean, how difficult can it be?”
I chose a simple rustic meal for my first stab at the one aspect of the domestic arts that I have not mastered: Oven Roasted Roma Tomatoes with Mediterranean Herbs on Whole Grain Spaghetti & Chevre. I looked up how to oven roast tomatoes on that Internet thingy & the advice was decidedly divergent. I chose slow roasting at a lower temperature because the site- Cooking Tips For Stupid Steve claimed: “roasting at 175 degrees for 6 hours makes for perfect tomatoes & gives your house that delicious aroma.”
I placed halved Romas on a lined cookie sheet, drizzled them with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic oil, a dash of Pinot Grigio, salt & pepper & rosemary, placing them in the oven at noon.
When The Husband returned home, I set the pasta water a boil, & proudly opened the oven door for the Husband’s sneak peek at my culinary creation. Inside sat 12 tiny blackened, shriveled things surrounded by pools of oil. If I were to have guessed, I would have identified them as Cajun-style Dog Turds.
The Husband, despite have worked all day & arriving home on his bicycle having been promised a dinner, saved the evening.
The Husband: “Here’s what we are going to do. We are going to toss these cherry tomatoes in a pan with some olive oil & S&P until they burst. Spaghetti tends to stick together, so let’s use fettuccini.”
Stephen: “Show me how, step by step. How much pasta do you put in?”
The Husband (patiently): “The package says 8 servings, so toss ¼ of the box in the boiling water. Add a big pinch of sea salt.Stir so that the noodles don’t stick together.”
Stephen: “How do you know when they are done?”
The Husband (deliberately): “You taste a noodle… they should be just on the edge of chewy… al dente.” Now, add a nice chunk of butter to the cherry toms to make a yummy brown-butter sauce.”
Stephen: “I like butter.”
The Husband: “Test a noodle. Ready? Transfer the pasta to the colander in the sink, run some cold water near it, not on it, so you don’t get a face of steam. Drain the water from the Fettuccini. Just toss those noodles in the pan with the tomatoes & stir up. Now, chiffonade the basil."
Stephen: “Chifonade? Isn’t that the piece of furniture that Mayella Ewell claims she asked Tom Robinson t0 break up in To Kill A Mockingbird?”
The Husband: “That is a chifforobe. It is like a kind of movable closet. Stack your basil leaves about ten deep & use the scissors to cut them in to small shreds”
Stephen: “I have been out of the chiffarobe for 45 years…”
The Husband: “Put your pasta & cherry tomatoes in browned-butter sauce in the bowls, & sprinkle your basil on top & add your chevre.”
Stephen: “Oops… I purchased feta.”
The Husband: “How do you get through a day? Really? OK, crumble the feta on top (chevre would have been better) & we have dinner! Simple.”
Stephen: “Simple for you… did you take note that I sort of pulled a Tom Sawyer on you?”
The Husband: “Let’s eat.”
The lesson learned? Check your Roma tomatoes throughout the roasting time & don’t drink too much of the marinade & trick someone into making the meal by earnestly seeming like you are interested in the process.