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At the end of my rope -- please help

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Home Cooking

At the end of my rope -- please help

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HumbleFoodie | | May 7, 2014 07:47 AM

Dearest Chowhounders,

I have often referenced this discussion for cooking assistance, but I finally decided to join and ask for help after my nth failure in the kitchen last night. I am at the end of my rope.

Let me preface this by saying that I grew up under a single mother working outside of the home full time. Dinner preparation was a drive-through. Gourmet was brand name jar sauce over angel hair pasta steeped in water so long the pasta fell apart. Every day we ate Taco Bell or McDonalds, or, after a tax refund, shit on a shingle. My mother, panicking to check for doneness, would cut into a pork chop so many times that it dried out in the five minutes it was in the skillet. I grew up on tofu masquerading as meat and meat burnt to charcoal.

Thankfully I was introduced to good food in college after forming friendships with professors. Their dinner parties revealed that they were part time master chefs, I guess made possible by their research agendas abroad. This is how I met my husband who was no different. After many year-long stays in the foodie giants, nations with deep and ancient cultures, he too became a phenomenal cook with a very sophisticated palate. And when we got engaged, I knew I was in trouble. So I hit the books and websites and have been in the kitchen ever since, nearly three years now, and still I plate horrible food five times a week, feeling that I have learned nothing.

I started at the bottom with Rachel Ray and quickly moved on to other network stars: Flay, Garten, Giada. When they proved inconsistent, I took a giant leap to Gordon Ramsay and more adventurous, niche cookbooks but quickly fell back to FineCooking and LeitesCulinaria. Recently I returned to the classics: Mastering French Cooking, Marcella Hazan's collections, and Test Kitchen, and still I disappoint nearly every night at 6pm. We have on average two decent meals a week, my pan seared rib eye steak with lemon pecorino risotto and herbs de Provence chicken with hollandaise and roasted carrots, two dishes I have perfected through trial and error for well over a year. You might think that someone who could cook those things would be a great cook, but last night I made the worst meal, and I cried at the table. I made Julia Child's hamburger with red wine pan sauce and French bistro salad. Both were awful. The tasteless burgers fell apart in the skillet, and the vinaigrette was so potently overpowering that one bite sent it to the garbage pale. My husband, in his admirable charity, never complains, only encourages. But I know I fail him when he gets in the fridge after dinner, eating the cured meets I stock as a back-up plan to my cooking, even though he tries to hide it from me to save my feelings.

I married a king whom I love and adore, and all I want is to serve him good, simple food. I dropped all of my hobbies to be a great cook for him, but I still cannot make an edible hamburger. I want to live out those feast films together, and I want the dinner table to be the hearth of our family. I have the patience and the will to learn and will try anything. I enjoy being in the kitchen. I make time even with a colicky newborn. I keep going, despite my countless failures, despite the tone of hopelessness in this post. Please help me. Any suggestions on consistent cookbooks or chefs, any tips on spotting a bad recipe will help me so very much. Anything at all. Please help.

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