My mom was a great cook. I inherited her full freezer when she died, so I got to enjoy her meals a little bit longer (don’t tell my sisters). I also inherited from her the love of cooking, except my interest was mainly driven by a love of eating.
It went something like this: raw food + gnawing hunger = casserole. Simple.
Although I could prepare meals in high school, my first real foray into the culinary arts didn’t occur until college. Sitting in my kitchen/living room area of my trailer with $10 in my wallet, I thought hungry thoughts. It’s not good to budget on an empty stomach.
With that $10 I could buy:
b) A couple of frozen pizzas and ramen noodles.
I chose C, of course. Duh. I didn’t need gas; I knew how to walk. But that didn’t alleviate the problem. I was still hungry.
Rifling through my pantry I found random food items my mother had sent me during the semester I hadn’t eaten because, well, look at them: dry lentils, a can of peas, and a jar of bay leaves. I also found a pound of hamburger in the freezer, a lone carrot in the refrigerator, salt and pepper. In an act of desperation, I threw them together in an old Crock-Pot and created something delicious (well, at least edible).
The result; I’m no slouch in the kitchen (Ty Webb to Judge Smails in Caddyshack: “Don't sell yourself short Judge, you're a tremendous slouch”). So I hate it when I find a recipe that treats me like I didn’t learn how to cook by doing eeny, meeny, miny, moe.
Case in point, I’m looking at a recipe that calls for Neufchâtel. Nothing screws up a perfectly good recipe like something French.
What the heck is Neufchâtel? I’m trying to make a simple salsa dip, and I get a town Napoleon took from the King of Prussia. What’s that have to do with salsa dip?
OK, OK. Deep slow breaths, Offutt. Deep slow breaths.
Turns out the American version of Neufchâtel is basically cream cheese. Why didn’t the recipe just say so?
This happens to me more than I’d like.
Sweet potato, onion, flour tortillas, cheddar cheese, lemon? Great. I know what all those are. And … a Dollop of crème fraîche? I’d have better luck making this dish if the recipe told me to cut off my own fingers.
And it doesn’t end with crème fraîche. Oh, no. There’s Demerara sugar. What is Demerara Sugar? Sounds like a stripper name. Oh, wait, it’s brown sugar.
Same thing with passata. Did my recipe just curse at me in Klingon? No, it’s a kind of tomato sauce. Farfalle pasta is apparently bow-tie pasta. Emmental cheese is often called by its redneck name, Swiss.
Ugh. I think I’ll stick with ingredients I can pronounce.
Jason Offutt’s latest book, “Across a Corn-Swept Land: An epic beer run through the Upper Midwest,” is available at amazon.com.