Cooking for Pleasure and Profit, Part 2


Today’s Music: Fountains of Wayne

So after I left the restaurant business, I was a burnt out husk of a man, in dire need of a haircut. And a shave.
And I hated cooking.
If I couldn’t boil it, nuke it, or eat it out of the bag, I wasn’t making it for myself.
When people would ask me cooking questions, I would violently refuse to answer them.

I took a 10 month vocational program, collected unemployment and learned how to maintain computers.
And I didn’t cook.

Four months later, I met the most wonderful girl in the universe, who would later agree to be my wife.
But first I had to hook her.

We went out on a few dates – nights out for dinner, as well as day trips. Then one day, I asked her to come over for dinner. She said yes.
Excellent! But now I would have to cook for her.

We’d talked a bunch about food (I managed to be calmer than I had been, since I didn’t want to scare her off – hey, save the exciting demons to spice up the relationship later on, I say), and I knew what she liked and didn’t, and some foods she just wouldn’t eat.

I settled on the basic chili recipe I had used, and modified it to be neither too hot, nor have beans. She hates beans.
Ground beef, crushed tomatoes, peeled tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, cumin and some other seasonings (probably salt and sage, among others). Saute the vegetables, add the meat, season and cook that, drain off the fat, add the tomatoes, bring it all up to a nice simmer for a little while, and throw it all over some rice.
Simple.
But even the act of making that simple dish, one I could make in my sleep (even the vegetable chopping), was elevated to me. Here I was, doing something that I had run screaming from, but I was doing it for someone I really really liked, and I had a skill that I could use to demonstrate that affection.
Plus what girl doesn’t like a guy who cooks?

She came over. I may have done something silly with candles. I probably gave my roommate beer money so he would head out. And we enjoyed our meal.
It wasn’t intricate or gourmet. It was two people having a lovely evening over food one of them had prepared for both of their enjoyment.

And I loved it.
And ten years later I married that girl.
She said that me being able to cook wasn’t the reason. But it was a spiffy side benefit..

But not all the dishes we’ve made since then were keepers.

One of the worst:
I had a block of Tofu. And a wok. And some vegetables and rice.
What could possibly go wrong?
SQUEEZE THE TOFU. Put it under a weight and let the water ooze out of it. That’s what all the recipes say. But I cooked for a living. I know what I’m doing. Yea, right.
So basically I ended up with a big wok full of…well…glop, really. The tofu didn’t brown, the rice kept steaming into a blob of starch from all the extra water, and the vegetables (also steamed to hell) were limp and uninteresting.
And there’s only so much damage that can be covered by throwing in Chines 5 Spice.
But there was about $6 dollars worth of food int that pot, and I didn’t want to throw it all away.
So I ate it. For the next 2 days.
Made my wife a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.
Because I love her and don’t use food as punishment.

Possibly the worst:
Fondue.
Image from SlashFood.com
Slice the cheese. Coat it with flour, garlic the pot. Add the wine. Add the cheese. Melt, slowly.
Slice up the bread, vegetables, fruit for dipping.

We had a fondue pot. It was a gift. the difference between ours and everyone elses though, was that we were using ours.
The pot wasn’t the problem. The recipe was.
We followed the recipe. I swear.
Now, I’m notorious for glancing through a recipe, then doing whatever I want. But this time, we followed the recipe.
Used the right measurements. The right techniques. I even measured the wine for goodness sakes. Before I drank some of it.
But the recipe didn’t work.
The fondue wouldn’t thicken.
We added a bit more cheese. Then more flour. Tried some cornstarch.
Nothing.

So, my wife and I, looking at each other over the pot, thought it was ruined.
“Not totally ruined” I said. “Maybe we can turn it into a nice cheese soup”.
I went to the closet, gathered some other ingredients and spices, and went back to the kitchen.
“This should fix it”, I said confidently.
I took lids off everything, started adding various things, adjusting the heat, stirring, whisking..
The soup started to take shape. I tasted it. Needed something. So I popped the lid off the Cajun Spice, and went to do a hard shake – not to overpower it, just to get enough spice to come through the shaker top.
Which it didn’t have.
So half the jar came out.

My wife and I looked at the pot, then at each other, with the same expression of surprise and dismay that I think would happen if I parked my car, got out, then turned to see it rolling off a cliff.

We looked at the pot then back at each other.
“Ok”, I said. “Now it’s ruined.”

For dinner that night, the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were delicious.

Epilogue:
It was the recipe. We’ve since regathered our courage and tried fondue again. It has come out excellently.
And now, whenever we have a cooking debacle, the standard for edibility we use is “Better or Worse than Cajun Cheese Soup”.

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24 responses to “Cooking for Pleasure and Profit, Part 2

  1. Having once tried to make fondue I thought from scratch (I thought it was just cheese inside — but no! The instructions were in french, alas). I have had less stringier string cheese. I am impressed by your cooking, your ability to bond over PB&J.

    And over your writing!

    Like

    • Thanks Elyse.
      I hope it didn’t turn you off from fondue! And you can skip right to the Chocolate fondue if the cheese doesn’t work.

      As our relationship has progressed, my wife and I frequently bond over grilled cheese as well!

      Like

  2. Cheese is the glue of life really. My stranded-on-desert-island food for sure. And while I’m impressed that you two have perfected your recipe, I highly recommend seeking out the pre-made cheese fondue block in your local grocery store. Unwrap, drop in heated pot and eat. Perfect every time. Until then, I’ll anxiously await my invitation to dinner. I’ll bring the wine. Perhaps some ‘Fat Bastard.’ 🙂

    Like

    • Wow – you must have internet radar to home in in on Cheese comments anywhere on the web!
      I never heard of instant fondue, but I find there’s something satisfying about making it from scratch…

      Like

  3. Oh, I definitely have a Cheese-dar of sorts. (I bet a cleverer person would be able to come up with a better word than Cheese-dar … and cleverer.)

    Recipe, please?

    Like

    • Thanks. Now I will be using Cheese-dar instead of Radar.
      FONDUE*
      1/2 pound imported Swiss, shredded
      1/ pound Gruyere, shredded
      2 tbsp cornstarch
      1 garlic clove peeled
      1 cup dry white wine
      1 tbsp lemon juice
      1 tbsp cherry brandy (we use kirsch)
      1/2 tsp dry mustard
      Pinch nutmeg (stupid direction. We add enough til it smells nice)

      Shred the cheese and toss with cornstarch. Set aside.
      Rub the inside of the fondue pot with the garlic. Throw away the clove.
      Put pot on medium heat. Add wine and lemon juice, bring to a gentle simmer.
      Stir in cheese, a little at a time. Melt it gradually, then add the next handful.
      Once it is smooth, add brandy, mustard, nutmeg and mix it in.

      We do it with broccoli florets, carrots, bread and green apples.

      Enjoy!
      *I actually copied the recipe word for word (almost) from our This Is Good recipe binder.

      Like

  4. OldDog, there’s something we have in common: cheese-philia. I don’t think I have cheese-dar, because I can’t home in on it, but I LOVE it. All kinds of it. Can’t get enough of it. (Yeah, I really like cheese.)

    Like

    • Thanks Brian. Now I feel vaguely unclean after reading “Cheese-philia”.
      I prefer Fromageaphile, thanks.
      Since the comments have been hijacked into a cheesefest, let me add that I’ve foung a slab of brie with a sharp knife makes an excellent snack when I get home from work. Or when we’re not hungry enough to make a full meal and just want to graze.

      Like

  5. I must be really lucky. I don’t squeeze the tofu before I use it in stir fries and it’s always been okay.

    Perhaps this is thanks to my Asian Magic.

    Like

  6. Sorry about the hijack, but you’re right, Fromagephile sounds much better.

    Like

  7. Hah!
    You hit a couple of really good topics here in one post, both of which made me want to say something. One of those is why I never want to work as a chef. I adore cooking. It’s my favorite hobby. For work? Give me a quiet office and some legal paperwork to read instead! Or a hall of people to lecture – not a bloody, busy, hectic kitchen!
    And the ruined fondue (been there, it’s WAS the recipe in my case too!), and “Cajun Cheese Soup” – that just had me in stitches laughing! Thank you! 🙂

    Like

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    Who did you pay to do your site? Its really nicely designed I bet that is why you get so much traffic!

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  10. I’m surprised nobody else has pointed this out yet but ummm, Mr. Chef, THAT’S NOT CHILI. Carrots and mushrooms? And on top of *rice*?? That’s coming from a Texan so I don’t care how many years of cookin’ you have, it ain’t chili.

    Like

    • No argument from me Lilly, but in the end, I just care if it tastes good. And it was deeelicious.

      Like

      • LOL! I suppose you’re right too. The taste *is* the most important thing.

        Btw, I spend the majority of my disposable income on food. Well, that and cigarettes. But if given the choice of buying shoes or something vs. going out to eat, the food will win. How many brownie points does that get me? 😉

        Like

        • No brownie points ’round here, Lilly.
          But you’re bringing up the cool quotient to previously unimagined levels!

          there’s a He Said/She Said somewhere around here about shoes.
          Sadly, I’d go for the cigarettes with that last nickel. sigh.

          Like

          • Good. About the brownie points because I was joking.

            I read the He Said/She Said post, which was pretty funny but I didn’t finish the She Said part of it because there’s only so much I can read about shoes (no offense intended). I’m just not a shoe girl. Or a purse girl. And I hear ya on the damn cigarettes.

            Like

  11. Oh boy I hope you never measure my cooking up against it. It probably wouldn’t pass. Ha!

    Oh and my Hubby used to be cook too. He hasn’t wanted anything to do with much cooking in years. I wish he did.

    Like

Ahem *best Ricky Ricardo voice* Babble-OOOoooo!!!

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