Here’s something you should know about me. I’m not fancy. I am casual and so are my tastebuds. So, when, for week two of my 30 Day Eat. Sleep. Walk. Experiment, I decided to cook something on my own (that didn’t involve the words egg or sandwich or both it was going to be something simple. No exotic spices. No fancy recipes. Just meat and potatoes and vegetables. “How much trouble can that be?”, I hypothesized Monday morning. Fourteen hours later I found myself contemplating “time input” vs “food output” and hearing nothing but a 1950s robot voice in my head shouting “Does not compute! Does not compute!”
Here’s what went down between the hypothesis and the aftermath. Knowing this day would eventually come, I had already purchased frozen chicken breasts. They had been taunting me for a couple of weeks every time I opened the freezer door. So, I decided I would make baked chicken, mashed potatoes, and cooked carrots.
Then I spent every spare moment of the day looking stuff up on the internet. How to bake it? What kind of pan? What temperature? How long? You get the idea. By the way, I have plenty of extended family who cook all the time and would be happy to help me, but, while I appreciate that, part of the fun for me in learning new things is figuring it out on my own. As they say, “That is my way.” (I think somebody says that. If not, then I just said it.)
I bought frozen chicken for two reasons.
1. I’m unpredictable. I never know when I’m going to want to cook or when I’m not, so having too much fresh stuff around is too much pressure. You have to use it or it gets wasted.
2. RAW CHICKEN IS DISGUSTING! There I said it. I am fully aware that the nice white, tasty chicken that appears on my plate at a restaurant always starts out as a squishy pinkish blob, but I much prefer entering the story during the white and tasty chapter and leaving the pink and squishy chapter to the professionals. (And yes I know there is a prologue to that chapter as well, but I’m not even going to go there.) When I found this box of frozen “bare”, nothing added to it, chicken and the cardboard kept me from seeing said chicken in all its raw glory I was finally able to bring myself to put some in my cart.
Back to our Monday evening story. There would be no thawing of the chicken for the same two reasons I listed above. No planning and no gross, half-frozen, half-squishy, drippy, potentially contaminated raw chicken sitting in my fridge next to my yogurt and iced tea. I found plenty of conflicting opinions online regarding how to cook frozen chicken in the oven. I considered all the input and made up my own recipe: Coat chicken with margarine, salt, and pepper. Bake in a Pyrex dish at 350 degrees until it smells like it might be burning.
Touching raw chicken in its frozen state wasn’t any better than having to touch it in its thawed state. It was still gooey and I was uncomfortable. In fact, as I think back on the experience now, I remember I had been singing along to the radio until I got the box out of the freezer. For the few moments while I was handling the raw chicken I had my mouth clamped shut. I had become calm and methodical, my movements focused like I was diffusing a bomb in a 1980s television spy drama. Eventually, I got the chicken in the oven, my hands and the countertops decontaminated, I sounded the all-clear, and was able to sing again.
I managed to make the mashed potatoes despite the fact that my potato masher was nowhere to be found. I can only assume it heard gossip in the utensil drawer that I was planning to cook and it high-tailed it for the hills. In case any of you are one day staring at a bowl of steaming cubed potatoes with no designated masher in site, I’ll give you a heads-up. A ladle does get the job done, however it’s twice as much work, because it’s curved and the potatoes have a tendency to slide away.
To answer your next question: Yes, when I was done mashing I did salt and pepper a ladleful of potatoes and eat it. It was just too convenient and I was too hungry.
The cooked carrots were no exception to minor catastrophe either. I was just going to peel and slice one carrot, because I only wanted one serving. Well, I peeled one carrot, sliced it in half, then immediately fumbled one slippery half up into the air and onto the floor. After words were exchanged between me and the carrot half that jumped ship, it was clear I would be having a half serving of carrots. I was not in the mood to peel another one.
When the chicken had been cooking for, as I determined it, forEVER. I decided it was time to check its temperature. I didn’t want to check it too soon. Not because taking it out too early and stabbing it might affect how juicy and fabulous this chicken was going to be, but because I didn’t want to have to wash the thermometer twice. They looked done-ish and they smelled pretty good, so out they came and in went the thermometer…and back into the oven they went. They weren’t done and I had to wash the thermometer an extra time. I wasn’t sure how browned they would get on top, so it was hard to tell by looking when they might be done. Instead, I stuck to my recipe and waited until they smelled like they might be burning (I wasn’t going to wash the thermometer a third time).
This is a picture of them…not done.
This is a picture of them…overdone.
They look pretty much the same, don’t they? It’s amazing what can happen in just a few minutes in a 350 degree metal box.
Ready to eat…and it’s only nine o’clock.
I believe I have made a scientific discovery. For every ingredient you use and/or dirty dish or utensil you make the hands of the clock move around that much faster. You may question my logic, but that is the only way I can figure it actually took me TWO HOURS to prepare and consume these three measly little, uncomplicated items.
Now the moment you’ve all been waiting for. After all that work, how did I rate the resulting meal??? I gave it a resounding, “It was okay.” That’s right folks, an entire evening spent in the pursuit of “It was okay.” But, on the positive side, I think I did well for my first solo baked chicken. I didn’t poison myself or catch anything on fire. And I must say the chicken tasted really, really good cold the next day straight out of a Ziploc baggie from the refrigerator. And I froze the leftover mashed potatoes in individual portions, so I can just reheat next time. Clearly the real pinnacle of cooking at home is the leftovers.
While I agree it was good that raw chicken and I took an evening to work on our issues, I think we are going to take a bit of a break from cooking at home together. We will try again. Just not soon.
For an update on the rest of Week Two check out my Facebook page!