My husband is considering nominating me for the show "Worst Cooks in America," and I think I may actually have quite a good chance at winning the title—assuming the title actually goes to the worst cook, and not the most-reformed previously worst cook.
Actually, I don't think I'd even make it through the first round—mostly because I'd quickly be disqualified from the category of "cook" and placed firmly in the category of "meat mangler," or "expert re-heater." I'm that bad.
When we were first dating, my husband once asked me to boil a potato for him so he'd have a head-start on dinner when he got home from work. He arrived to find a smoke-filled apartment and a very frustrated girlfriend angrily banging about in the kitchen. When he asked me what was going on, I pointed at the offending potato in the pot and yelled, "It just won't cook!"
He looked at the pot, which held a whole potato sitting in an inch of water and said, "Um, didn't you realize you had to chop it up?"
I had wondered why the water kept boiling out and the potato was burning on the bottom.
My husband knew exactly what he was getting into when he married me, and thankfully he didn't really mind, because he absolutely loves to cook. On any given day, by seven in the morning he has already decided what he will be making for dinner, and little plans are hatching in his brain as to how he should embellish the meal to make it as "gourmet" as possible.
For Christmas this year he asked for a subscription to "Cooks Illustrated," which is pretty much the equivalent of a Playboy magazine to him. When his first issue arrived in the mail yesterday, he tore the plastic off with abandon and hungrily scanned the pages—eyes bulging and mouth watering. As I gaped at him, he muttered, "Mmmmm.... Food Porn...."
Although I've tried, I just don't understand his passion for cooking or his zest for grocery shopping. My husband looks at the meat aisle in a supermarket and sees an extravaganza of possibilities glistening with juicy goodness, whereas I just look at it and see lots and lots of innards and pieces of dead things.
This is why, if I had to cook for myself, I would quickly become a vegetarian. I don't see how chopping up bloody dead things could be tolerable—let alone fun, and the idea of dealing with raw meat just disgusts me. In fact, I pretty much feel like I need to don a HAZMAT suit to just approach a piece of raw meat, and afterwards I always feel like I need to shower off. Even after washing my hands numerous times with antibacterial soap and going through several applications of hand sanitizer (which I apply generously and often up to the elbow), I still feel like I have somehow been infected with some insidious germ that will turn me into one of those rabid, vomitous zombies you see in horror movies.
So you can imagine my frustration when, this afternoon, my daughter asked for soup and I realized we were out of the canned variety. I asked her if she would settle for chicken nuggets, and she said yes....but when I looked, the closest thing we had to nuggets was uncooked breaded fish patties. Being completely unsure of how long it would take to cook said fish patties in the microwave (only baking instructions appeared on the package, along with a prominent warning about the dangers of eating undercooked fish), I returned them to the freezer.
That's when I remembered that I had recently bought a collection of gourmet, ready-in-twenty-minutes soups-in-a-box. I picked up my daughter's favorite—chicken noodle—and glanced at the package.
"This soup is SO EASY to make, we don't even bother giving you slow cooker instructions!" the box boasted. "Delicious homemade-style soup in under twenty minutes!" I decided to go for it. I mean, heck, how could I bungle pre-packaged chicken soup?
I filled a pot with the requisite six cups of water and patted myself on the back for remembering to use the filtered water from the fridge instead of tap water. I put the pot on the stove and set the heat to high, and when it boiled I added the contents of both packets from the box. I stirred it a few times and walked away.
When I returned twenty minutes later, what I had was a thick yellow liquid with tiny bits of unrecognizable colored stuff in it. I frowned, picked up the box again and looked closer at the directions.
1. Put six cups of water in a pot and add chopped chicken.
2. When the chicken is nearly done, add the second packet with the noodles.
3. Cook an additional ten minutes for the noodles to soften.
4. When noodles are nearly done, add the seasoning packet and cook an additional 2 minutes.
5. Add additional water if necessary and season to taste.
I decided that the worst mistake I had made was forgetting the chicken, and that the mess was possibly still salvageable. (And no, I had obviously not noticed that there was no chicken in the packets in the box.)
I had a sinking feeling in my belly as I opened the freezer door and confronted the frozen chicken breasts my husband had neatly stacked in there. I was repulsed and had no interest in taking those things out of the bag, but my daughter was hungry, so I faced my fear. I clumsily shook the breasts out of the bag and onto a dinner plate (taking care not to let any part of them touch my person) and stuck the plate in the microwave.
I had no idea how long it would take to cook two chicken breasts in the microwave, but since we have a rather intelligent model I decided to press the "frozen entree" button. After all, the chicken was frozen, and it was sort of like an entree. It was certainly a better button to push than "frozen vegetables," I reasoned.
My daughter was now stomping around at my feet angrily because at least half an hour had gone by and I had not—as of yet—provided her with anything to eat.
I stared at the chicken as it turned, willing it to cook evenly and thoroughly so I wouldn't have to deal with anything quasi raw-ish.
The microwave beeped and told me it had a minute and a half left. I was confused—the chicken was clearly still pink on top, but the sides were smoking. I pressed the "stop" button and removed the plate. My daughter began jumping up and down at my side like a yippie dog, yelling "My chichin! My chichin!!"
I calmly told her she would have to wait because it wasn't ready yet, picked up a knife and began clumsily sawing off the rubbery edges. Anything that looked edible got thrown into the soup pot.
Halfway through the massacre I realized I was using a knife with a wooden handle and nearly panicked. Wood is porous. I had contaminated the knife! I would probably have to throw it away! But I had no time to think... my daughter was screaming "Chichin!! Chiiiiiichiiiiiinnnnnn!!!"
"Yes, yes, honey, just wait," I soothed, grabbing a second knife with a plastic handle and continuing to hack at the offending chunks. My mom called in the middle of this, and just as she was exclaiming, "Dear Lord, if your husband ever dies, you'll all starve," it occurred to me that this whole incident might make for an entertaining blog post.
I got off the phone, washed my hands five times, sanitized them three times, and then took a picture of the hateful chunks still left on the plate.
In all fairness, I'm pretty sure this plate of mangled chicken harbored the same amount of resentment for me as I felt for it.
My daughter was just about rioting now, since none of the chicken I had promised her was yet in her belly. She shrieked "Stop it!" as I dropped two handfuls of decimated meat into the pot, and then she burst into sobs when I put the above mess back in the microwave.
"Wungry!!!" she wailed. "Wungry chichin!!!"
"Yes, yes honey! Chicken soup! For you! It's just not done!" I yelled over her protests, hoping she heard sincerity in my voice rather than panic.
My daughter was openly sobbing now, wailing in that "waaaaa...waaaahhh!!!" way that only little children do. (I've heard each child is specially calibrated to produce the specific frequency needed to tear its mother's heart to shreds.)
She pointed to the microwave and yelled mournfully, "Chichin in dare!!! Waaaaahhh!"
I stared at the microwave with intensity, willing the chicken to cook dammit!! When I saw smoke signals from within, I took it to mean that the meat was done, and I hit the "stop" button. I pulled out the sizzling meat, hacked off the burnt bits, shredded the rest and dropped it in the still-boiling pot.
I turned to my daughter and said in the most excited voice I could muster, "It's almost ready!! Chicken soup! Yes! For YOU!!!" I'm sure I looked like a glassy-eyed lunatic at this point, but apparently it was enough to convince my daughter that food was really imminent. She walked over to the counter and pointed at the bowl she wanted.
In all honesty, I wanted to let the soup cook for another ten minutes just to make sure there weren't any slightly undercooked bits I had accidentally missed, but I realized that my paranoia was getting the better of me and that no germs could have possibly survived two trips through the microwave and a rolling boil.
I ladled the soup into my daughter's bowl, dropped some ice cubes in it to cool it faster, turned on her favorite Barney video and installed her at her table. She blew on the soup, picked up a large chunk of chicken and stuffed it into her mouth. As she chewed I observed and waited for any signs that there might be a zombie transformation taking place.
When she was done chewing and had apparently swallowed the piece unscathed, I asked her hopefully, "Is the soup yummy?"
(She never says no; chicken noodle soup is her favorite.)
I questioned her again. "Is the soup tasty?"
It certainly looked good enough. Surprisingly, after all that had transpired, I was actually left with something that resembled chicken noodle soup!
Unfortunately I can't tell you how it tastes because I couldn't bring myself to try any of it after handling all of those repulsive chicken pieces.
I think I'll feed it to my husband. Yes... that's it... I'll clean the kitchen until it sparkles, and then when he arrives home I'll proudly present my homemade chicken soup. I'll tell him I wanted to cook him dinner for once, and that I lovingly prepared the soup in his honor.
Perfect! He'll never know.....
That is, of course, unless a zombie transformation occurs before he gets home. Then I imagine I'd have some explaining to do.