Thursday, April 14, 2022

Learning to Cook

            I have written before about my early adventures in cooking (, and now Kim is teaching me how to cook even better. I can tell that I’m making some progress because it takes her a bit longer now to ask me to get out of the kitchen, that I’m in the way.


            I’m learning, primarily, by “helping” her. Here’s an example: She was heating something in a pan, and she asked me to watch it when she went to the bathroom. I did so. When she returned, she said, “It’s burning! Didn’t you see it?”


            “Yes, I did, because I was watching it just as you asked me to do.”


            I am now fairly proficient at grating cheese, and I can make carrot sticks and pour a bowl of cereal. I do fairly well with toast. I make waffles (from a mix, but still, I have to crack an egg). One of my specialties is reaching things on high kitchen shelves, and I can lift heavy iron pots out of the oven. I know how to reheat pizza.


            One of my specialties is liquids. I’m in charge of making coffee in the morning, pouring wine and/or water with dinner, and preparing cocktails (if we have them) (we usually do) in the evening.


            But my main focus is salads. I wondered what it is that makes a salad, a salad. My first thought was the presence of lettuce, which shows the range of my salad repertoire. Nope. All vegetables? Nope. Uncooked ingredients? Nope. A little research taught me that it’s the use of dressing that makes a something into a salad. But don’t you put dressing on a salad, which means it was a salad prior to being dressed? I spent time thinking about this stuff instead of figuring out how to make better salads.


            My first year of salad responsibility featured lettuce and tomatoes, and maybe an occasional cucumber. Period. Kim guided me to other ingredient options, involving nuts, cheeses, seeds, shredded carrots, beets, and (gasp) microgreens!


            One of the things I learned is to start thinking about it before 4:30 p.m. Some choices even need to be made in the grocery store. Lettuce needs to be washed – before serving the salad. Most salads need to be chilled rather than served at room temperature. I also learned that another reason to make the salad early so I won’t be fumbling around in Kim’s way when she is making our main course.


            Then there is the issue of which salad to make when. I’ve learned there is a concept called “go with,” which for me means that some salads don’t “go with” certain main courses. I am still struggling with this. One criterion I sometimes use is to make the salad soon if the ingredients are about to rot, and this sometimes takes priority over “go with.” Cucumber starting to feel soft? Red mold crawling up the bottom of the lettuce? Make the good parts into a salad.


            Salad dressings are a creative opportunity, especially there are plenty of bottles of the stuff in the door of the refrigerator. I do have one original dressing, named “David’s Dressing,” that Kim taught me how to make. Kim suggests that I taste the dressing to see if I need to add something – maybe a bit more sugar or dried mustard. So, I taste it, even though my taster does not work very well.


            My famous coleslaw has a similar history. Kim taught me how to slice the cabbage, and now she pretends that I alone am able to do it. I make the dressing she taught me to make, adjusting, of course, to taste. I do my coleslaw dressing with so much confidence that I don’t need to measure the ingredients (mayo, vinegar, sugar), mixing them by eye. I’m still learning how to fully dissolve the sugar into the mix.


            I have also learned that the appearance of the dish, or the presentation, is important. I have mastered this with Cheerios, rarely missing the bowl. But salads give you stuff to arrange artistically – you know, pieces of cucumber peeking out from under the lettuce, or cherry tomatoes in a circle. Smiley face?


            This week: Maurice Salad. The dressing has eight ingredients!


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