POLL: One Sock-o Dish
My friend--I mean "my friend"--has zero cooking skills. She's also a longtime lurker. She's determined in 2008 to learn to make that one mythic dish, the one great mainstay or even blow-your-minder that will allow her to pass as human and even superhuman at dinner parties, pot lucks, kitcheny conversations, etc.
She's careless is her problem. And she tends to lose the whole plot of cooking. Really, like she looks at a pepper and a recipe and just thinks: Why cut this up and mix it with stuff and heat up the stove? I'll just eat it here. Whoops.
She also messes up measurements, always and gets baking-soda-forgetting performance anxiety and puts stuff in the oven and forgets about it.
Strengths: technophilic, passably competent, adventurous, hospitable, ravenous.
If anyone has a solution, or even takes this poll seriously, I will--SHE will--be eternally grateful, and will try to make the sock-o spread for you once she has it down, in 2010.
You - I mean she - could start with something very forgiving, like American Chop Suey. My personal twist on that is to add loads of chopped jalapeños. If you and your friends like spicy food I guarantee this will be a hit. It does rely on pre-made sauce, but hey, you gotta take baby steps before you start running. Especially with scissors.
Both the ingredient proportions and cooking technique are very flexible (though of course it's possible to screw up anything if you try hard enough). Just don't turn the heat up too high and you should be fine.
Ingredients (all approximate, improvise as you see fit):
A little olive oil
One large or two small onions
Two cloves garlic
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1 lg. jar spaghetti sauce with mushrooms (or any other kind you like)
1/2 cup sliced pickled jalapeños (the kind you use for nachos)
1 lb pasta (elbow, rotini, wagon wheels, anything that comes in smallish pieces)
Get a big (4 qt or more) saucepan. Or dutch oven. Or big deep frying pan. Whatever.
Chop the onion and garlic and sauté them over medium heat in olive oil for a few minutes. Add ground beef, smush it around to break it up and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is all browned. Add sauce. Chop the jalapeños and add them. Turn heat to low and bring to a simmer.
In a separate pot cook the pasta until done. Drain and add it to the meat sauce. Stir. Done!
Good luck, and may the kitchen gods smile upon your efforts.
Ideas for getting any recipe right: 1) Have a snack before you start so you don't accidentally eat a key ingredient. :-) 2) Read and re-read the recipe so you know how long everything is supposed to take (add extra time for prep the first time through) 3) Mise en place - works for cooking as well as baking. Clear a space on the counter and lay out all the ingredients and tools you'll need to make the dish. 4) Learn to use the oven timer(or a digital/wind up one) - mine has a one minute warning beep so I get myself back into the kitchen in time for the final beep...helps when you're making banana bread and wander off to do laundry during the 1 hour baking time :-)
I hope that helps you er your friend :-D
I'm good to help you/her on this, as I spent years as a five-spectacular-dishes-but-don't-ask-me-to-cut-up-a-chicken type chef, though I've recently been going hog wild into cooking. So I understand.
First off, don't cook hungry, so you/she won't risk merchandise shrinkage. The alternative would be to choose a recipe using only foods you/she yourself/herself detest/detests.
As for measurements and precision, there are two approaches: 1. grow up: stop whining, take your/her time, and apply care (deliciousness requires care anyway) or 2. develop an on-the-fly style of cooking that's less about precision than intuition (but don't cop out and use this to excuse an uncaring attitude...there has to be care in either the little or the big picture). In either case, avoid baking categorically.
Also, I get the impression you're/she's hoping for something lavishly complex and impressive. Is that the case? Or can it be something simple but grimacingly delicious? The former requires substantial fakery, but the latter is a snap.
Please answer which way you/she want/wants to go on all these issues and I'll/we'll try to churn out The Perfect Answer. You'll just vacuum right up the know-how.
Hey Jude (sorry, just couldn't resist a beatles reference!) What kind of recipes are you looking for? Meat, casseroles, salads, vegetables? I bring various things to pot lucks, and dinner parties. The favorite thing people want more than once is oven baked brisket. but my chili is a close second - wait! Maybe it's equal. Also "Bone soup" made from the leftover turkey carcass.
I want to help, but I'm thinking you/her need to start off with just a few ingredients, and then work up to the more complex. I also agree about the timer around your neck, or in your pocket. Get one that works like a stop watch so you can see the time counting down.
And when you place the ingredients out before you make the recipe, put them in the order they are called for. I put mine on one side of the counter, and after using one I move it to a different place, so I remember that I have used it. Nothing worse than doubling up on salt, or sugar, because you had a brain fart!
Of course all of this is for your "friend"!