Friday, July 18, 2008

why we’re afraid to cook + salad olivier

salad olivier

I’ve had an entire week to read your cooking phobias as they rolled in and you know what? I had a lot fewer cooking fears when I started this process! I mean, fish? offal? phyllo? Why hadn’t I thought of those? Thank goodness I warned you I’d be doing some outsourcing.

your cooking phobias

[View the details of your cooking phobias over here.]

But really, when you read 363 tales of kitchen apprehension in a row, several times, certain things smack you in the face. Like the fact that we’re all such worrywarts, aren’t we? And so irrational, determining that just because something went horribly awry once, it will continue to do so for ever and ever and..

You’re right, I’m talking mostly about myself, but surely at least some of these reasons are familiar:

Why We’re Afraid to Cook

1. Our mother or mother-in-law cooks it better: Whether it is out of respect, deference or certainty that your version will pale, it seems that there are many of you who don’t even want to touch dishes that are others’ signatures.

2. The Food Police scared us: They’ve struck an absurd amount of fear into our hearts, now our panic over undercooked chicken and eggs or imperfectly canned food is so great, we cannot approach either calmly or rationally. (Don’t worry, I’ll get to all of these in time.)

3. It went really badly the last time (or times) we made it: So you’ve responded by keeping your distance. Had I not been actually forced by the deadline of the wedding and my desire to make a specific frosting for the wedding cake, I would have taken a year to get back to Swiss buttercream. At least.

4. We jinx ourselves: Failure is so often a self-fulfilling prophesy, wherein we are so certain something is going to go wrong, we indeed make some futzy errors. (This would be me, with phyllo, every single time.)

5. It’s hard to get our head around the steps: I admit, I feel more confident when I can remember a recipe without even looking back at it, because it is simple, or proceeds in logical steps. I always forget that I’m only expected to do one thing at a time.

6. There’s a very specific deal breaker: It requires pig’s blood, will stink up your apartment or serve 24 people. Kim Severson discussed these in a funny article in the New York Times last month, and she’s absolutely right. It only takes one word of some of these for me to flip the page and call out “next!”

7. We’re afraid of wasting an expensive ingredient: Many of you mentioned this in reference to large cuts of meat and good fish, where the price of making an error seems so steep, a flop is that much more of a risk. I totally get it as when I blow it on a pricey dish, I feel that much more awful about it.

8. Our skills aren’t where we wish they were: Recipes that require poached eggs, when you’re terrible at poaching eggs, just seem easier to skip. So can instructions that demand a fine brunoise or long, thin juliennes if you haven’t taken a semester of knife skills, or have a natural finesse in the area (or a really good mandoline, at least in the case of juliennes).

red onion for salad olivier

Do I have answers to all of these? Well, not today, but I will in time–well, on everything but the offal that is, a girl’s got to draw the line somewhere.

However, reason number one–”Our mother-in-law cooks it better”–got me thinking about my Alex’s mother Salad Olivier, something I adore but when I tried to make it at home a few years ago–my first potato salad ever, and also with virtually no experience cooking potatoes–it was a gloppy disaster and I haven’t made it since.

pickles for salad oliver

Or hadn’t. I mean, if I’m going to try to get us through our cooking worries here, I suppose I should take the lead and reattempt one of the easiest salads on earth, right?

Now, before you say “I’ve had Salad Olivier and we made it with this and not that,” and also “You’re doing it wrong!” let me warn you that my mother-in-law says that you can put three Russians in a room and they will all make it differently–and they’ll all be right.

Of course, her’s is the most right because it’s getting featured here today. So there.

salad olivier

One year ago: Red Pepper Soup

Salad Olivier
Adapted from Alex’s mother

By the way, even after all of my fussing, I still overcooked the potatoes this time and determined it not as good as my mother-in-laws’. The difference is, I suspect I’ll be revisiting this again much sooner this time because it is so delicious, I cannot let fear keep us apart any longer.

2 pounds Russet potatoes, boiled, peeled and finely diced (1/4- to 1/2-inch for this and all chopped ingredients)
2 eggs, hard-boiled, finely diced (optional)
1 small red or white onion, finely diced
3/4 cup mayonnaise (low-fat, or a mixture of mayo and sour cream work great here)
3 small dill pickles, finely diced
1 cup canned peas and carrots, drained or 1/2 cup cooked peas and 1 carrot, chopped and cooked
Salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients and season to taste.


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