By Tom "slap the cook" Waters
December 1st, 2005
Ten years ago, I was calling my friends to find out where the big party in the woods was going on. Now I call them for advice on seasoning ground beef, where to find reasonably priced strip steak, and how to pull off barbequed spare ribs.
Defying all known laws of probability, I've learned how to cook. My father was the cook of the house, and I assumed that it skipped a generation. I was wrong. The Jim Waters gene is a dominant one, and it reared its chef-hatted head a few months ago and hasn't let up since. I love to cook now. I marinate, saute, baste, dice, slice, glaze, tenderize and, uh ,unionize. Okay, I ran out of cooking adjectives.
After 28 years of microwave hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and baked potatoes, I've begged, borrowed and stolen enough recipes to open a greasy spoon on a lonely off ramp. And to everyone's shock and amazement, I'm a really good cook, if I do say so myself. I haven't opened a box of macaroni and cheese in six months, and I'm not looking back! If you look at the bottom of the page, I've attached a small piece of meat so that you can sample my wares. Please fill out the accompanying comment card for reviewing purposes.
A bachelor can get by on luck and take out food for only so long before he dies of a stroke from msg or clogs his digestive tract with more cheese than a Wisconsin county fair. It all started with a few simple recipes. Chicken Caesar salad, chicken parmesan, and goulash. Chicken is a fantastic starting block. It's one of the few meats that novices can cook without blowing the house up or giving your guests food poisoning. Cook it until it starts to dry slightly and let it sit.
Then I moved on to home made nachos, scrambled eggs, Italian sausage with green peppers and onions and other slightly more complicated dishes. One of the many things I've really come to enjoy is the serenity of the act. There's a slow, methodical tranquility to food preparation that you just don't get from tossing articles of food stuff into a microwave oven. That, and it's neat how you can prep everything perfectly so that it's all done at the same time. It helps to have numerous stove ranges, multiple pots and pans, and a restaurant issue steel rotisserie. Failing that, an oven will have to do in a pinch.
Some cooks follow recipes to the letter. My grandmother on my mom's side had a filing box with 1001 recipes all written out in deliberate and detailed free hand. She was an excellent cook, and she used to chase the whole family out of the kitchen when she made food because she needed piece, quiet and concentration to construct her masterpieces. I have twenty recipes in my head and pull the rest off with good old fashioned common sense. I pinch and dash like my dad. I add and subtract. I experiment and don't do it again if it's a culinary catastrophe equivalent to the Hindenburg disaster. If things start going south in your sauce pans, add cheese. Or keep refilling your guests wine glasses to wear down their taste buds. If your guests are too young to drink wine, paint thinner will suffice. Crock pots are ideal for the pinch and dash method. You can dump a week's worth of groceries into them, add water and leave it on medium for a weekend. I've never eaten anything bad out of a crock pot. I'm cooking card board in the crock pot right now with some marinara sauce while writing this and it should come out with successful results.
Ten years ago, I was calling my friends to find out where the big party in the woods was going on. Now I call them for advice on seasoning ground beef, where to find reasonably priced strip steak, and how to pull off barbequed spare ribs. Poke all the fun you want, but I'm proud of my prowess in the kitchen. Over vacation, I got my PhD in grilling. Burgers, chiavettas chicken, baby back chicken wings, you name it. Friends, family and passers by are in awe of my command over the common spices. There's more to life than garlic and onion powder, you know. I'm seriously considering requesting a spice rack for my birthday. Making the perfect pot roast is more than a goal, it's a religion for me.
The Jim Waters gene is alive and well. Very much like my dad, I'm the last one to sit down and eat when I entertain company at the dinner table. I flutter and make sure my guests aren't wanting for anything else and constantly questioning the edibility of my meals. My dad was his worst critic: Either the prime rib was too dry, the baked potatoes didn't turn out, or the rice was too flat with his version of rice pilaf. There are worse things in the world than striving for perfection. A dish can always taste a little bit better, look more appealing when it's presented at the table, or go more naturally with a different bottle of wine.
Two months ago I had my parents over for my mother's birthday to have dinner with us. I spent three days making goulash in a crock pot. I added fresh pepperoni, pureed tomatoes, tomato sauce, garlic, diced onions, green peppers, chopped Italian sausage, red wine, six pounds of ground beef and a lot of tender loving care. My mother and father started off with a platter of cheese and crackers and then had their appetizer, a freshly made salad with baby carrots, romaine lettuce, celery and Colby jack cheese topped off with parmesan. The main course was so rich that we all got full on one bowl. For dessert we had peanut butter cup iced cream with chocolate syrup, whipped cream, chocolate jimmies and peanuts. Then we topped the entire meal off with a hot cup of fresh coffee.
It took me almost thirty years, but I got one of the highest compliments I've ever received about anything. My father leaned back and said, "The sauce was as good as mine." I sent them home with a five quart Tupperware container. They had to be rolled out of the door and wedged back into their car with forceps. I had to loosen four to five notches on my belt. An after dinner mint would have been a good idea. Next time. Cooking is my second favorite hobby now (edged out only by my writing). Give me another year and I'll be able to dim the lights and jog around the room with flambed baked Alaska and spinning plates on sticks. All while riding a unicycle and playing Tchaikovsky on the harmonica. One of these days I'll buy an apron and a big puffy white hat. I'll get there, recipe book or not.
The attached meat was (fair) (dry) (tender) (rancid).