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First Special Meal you EVER cooked?

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I was 12, and my parent's anniversary was upcoming. I enlisted my brother as a maitre d' and my sister as my kitchen Cinderella (They were 6 and 8.) I was able to get a neighbor to take me to the grocery, and our menu was filet mignon with mushrooms, Caesar salad and homade rolls (very '70's, but it worked out!). The same neighbor came over and had brought them a nice bottle of champagne, something I hadn't even thought of, and so was able to suprise them greatly. We hung sheets from the ceiling and even crafted a little intimate setting for them, and I made a parchment menu. We lost dad not long thereafter, but I know that dinner blew their minds and was the beginning of my true love affair with cooking. What was your first labor-of-love dinner you crafted?

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  1. Okay, I was a little older, 29 in fact... I was hanging out a lot at a house up in Sonora CA, occupied by a state-sponsored anti-drugs program, sort of a Synanon Lite. In the course of a conversation one day, I learned that none of the counselors nor other clients had ever had the sort of chicken dinner that was a mainstay of my youth, with a baked stuffed chicken and all the trimmings; they'd had TURKEY dinners, but weren't aware one could do this with a chicken. I was by then a bit past beginning as a cook, but not by much, and just full enough of myself to think this would be a breeze. Do I need to tell you I'd never cooked a chicken before? But I'd watched a lot, so I managed to find a good-sized roasting hen at Safeway, set the thing in the house's fridge to thaw for a day or two, and made a date to come cook this in their kitchen, a Sunday afternoon.

    Well, the fridge was cold enough so that the bird was still pretty icy, so we just ran water in through its butt until the giblet bag came out. I had a good grasp of how to make stuffing, especially with some help from the Pepperidge Farm people, and we figured that between the warm stuffing and the hot oven the chicken would finish thawing out just fine. My girlfriend and Jane, the female counselor, took the potatoes and green beans away from me, and after I'd boiled the bejeezus out of the giblets Jane took over the gravy, too. The only problem was we had all of these things ready long before we figured the chicken was... and then the chicken wasn't really ready, being raw and bloody when we cut into the thigh. So it went back in for an hour... and than another half-hour... and then another fifteen minutes. And then the senior counselor said he was going to eat that thing even if it was still alive, so we pulled it out and cut it up, none of this "letting it rest" crap for us. Well, it was chewy, and the stuffing was too salty, and the potatoes and green beans were cold, but the gravy (which we all poured over everything) was good.

    And then they made me wash the dishes.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Will Owen

      What a wonderful story, Will. "Synanon lite", though? I thought Chuck Dederich didn't do anything lite.... ; )

      1. re: mamachef

        Dederich had nothing to do with this place, except that the three senior staffers were Synanon grads. What we mostly did was Tuesday night encounter groups, and then most of us would go to someone's house and smoke some weed and eat pizza.

        1. re: Will Owen

          Sounds like very, very successful rehab, Will! But I sure did like that there "fowl" tale.

      2. re: Will Owen

        At least you ran water thru the chicken and that forced the giblet bag out. One of my dearest and oldest friends, many moons ago, attempted making her first whole chicken and once she had it in the oven, she called me (even back then i had the passion!) to make sure she had done everything she needed to do and to ask what next. Well, the first dilemma was that she never knew anything was INSIDE the chicken!!! We continue to laugh to this day.

        1. re: smilingal

          Old Furry Freak Brothers strip. Fat Freddy buys a live turkey and cooks it. Fearless Frank says, "This tastes weird - what'd you stuff it with?" Fat Freddy: "I didn't stuff it - it wasn't EMPTY!" Bada-BOOM!

          1. re: Will Owen

            I still have my entire stack of Zaps and the FFF Bros. I always loved that strip though, about the turkey. It did put me off poultry for awhile.

      3. I was about the same age (12), and cooked for my parents a Chicken Teriyaki recipe from this cookbook:

        http://tinyurl.com/2fntsyo

        Does anyone remember this book? I still have it, and it's great! I made a menu with other meals listed, but I HIGHLY RECOMMENDED the chicken teriyaki lol - it was the only option, actually! :)

        1. I tried making a roquefort dressing recipe for salad when I was about ten from a Gourmet magazine. My mother watched my follow the recipe to the tee and I was so proud. Then we ate it and it was awful and I cried all night.

          MY first success was when I was about 21. It wasn't a very romantic menu when I look back on it, but I made a girlfriend a nice steak with made potato skins (with bacon and cheddar). I think we also had a big salad and for dessert we had champagne and strawberries. It seemed to work, haha!

          1. I started cooking ''by myself' when i was in my mid-teens, but the first special meal I attempted was not till years later. I was working in Seoul Korea and my Korean friends were curious about the 'big chicken' that Americans ate at Thanksgiving. It happened to coincide with the end of the kim-chee making season, when the kim chee for the winter was prepared. And of course you have to put up your christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend.

            So I made a LARGE turkey, another expat friend helped and made his grandmother's saltine stuffing, i made my aunt's wild rice dressing, we had both mashed and baked potatoes, sweet potatoes (yes with marshmallows), green bean casserole, canned cranberry sauce, and plain white rice (hey, it was korea). I also made apple, cherry, pumpkin, and pecan pies. Yeah this was a multi day event.... Keep in mind that the typical Korean kitchen did not have an oven, but I did have one.

            Korean friends brought various types of pickled vegetables.

            In the meantime two korean friends went out and found a christmas tree and lights, along with a collection of interesting things to use as ornaments. That was during the silk beads craze, and I had ordered a 20 meter string of red silk beads made by one of the tourist shops in itaewon.

            Meanwhile another friends oldest sister came and made kimjang, started out with 2 plastic garbage cans (purchased for this) of cabbage and ended up with enough kim chee to fill two medium size kim chee pots that spent the winter on our balcony.

            Amazingly that turkey was still one of the best I ever made. And the korean vegetables were a great counterpoint to the typical American fare.

            2 Replies
            1. re: KaimukiMan

              That sounds like one HELL of a special meal, KaimukiMan. What time's dinner?

              1. re: mamachef

                you know, when asked to represent your home countries cuisine you gotta do your best.....

                thanks mama, ill let you know.

            2. 10 years old, made my family Chicken Kiev from the Graham Kerr cookbook.

              1 Reply
              1. re: sbp

                Speaking of Graham Kerr, I remember making what I think was a recipe of his with my grandmother when I was starting to cook seriously. It was a chicken recipe with a pastry crust.

                I started cooking family meals in my early teens, but my first really "special" meal was my cousin's wedding dinner (for 13) when I was 22. IIRC the menu was cream of yellow squash soup, spinach roll filled with chicken, some kind of fancy scalloped potatoes, and a pavlova with ice cream, raspberries and nectarines for dessert. All in my mother's tiny kitchen! I remember getting halfway through the prep and realizing I didn't have enough pots that were big enough and running around to the neighbors to borrow some. Everything turned out well, and everyone was very impressed.