Thursday, October 25, 2007

I Never...

When I was younger, my friends and I played a drinking game called “I never” in which the object was to stay something completely humiliating or bizarre that you’d never done, and anyone who had done that thing had to drink. The idea, clearly, was to discover what outlandish things other people had done. (The game should, of course, be called "I've Never" to be perfectly grammatical about it.)

Something reminded me of this game a few weeks ago, and I’ve been thinking about the culinary version of it. What cooking-related things have I never done that I think I should have done, or that I’d like to have done? So here’s my list. As you read through it’s not necessary to drink when you come across a thing you have done that I haven’t (unless you want to, of course, in which case, by all means, do so).

I’ve never made hollandaise sauce from scratch. Or béarnaise sauce. Or really any of those classic butter-based sauces. Probably because I’ve never served Eggs Benedict to anyone. Although I have served filet mignon, which I’ve had served to me with béarnaise sauce in restaurants, but since my husband hates béarnaise sauce, I’ve never made it to go with filet at home.

I’ve never poached an egg. I don’t know why—it’s just never come up. As I said, I’ve never made Eggs Benedict, and I’ve never had any other need to poach an egg. Nor have I ever really craved one. I’ve eaten them, but I’ve never made them.

I’ve never made pudding from scratch. As a child of the packaged food generation, pudding was powder out of a box mixed with milk. My mother never made pudding from scratch either (my mother never made a lot of things from scratch), so I guess it never occurred to me to think of how “real” pudding was made (or even considered that there was such a thing as “real” pudding) until I was an adult, by which time I didn’t like it so much anymore. I might make pudding for my own kids one day, since pudding is a very kid food.

I’ve never had any success with buttercream frosting. It always tastes iceboxy. And it’s always too…too much. I don’t know if it’s greasy or slick or heavy or rich or what the exact word is I’m looking for here, but real buttercream that I’ve made is always too much for me. I might have had other people’s buttercream and loved it (I can’t recall every single encounter with buttercream in my life), but when I make it for my own cakes, I always am not enamored of it. I want to like it—after all, I made it, and I made it with good ingredients—but I just can’t warm up to it somehow. Maybe this is just me, and not the frosting.

I’ve never made jam. I really want to, but I have a couple of things currently stopping me. The first is my four children. They don’t leave me a lot of time for picking berries, preparing them, cooking them, and putting them up. The second thing is my fear of botulism. Marion Cunningham, updater of the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, assures me that my fear is unfounded, and that it’s perfectly safe to put up preserves, but I’m still a little reluctant. That, combined with my conviction that all the lids would blow off the jars as I tried to “process” them, leaving my kitchen a mess and me a scarred shell of a woman, has kept me from making jam. In the next couple of years I’ll get over this and take the plunge. No doubt the details will be recorded here (assuming I survive the explosion[s]).

I’ve never had any luck frying chicken. In spite of the fact that I think this is one of the more important things every cook should know how to do, I confess that I pretty much suck at it. I know technically how to do it, but I’ve never had any success with the execution. Just like some people can’t make pie crust, or bread, or white sauce, I’m just a Fried Chicken Failure. It’s always burnt on the outside and raw on the inside. Maybe I’ll try again someday. Better make a note to do it before making the jam, in case the exploding jars take out my kitchen.

I’ve never made fish stock. I’ve never really had a need, to be honest. We don’t eat much fish, we don’t eat much fish soup, so I’ve never had either the components or the need. There are a few things I’d like to make that call for fish stock, such as bouillabaisse. As my kids get older, one of my goals is to start introducing them to more fish so that we all become more fish eaters (it just seems a crying shame to live a ferry ride + a short walk away from Pike Place Market—Home of the Heaved Salmon—and not eat more fish), so no doubt I’ll remedy this at some point.

I’ve never cooked a whole fish. See above. Also, the idea of a fish with its head on kind of ooks me out. I have a friend who insists that she doesn’t eat anything that ever had a nose (which I think is kind of an overly cute way of saying she only eats chicken and fish, and I’d like to point out that chickens do have noses, just not in the traditional sense that we as humans do, but whatever), and I for one am somewhat put off by a dish that can actually look me in the eye. Which isn’t to say that I won’t eat it, or I have a rule about not eating food that can stare back at me or anything like that. I just have some reservations on this one, and it’s going to take me a little time to get over them. I think we’re looking at a lot of fish filets and steaks until I can work through this one.

I’ve never made puff pastry or croissants from scratch. I’m a bit intimidated by this kind of dough, frankly. I, who stand as a mighty soldier before yeast, am a tad cowed by the whole butter-flour-fold it-turn it-refrigerate it type of dough. It just seems there’s more chance for me to screw it up. With bread dough, I toss in the yeast and it does its thing. As long as it’s not too old or too hot, it complies. With puff pastry, there’s more of me involved in the process, and therefore more chance that my fallibility will reveal itself.

I’ve never made pasta. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and think it would be such fun, but I’ve heard that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to do, and this would be one of those things that I would try to make for a dinner party, and my guests would arrive to find me sobbing uncontrollably over a misshapen pile of goo. They’d try to comfort me: “Really, it’s great looking linguini!” and I’d wail, “It was supposed to be tortellini!!” Maybe one day when I’m feeling brave, and cavalier about the possibility of dumping a couple of pounds of flour right into the trash, and just have a few hours to do absolutely nothing at all, I’ll give it a try.

There are plenty of other things I’ve never done—made pate from scratch (my mom was big on doing this, for some reason--she never made pudding, or dinner, but she'd grind up chicken livers and wrap them in bacon...go figure), cooked on a woodstove (my aunts have both done this), tried brains or sweetbreads (I have an uncle who has eaten just about everything deemed edible by any group of people in the world). On the other hand, my aunts and uncle have never roasted a whole pig.

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