I love food. I'll try almost anything, though I'm not as adventurous as Andrew Zimmerman - no monkey brains or sauteed dog for me! I subscribe to the Food Network magazine, Taste of Home and Rachel Ray's magazine. I watch Top Chef, Chopped and Diners Drive-ins and Dives. Yes, I love food. I'm a foodee. What I am not is a cook.
Yes, I get all these magazines and watch all these shows, but I don't really cook. My repertoire consists mainly of American Chop Suey (aka by some as goulash), rice with canned soup or canned chili on it, nuked baked potatoes and On-Cor chicken cutlets, meatloaf and of course, my favorite weekend morning breakfast - Cocoa Pebbles! I can cook a few other things, but these are the staples, so to speak.
One of the reasons I don't cook is because I have very little room in my kitchen. I measured it and I have about 2 sq feet of counter space in a pantry that's about 4.5 sq feet. Also, my knees are shot so standing for any length of time either at the stove or to prep is difficult, so I usually do what little prepping that's needed, sitting down on a bench. Also, I HATE cleaning up after cooking. But I love food! So what's a foodee to do?
Well, this week, I decided that I was going to try a recipe from Rachel Ray's Magazine. From the 30 minute meal section - called "Pancetta wrapped chicken thighs with potatoes". That doesn't so bad, right? Sounds pretty easy and not too many ingredients. So I make my shopping list to pick up what I don't already have: Chicken thighs, Pancetta, Lemon, fresh rosemary, fresh garlic, white wine, and potatoes. I already had chicken stock and salt and pepper! It was decided that I would cook dinner for me and my sister on Saturday instead of our usual pizza, and we'd watch a movie. She would arrive at my place at 5PM.
So about 4PM, I decide to start getting things together, read the recipe again, get the pans out - that kind of thing. Because it's a 30 minute meal, right? So if I start a little early, it will be ready when sis gets here.
Step one: put the potatoes in a covered pot with water and boil. But wait - they're supposed to be peeled and sliced in 1/4" discs first. Dammit! So now I rummage through my utensil and gadget drawers - all three of them - for my potato peeler. Find it and start peeling. Then I wash the taters and start slicing them with my Martha Stewart color coded knife and cutting mat. Slice, slice, slice, cut, chop, dice... ok, all done with that. As I carry the pot to the stove, 15 minutes has passed!! What the...? I better get moving!
Step two: Season the chicken with rosemary, garlic and lemon zest. Ummm... I guess I need to prepare those things too. I zest the lemon first, using my friend Lianne's grater thingy. Do you know how sharp those things are!? Then I strip the rosemary thingies off the stem (I learned that on TV!) and I peel three cloves of garlic from the giant bulb. I start chopping it all up and mixing it. Chop chop chop mix mix mix. I now have about a cup of this seasoning mix which is supposed to be enough for 8 chicken thighs. But at this point, I don't care, I'll stretch it if I have too.
Step three: Rub the seasoning over the chicken then wrap each thigh in 2 slices of the Pancetta. But wait Rachel, I haven't washed the chicken yet. And you HAVE TO wash the chicken, right? By this time, 45 minutes have gone by and the only thing cooking is the potatoes. And shit! They're boiling over. I move my bench and rush to the stove to take the cover off. The water has boiled over but the potatoes still need to cook until tender, but not soft. So I turn the heat completely off, knowing how far behind I am. I'll turn them on again in a little bit.
So I start washing the chicken but I have nowhere to put it. I decide to fill a big Tupperware bowl with paper towels and throw the clean chicken in there, placing the bowl on top of stuff in the utensil drawer. Space is so limited, I have to be creative! It's getting very crowded in my little area here. While washing the chicken and noticing it is now an hour and 10 minutes after I started, I realize I have more than the 8 pieces of chicken the recipe calls for. But I wash it anyway because what am I gonna do? Just put it back in the frig uncooked and unwashed? So all the poultry gets washed and I'm ready to coat each piece with seasoning and wrap them up.
Out comes thigh number one. I start to rub the rosemarygarliczestylemon mixture on the chicken but it's not really rubbing on, it's sort of rolling around with my fingers. I try again, and still, it's not "rubbing" on. I look at the bowl of thighs and then the cup of rosemarygarliczestylemon and think - what the hell. I dump all of the seasoning into the bowl and toss and turn the chicken so that it's all covered. Take that, Rachel Ray!
I open the Pancetta package and carefully peel off a slice of... wait.. I carefully lift... what the???... I cannot get up a piece of pancetta without it tearing. It's so thin that all I'm getting is a strip that curls around. The whole middle is still stuck to the piece underneath it. I glance at the clock. My sister is fashionably late because it is now almost 5:40PM. I try again and again with the pancetta but all I'm doing is pissing myself off and mangling the pancetta. After several attempts, I manage to use up all the pancetta on all the chicken but it looks like a 3 year old did it - nothing like the picture in the magazine.
Step four: Heat the oil in the pan and place chicken in, cooking til crisp on each side - about three minutes. Luckily, my sister walks in at this point because I hand her the chicken and the tongs and tell her "Here, put these in the pan. They have to crisp on each side before we add the wine and stock".
Now, my sisters chosen profession is... a cook. Granted it's institutional cooking, but still.. it's cooking, right? So she puts the chicken in the pan and turns down the heat. I watch her do this and I see the flames getting higher. Ummm...Jeannie? You wanna turn that back down so it doesn't burn? Then she gets an attitude with ME! It's not MY fault that she is a cook and has this same oven in her own kitchen and she doesn't know how to turn the heat down! So while we're arguing back and forth, of course, the clock is tick tick ticking and the chicken is doing nothing because we're playing with the heat. We finally get it where it needs to be and she starts flipping it over already because it's been more than three minutes on that side. But it's not really crispy, I say to her and she tells me to fuck off and it'll be fine.
Now I measure out the 1/2 cup of white wine and the cup of broth, managing to spill only one of them on myself. I read sis the next direction.
Step five: Once chicken is browned nicely on both sides, add the wine and broth and reduce heat to simmer til chicken is cooked through. But wait - Julia Childs over there already turned the heat down. I go look at the chicken and IMO, there isn't one thigh that is 'nicely browned" - but if I say something to her, she's gonna get pissed again. Rather than face her wrath, I just hand her the wine and stock and she pours it all over the chicken, nicely rinsing off any of the seasoning that may have been loose on top. Sigh... So now we wait for the chicken to cook. Shit! The potatoes! I turn the heat back on high to get these cooking because after the chicken is done, you're supposed to fry the disks in the pan with the sauce.
I have now been working on this meal for TWO HOURS. According to sis, the chicken is done. I give her a paper plate to put one on so I can cut it in half to see. When she hands me the plate, I laugh. It's the sorriest looking piece of chicken with pancetta pieces hanging off of it that I have ever seen. I slice into it and yes, it's cooked through. We move the chicken to my Le Creuset roasting pan and it's time to cook the potatoes. Out comes the colander and she drains the potatoes. But instead of "placing" them gently into the pan to fry them on both sides til crisped, she dumps the whole pot into the pan and starts mixing them. I tell her what we're supposed to be doing and she says this is good enough. And I figure at this point, she's right. The potatoes cook for about 5 minutes til she tells me if they cook any longer they are going to be mashed potatoes.
And finally, we're plating our dishes. If we were on Iron Chef, we'd get negative points in the plating category for sure! It is now 2.5 hours later and we're finally going to eat.
How in the WORLD this is supposed to be a 30 minute meal, I will never know. I don't think ANY of the fancypants chef's on TV could do this in 30 minutes unless..... wait a minute.... I know... they have MINIONS!!!!!!!!!!!!
The minions have everything ready to go for them. Their chicken is rinsed, the potatoes are peeled, their lemon is zested, the rosemary is plucked and chopped, the pancetta is probably thicker and all laid out! No wonder dear Rachel always has a smile on her face - she's got minions! And probably doesn't have a sister like mine! (God bless her! LOL).