Monday, June 9, 2008

Kitchen Confessions

When someone is labeled as a good cook or baker, it is often assumed that they can therefore do ANYTHING in the kitchen. They can take any ingredients or recipes and make it into something that is a visual work of art and a sensation for the taste buds. They know how to use all the spices, condiments, substitutes and all the various kitchen gadgets and appliances. Nothing ever goes wrong - right? WRONG!!

I enjoy cooking and baking. I always have. I started helping my mom and my grandma when I was quite young. One of the first "jobs" I had was to put the paper baking cups in muffin cups. I gradually learned to mix ingredients and also to measure and read recipes. Some recipes are much easier than others. Muffins and biscuits were two of the first things I learned to make. If you over mix either you can use them as balls and hockey pucks.

I used to help my mom make layer cakes. I think I was about 11 or 12 the first time I tried to make one on my own. My brother and I were making supper for mom for her birthday. He made the meal and I was to make the cake and icing. I mixed up the batter and poured it in the pans and put them in the oven to bake. They looked really good when I took them out of the oven. I let them cool on racks while I made the icing and set the table. When the cakes were cool, I went to take them out of the pans which is when I realized there was a problem. I had greased the pans lightly as for a basic cake but the easiest way to remove cakes in "one piece" to make a layer cake is to line the pans with waxed paper. Oh what a mess! The cakes that had risen so beautifully had fallen apart! I was devastated. With a little help from the icing and my brother, we managed to turn it into a semi-presentable cake that we called "the snowball"! It still tasted great and of course mom loved it! I've never forgotten to line a pan since!

One of the things that I never really got the hang of making was pastry. I did it a few times in my teens and early 20's, but I just never have much luck. I've tried several prize winning recipes but it's either tough or falls apart. Luckily, I'm not a big fan of pies, but if I do get that urge, I'll be using Tender Flake frozen crusts.

Gravies and creamy sauces are another one of my weak spots. Any time I try to make a "rue" (flour and water/milk paste), it and the sauce always turn out lumpy, pasty or burnt. Thank goodness for powdered gravy mixes and canned cream soups. I'm slightly more successful with corn starch but just barely.

How do you feel about Jello? If you like it, then I hope you know how to make it! I often had trouble getting all the gelatin crystals dissolved, as I just couldn't see them. Working with unflavoured gelatin is even more of a nightmare. I ate jello when I was younger, but pretty much quit after three weeks in the hospital after my detached retina in 1990. In the last few years, there has only been one recipe that I've had any luck with, that I still like. That is a recipe that I make a couple of times every summer called "Jollygood Squares" (I'll post that recipe tomorrow!)

Don't even consider asking me to do anything that involves a candy thermometer, a pressure cooker, a slow cooker or beating egg whites to any state of firmness or lightness. It just isn't going to happen in my kitchen!

Do you like marshmallows and all those squares and desserts that are made with them? For some reason, I also have trouble with marshmallows. I used to love roasted marshmallows but couldn't do them myself if my life depended on it! I enjoy rice krispie squares every once in awhile, but every time I try to make them, I burn the marshmallow mixture or they turn out really sticky or hard as a rock! You have no idea how happy I was when Kellogg's started making their rice krispie squares and their chocolate rice krispie squares in individual packages!

When I was working at summer camp, I was co-head cook for a week. I was generally more comfortable as an assistant cook but was pressed into duty when someone was unable to work that particular week. I never liked Porridge, nor had I ever made it, but it was on the menu for one morning and I quickly asked the water/oats proportions. Well it looked okay, no lumps so I set the pot on the counter and started serving. Within minutes every table was asking for the salt shaker, which I thought was odd as nothing on the menu would need salt. I asked what they wanted it for and was surprised to learn that I was supposed to have added a little salt to the porridge as it was cooking! Who knew? Not me!

I know where my kitchen strengths are and I try to stick to them. I've also been brave and tried making a few things I never thought I could such as sweet pickle relish and mango chutney. I found simple recipes with ingredients that I liked. The hardest part was the "hot water bath" that you give the filled jars to make sure they are properly sealed! I've had lots of kitchen "disasters", but I keep going. They've rarely been so bad that I've actually had to throw the food out.

The trick to looking like a kitchen goddess/god is to know your strength's and stick to them. Yes, you should try and figure out how to work with basic ingredients and recipes but if you are still making yourself and your family/friends suffer through your failed attempts, then take a little help from a mix or a friend. If at all possible avoid the recipes and ingredients that you don't have much luck with - at least when you are having company!


No comments: