Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Dark Side of Cooking

Ha! You didn't know there is a dark side to cooking, did you? Well, I have discovered it and it's actually two-fold: the dishes and the leftover ingredients.

Once upon a time in the spring/summer/fall of 2003, I got a job washing dishes in a fancy-pants golf course kitchen. Yes, I was a dish bitch and no, I did not come up with that title. It was a hard job, especially on banquet or event nights where the dishes would come to me faster than I could hurl them into the dishwasher or quickly wash them in the sink, being sure to avoid the sharp knives cleverly chucked in there by the cooks when I wasn't looking. I made a whopping $9/hr + tips and I shared that wonderful job with two other guys who were still in high school. I think one didn't even have his driver's license yet. Let's just say I had at least a good decade on them and a lot more driving experience. The kitchen was on the top floor of the clubhouse which translates to "gets REALLY hot during the summer" so I spent a lot of time pretending to look for stuff in the giant fridge and freezer to cool myself off. I ate a lot of cookies, gained weight, and got laughed at by the cooking staff when I would make myself PB&J sandwiches for dinner. The chef and sous-chef were incapable of speaking a sentence without at least 6 curse words in it so I also gained a whole new vocabulary, much to the annoyance of my friends. I quit that job when I went back to school and I've had a whole new opinion on dishwashing since.

What the blasted recipes and recipe books don't tell you is that cooking or baking GENERATES A LOT OF DISHES! I'm not one of those people who has multiples of all my cooking implements so that I never need to suddenly realize that the dirty pot in the sink is the one I need RIGHT NOW and has to be washed in a hurry, oh wait, the pot on the stove is going to boil over and my hands are covered in dish soap, oh crap, the phone is ringing, ahhhhhH! I think I washed the same bowl about 4 times on Sunday while making my first dessert recipe (which I still have lots of in my fridge. Free to a good home..... please....). I find cooking by itself still stressful at this point. Add to that a giant pile of extra work and things get downright evil.

As I've slowly progressed to recipe #4 (post to follow), I've adapted my ways a bit. I no longer buy all the ingredients listed in the recipe if I don't have the exact same thing already at home. After 3 recipes and a fridge now carrying ingredient odds and ends that I don't normally eat much of (fat-free sour cream anyone? Can I interest you in some whipping cream? How about 1/3 of a tetrapak of reduced-sodium chicken stock? You can't tell me you don't want that in your home), I'm now looking more closely at my shelves before I shop. I'm a little out of my usual do-exactly-what-the-recipe-says-or-you'll-mess-it-up-for-life comfort zone, but I now have no idea what to do with the 1/2 bag of potatoes I bought for the pea soup last week. Today I managed to be ok with using my existing bag of baby carrots when the recipe wanted me to buy 2 large carrots (seriously, buy 2 carrots??) and I used diced tomatoes that weren't plum tomatoes (gasp!). So there, recipe!

Luckily for me, the Kraft Kitchens site has a search format where you can enter 3 ingredients that you have (on hand presumably) and it'll come up with ideas on how to use them. Wonder what one can make with potatoes, whipping cream, and chicken stock? Too bad there's no easy solution for the dishes...

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