A long time ago, as a new bride who had never cooked anything prior to her marriage I was really excited about learning to cook. And so I experimented with what appeared to me to be exotic and nothing at all like my mother's cooking.
During the years of being a "housewife" and a mom I, needless to say, mastered enough cooking skills to feed my family well. But I knew I wasn't a great cook. I believe to be one you have to love food, and although I no longer am fearful of food I have never grown to love it. Of course there are some dishes I prefer, but I cannot honestly say there's any particular dish I must have.
I also learned that my family, including myself, really didn't like most of the "exotic dishes" I had dallied with. I make a really good turkey and stuffing at Thanksgiving. I also make exceptional chicken soup, and stuffed cabbage, which I am proud to say does not give anyone indigestion, and I have enjoyed playing hostess in a creative way. But a great cook I am not.
I had always been a very poor eater and the real reason behind that were my mom's awful cooking skills. She was a typical Jewish housewife who cooked typical Jewish dishes that simply did not sit well with my stomach. Mealtime was always the worst part of my day and the fights at our dinner table were never fun. I would cry and run into my room. I was awful. I just dreaded each meal. The only food I ever ate and enjoyed were a lamb chop with a potato. Obviously my mother wasn't going to cater to my neurosis.
I began to discover food that I could tolerate once I went to work at the age of 17. I remember so vividly eating my first ham sandwich and feeling like a criminal -- yet enjoying it immensely. Wow, I discovered there were some things I could eat and feel great afterwards. The irony of it was my family was not religious. Our Sunday meal was a trip to Chinatown to a restaurant at 23 Pell Street called "Hang Far Low." The fact that I can remember all this so many, many years later makes me laugh, since I can forget where I dined a week ago. At this restaurant we always had roasted pork. So I could never understand why my mother never had ham or bacon in our home.
Lately -- or I should say, since I no longer am in the work force -- I have taken up experimenting with some new dishes. My favorite source of recipes comes form the TV show The Chew. I watch Michal Symon and Mario Batali make some fantastic dishes that look really easy. I print them out and get to work.
Yesterday I decided to make Syman's brown butter squash and sage pasta. He made it in 10 minutes and everyone kept saying how fantastic it is. Let me assure you fans it is fantastic. But have you ever tried to cube a butternut squash? I had no idea how to begin. To be honest, when I went to the store to buy the squash I wouldn't have known what bin to look in if it hadn't had a sign over it. It took me -- and I am not exaggerating -- one hour to cut this bloody thing into cubes without slicing off a finger or two. By the time I miraculously got the 8 cups of cubed squash I felt as though I had been in a marathon. I understand some produce stores actually sell the squash already cubed. Unfortunately not in my neighborhood.
I have to tell you, I was really proud of myself, and this dish was simply delicious and actually only takes 10 minutes to cook, once you get the squash ready to go. What I discovered is cooking is fun -- it's the prepping that not so fun. Have you noticed on all the cooking shows how all the ingredients are all cubed, peeled, cut, etc., and in their little bowls ready to be added to whatever the main ingredient is? Sure, they can cook a dish like this pasta in 10 minutes, but who cubed the squash?
If anyone reading this knows how to cube a squash without putting themselves in jeopardy please let me know. Meanwhile next week I'm making something easier -- or, at least, Mario says his Pasticcio di Maccheroni is easy. Wish me luck.