On Nov. 23, 2005 I moved to The Hague from Washington, DC. This is my new Dutch life.


Help I've Fallen and I Can't Cook

As a freelancer, I'm only one small step up from house wife. I don't even have a child around to explain why things don't get done. B- brings home the soy bacon, and my inner Betty Crocker is compelling me to fry it up in a pan. After all, I am home all day.

B- is the better cook, though. As a student, he worked in a restaurant. I worked at Taco Bell. So, I can cook if by cooking you mean following a recipe. Give me some ingredients, and I will assemble them. I can assemble the same ingredients in different configurations and you will think you are getting a new dish. I am a mad wiz at all things Taco Belly, like burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas, etc. - all lovingly crafted from the best canned, jarred and sellowrapped ingredients. B-, on the other hand, figured out how to make fresh, homemade salsa and the guy is not even from San Antonio, Texas, like uhm, me. I am so ashamed.

My problem is that I can only follow recipes. I don't even have a few non-recipe standby dishes in my head unless you count spaghetti with jar sauce and tuna fish sandwiches. I even like cooking, but I hate thumbing through cookbooks, making the list and shopping for items. Invariably, I can't find a key ingredient and my watch says 8:30PM, so I bag it for some excellent Indian take-out.

At least that's what I did in my old DC life. In my new Dutch life, I have far fewer take-out options. Indeed restaurant variety is not a selling point in The Netherlands. What can you do with a country that loves stamppot? But, all this recipe-following cooking is tedious and makes it feel like a chore. I have lazy tendencies, so anything that feels like a chore is a chore and is treated like a chore, that is not treated at all.

Poor B- does most of our cooking along with most of the working. It's not fair, so I'm changing that. I am trying to teach myself how to cook.

I'd take some classes, but they're all in Dutch. So, a while back we trolled the cooking section at the American Book Center (English-language books, hooray!) looking for how-to-cook books, not just recipe books. The problem with most how-to books is that they mainly cover technique. I know how to sauté and grill. I know how to separate egg yokes from the whites. I don't know how to make things taste good.

We stumbled across a gem, The Improvisational Cook, which endeavors to teach you how different ingredients work together. The whole point of the improvisational cook is to learn enough to play around on your own. Recipe freedom! So for every recipe is a handful of variations plus tips on other ingredients or techniques. Our copy of the book arrived from Amazon UK over the weekend (courtesy of a gift certificate from my 'rents) along with Cook with Jamie.

In order not to fall back on my whole routine of waiting until the last minute to thumb through the book for recipes, get frustrated and make burritos, I've added a bit more rigour to my how-to-cook program. I'm going to choose one dish on Monday and then spend the rest of the week on variations. Change the spices, turn a veggie puree side-dish into a soup, whatever.

Last night I began my journey with white beans with fresh rosemary and thyme, mixed green salad with homemade dressing, and onion toasts. All very easy. All very tasty. I'm going to share with you two highlights from last night's dinner.

1) Homemade salad dressing: We've been making our own dressing since Christmas when B- gave me a flavour shaker. Whatever you do, do not buy jar dressing. It's full of gross, chemically things, and it's too easy to make even if you just mix your own olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Seriously. Cook with Jamie includes a handful of yummy salad dressing recipes, one of which yielded the following excellent technique. Put a bunch of vinegar in a saucepan and reduce it down with one star anise in the pan. The anise infuses the vinegar with a bit of liquorice flavor that is really amazing. No kidding. Who knew to do that?

2) Bread: Onion toasts are a cool variation on good ole garlic bread. Brush olive oil on slices of baguette and toast in the oven for a few minutes. Cut a shallot in half, and rub the cut end on the toasted bread. The bread will take on a very faint onion taste that is mellowed by the olive oil. No butter. Not bad for you. Yummy!



Blogger PeeKay said...

omg. i am so trying your new tricks. not only do I REQUIRE a recipe to cook. I require rachael ray's magazine to give me the shopping list. im that lazy. so im psyched to add a new book to the collection! by the way, donna hay has good cool easy recipe book "NEW FOOD FAST" and I think she is an aussie too so B- will feel like he's in the motherland. you on the other hand will just be psyched that this gourmet meal took 40 minutes or less!

7:34 PM GMT+1

Blogger akaijen said...

Ok Rachael Ray may be too perky for me. I will admit to a freakish obsession with Real Simple though. In a recent issue, they taught me how to properly take care of wooden furniture.

Can I just say that somehow I missed out on important life lessons like... how to take care of furntiture that isn't from Ikea. Or how to cook. Or how to garden. I am really ill equipped to take care of other beings that eventually walk up right on two legs. The mere thought makes me nervous. I have tremendous respect for my-age peeps with kids.

9:20 PM GMT+1


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