I am DECIDEDLY not a chef, cook, or foodie. I couldn’t even qualify as a sous chef in a New York deli. I am what I call a “kitchener.” I spend a lot of time in my kitchen with all my kitchen-y gadgets and I do kitchen-y things with mostly good results. I do throw in a few disasters – mostly fish-related – to keep my husband from thinking I’m too
I cook because I have to cook. I have a family, and they like to eat. If I didn’t have a family, it’s pretty likely that I would never lift a pan. My husband can confirm this. I would be a pathetic Mexican woman if I were not a mother.
My situation as it is – messy and blessy – I cook a lot. My evolution as a kitchener began with an epic fail. I don’t know that Brock and I were even married when I decided to make a chicken pot pie for my mother-in-law. At that time, I can’t even say I knew how to make chicken. I certainly had never made a pie, and I had only limited experience with pots. But I had one quality that disqualified all those negatives: I was irritatingly optimistic about all things. Can I cook? NO! Should I cook? HELL, YEAH!
So, I endeavored to make the pot pie with all the attitude I could muster. I quadrupled the salt to the second power, and the only reason I can think I did this is because in 1987, Stell Intermediate in Brownsville, Texas decided to schedule Pre-Algebra and 7th grade boys football during the same period. Additionally, they made sure that the Pre-Algebra class had LARGE windows that faced the football field. Furthermore, they directed Mrs. McGuffey, the teacher, to seat me in a desk that FACED those windows, that field, and those boys. At this point, it simply could not be expected that I would fully understand anything mathematical. There were serious, long-term ramifications from that fall of 1987. Anytime I was faced with mathematics, my mind went to boys. That chicken pot pie never stood a chance, and I was lucky that my mother-in-law has a stomach of steel, even though she’s missing a gall bladder. (I tell you this because she tells ME this ALL. THE. TIME. It factors into any conversation. Factors? Never heard of ’em.)
Anyhow, I didn’t poison the woman. Instead I had to watch her bravely eat my terrible food. I tasted the food (did you know you were supposed to taste WHILE cooking?), and it was awful. I wouldn’t eat another bite. Brock passed, too. Can you see him and the situation he was in? Here he had presented me to his old-fashioned, Catholic, Mexican family like Grood presenting fire to the other cavemen. “Here mother. Here father. I have brought you a full-blooded Mexican girl from the Valley. She speaks Spanish. She likes menudo and moyejas and tamarindo. She teaches school.” Leaving out that one thing which separates the Mexican girls from the Mexican women, he let me go down this path which could only end in disaster. I couldn’t cook. He could have suggested we take his mom out to dinner or have done something helpful like break the stove, but he didn’t. So, it’s his fault, too.
SHE CAN’T MAKE RICE
I guess it was kind of a good thing. I mean, I was off the hook after that. No one expected me to make a meal worth its salt – haha. I just had to endure being the morsel of gossip I became for a time. Brock’s godfather, Bernie, called from Somerville to harangue me mercilessly. “MA-CHELLE” is how he said my name in his booming voice with its tendency to ignore his Czechoslovakian roots and resonate instead with the gold standard in Houston Mexican accents. You Houston Mexicans know what I’m talking about. “MA-CHELLE. Infa says you can’t even make rice. You can’t make RICE?”
Well, shoot. I COULDN’T make rice. She was right. He was right. I took my lickings. Wouldn’t you like to hear that I learned to cook after that? Wouldn’t it be a really sweet ending to this story? Too bad. This is no fairy tale, friend. It would be another seven or eight years before I even acknowledged that the kitchen in my house was mine. I would continue to make inedible meals for my husband who not only wouldn’t eat them, but would also shake his head and just say, “I mean, damn, babe.”
I DID figure out along the way that I could bake. Cakes, mostly. I moved on to cookies after my first was born. A year ago, I mastered bread. I get ovens. They make sense to me. I trust those suckers to this day. Used to be that I’d rather bake a chicken than cook it in a pan. Then I figured out how to make fideo and that soupy kind of cooking stuck with me. Once I started tasting my own food while I was cooking it instead of giving it the stink-eye, I started to put out food that wouldn’t require me putting the bottle of Tums next to the salt and pepper shaker at the table. I still can’t make fish, though, and I’ve never made shrimp unless I have and it was so bad that I blocked it out.
REDEMPTION WAS MINE
But guess-freaking-what? I can make rice. I can! Two things helped me figure out how. One, Brock told me he didn’t like the typical Mexican style rice, to which you add a can of tomato sauce. So, competing with his mother’s rice was now off the table forever. Two, my best friend’s mom, Elsa, told me that all it took was knowing to let the rice boil a bit before covering with the pan lid and then removing the lid every so often to release the steam and allowing the rice to cook instead of just steam. I have no idea WHY that made sense to me. Then I decided to make my rice my own way. I add only onion, yellow bell pepper, comino, and chicken broth. You’ll find that recipe on this page very soon!
What you’ll find in addition to that recipe are other recipes that I have stolen and modified to both suit my skill set and please my tribes’ taste buds. I hope you enjoy them and all the stories that go along with them!
Welcome to Cook It UP! Pull up a chair and make yourself at home in my kitchen. 🙂