Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Super Chef

I'm not much of a TV watcher, haven't been for a long time, but I do watch on occasion. I have learned that there are these Chef programs. Where Chefs make others who want to be a Chef when they grow up cry. Then there is another where a chef will challenge you to make your best dish just to make you look bad. I am not fond of those kinds of programs. Why make someone cry who wants to learn your profession? Why ruin a person's livelihood? Really? This is how you make them become better? So I was thinking oh yeah, they got it easy. I mean, anyone can cook in a fancy big kitchen with sous chefs and support staff practicing until it's perfect. Seriously who are you kidding? I have a better idea how to make a better chef with a realistic twist. If you want to see a challenge then come in to my world and let's have us a throw down. I want to see a chef go up against someone like me, who expects to eat well and has other distractions paired with the rush against time (did I mention very hungry children?). How well can you keep your cool Cheffy when you have 6 children (2 that are yours), a husband and salesmen popping into the house with varied URGENT needs?

Wanna take me on?

Alright, we'll prepare a typical weekend meal I make and the outside influences I must endure to get the food on the table by 6pm. The meal: Roast a 6 pound chicken with an oil and herb rub and stuffing, roasted sweet potatoes with onions, whipped potatoes, gravy, steamed peas, and a strawberry trifle for dessert.

Because I'm a nice gal I'll make it easier by allowing you to have everything you need on hand so you won't have to find substitutions for anything. The rules: only you can cook, no help, the food must be on the table by 6pm or else the children and husband will revolt. You must set the table, know what everyone wants to drink, the proper napkin the 6 and 8 year olds will use and where at the table they must sit since everyone has their "spot" at the table. Oh yeah, you can't begin cooking before noon on the day the meal is served. This includes any prep work. The kitchen will be in use for the pancake breakfast so you'll be able to start once the kitchen has been cleaned and all people are out of your way.

Ready? Let's begin as I recount your added challenges.

Your strategy is to make the trifle first so it has most the day to meld flavors. Please, I know, trifles are supposed to be made a whole day before but remember you just got the idea for it last night and never did get around to reading that recipe all the way through. You will adjust the recipe to become a trifle inspired dessert, which means you will allow for half the recommended chilling time.

* Your child and her friend pop in a moment and notice that you have just washed, dried and hulled 2 quarts of strawberries that will become a trifle later. They begin to devour as many as they can while you have your head in the pantry looking for the Brandy and vanilla. You are now left with one quarter less than you need to make the dessert. You brain begins to calculate the adjustment for those missing strawberries.

* To put your mind at ease you pull the bag of frozen strawberries from the freezer and decide that's what you'll use to make the strawberry sauce. At the rate the fresh strawberries end up missing this is the best way to prevent disaster. You toss the berries in a colander and let them thaw for a bit. While you are thinking about it you remember to put a bowl and the beaters in the freezer to chill. This will help the custard blend to the proper consistency.

* The strawberry sauce is simmering as you keep an eye on it to ensure it does not burn and it remains smooth. With your back turned, those beautiful strawberries on the island are being consumed. You have no idea since with all the constant noise and commotion in the house you can't hear a thing. When the sauce is finished and cooling you put the remaining strawberries in the fridge out of sight, your once 2 quarts of strawberries has been reduced in half.

* While the sauce cools now is the time to find a trifle dish. The 10 minute search ends when you realize that the trifle dish is being used as a centerpiece on the dining room table. It has fern fronds and alabaster eggs in it, and it's far too large to put in the fridge. You now need to find something else to use. There is nothing else pretty like a trifle dish so you opt for the perfectly sized casserole crock and tell yourself it will taste good no matter how it's served.

* It's time to prepare the custard. The chilled bowl makes the process go smoothly. The custard looks absolutely perfect. Door bell rings. A salesman wants to sell you a finished basement. You already have a finished basement. He then tells you that his company sells new windows and doors. You gently point out that your house is almost 2 years old, and well, it's obvious that new windows and doors are not needed. He remembers they also build decks. This is the point at which you tell him no thanks not this year. As you make your way back to the kitchen you notice someone has been sampling the custard, and he has the evidence on the corner of his mouth. Husband disappears to the basement to check on some ball games.

*Assembly of trifle has been going well. Lady Fingers are lining the bottom and side of the casserole dish you have placed sliced strawberries on top of the Lady fingers and drizzled the strawberry sauce over the layer. Everything is looking and smelling wonderful. You are just about to pour the custard over the trifle when the neighbor kid whacks another with a stick causing screams and tears. You must clean up and calm the little ones before proceeding. When you return there are even less strawberries for the trifle.

*The trifle is done and there will be no more missing strawberries. It is stashed in the fridge behind the yogurt so that it will not be discovered by anyone until supper.

*You are gathering the ingredients to make a dry rub for the chicken. Husband comes in to inquire what you are doing. A string of questions followed by hovering provides enough distraction for you to forget what spice you needed. Husband spies golf club and disappears. For some reason your spice cabinet is a wreck and this task takes longer than expected. Thankfully the Kosher salt is where you put it last. The bottle of seasoned oil is on the counter waiting to be to put on the chicken.

* Next you begin to chop some onions and celery. One onion is quartered placed in a large bowl to be roasted with the sweet potatoes later. A small onion is chopped with some celery and set aside for the stuffing. While you're at it you slice mushrooms and add them to the small bowl with the onions and celery.

* The giblets are placed in a small stock pot and covered with water. Pepper, bay leaf, garlic powder, salt, celery stalks and some onion quarters are tossed into the pot. The stock is set to simmer. Husband returns from hitting some golf balls out back and asks what's for dinner and when can he eat. With a smile you tell him the information he needs and hope you can get it all done by 6pm. Husband begins to complain about a mopping injury.

*Just when you are in the middle of washing your roaster chicken the affectionate neighborhood cat slipped into your house because the 4 year old neighbor boy was coming in to show you his drawing of you. The neighborhood cat helps himself to your cat's food and catches your cat's attention. Meanwhile your cat is tearing the heck out of that other cat. Your hands are inside the chicken as you watch the madness unfold. This distraction will mean you have to drag the neighborhood cat out from behind the water heater in the basement and toss it outside before finishing the chicken.

*Hands just washed and dried you gently begin to rub the chicken with the herbs. Fingers are dipped in the seasoned oil as you begin to rub it over the chicken when you see the 8 year old spinning around the kitchen "dancing" like a princess. You think "I hope she doesn't slip" as she crashes into a chair which smashes into the window sill which causes your violets to land in a mess on the floor. She is crying because she banged her head into the wall and is on the floor with the violets. Once she is comforted you get back to the chicken and put it in the oven. With the chicken in the oven you clean up the violets and assess them for damage. They look fine and could use some water.

*A bike wreck of your child 4 houses away happens just when you began to saute the celery, onions and mushrooms for your stuffing. You have 3 witnesses urging you to rescue your daughter. Burner turned off you dash to the accident scene. Your child is fine, it's a typical crash. She is upset and requests that you carry her home for a bandage. The small scrape on her knee is patched up she hobbles outside to show the kids her wound. Thank goodness you decided to bake the stuffing outside of the chicken, time is really crunching on you now. Quickly you finish sauteing the veggies. It was then you noticed that you don't have any chicken broth in the pantry and are thankful that you made that stock sitting on the back burner. You ladle some stock into the stuffing and mix it together with the veggies. The stuffing is put in a greased casserole dish and set aside.

* Next you begin to peel and slice the sweet potatoes for roasting. Your potatoes and onions are in the bowl, olive oil, seasoned salt and marjoram are mixed in when a salesman comes to the door. He wants you to buy an alarm system for your house. While you patiently and politely chat with him your children come in and out of the house followed by their friends. The 4 year old little boy asks you who this guy is and wants to know his purpose as well as the whereabouts of your children. You finally say that clearly your home does not need a fancy alarm system with all this commotion and that you think it's time to get back to making supper. The potatoes are dumped into a roasting pan and spread out evenly. It's nearly time for them to go in the oven.

* The chicken has been roasting an hour and looks good. You baste it and turn it around making room for the potatoes and stuffing to go in the oven. One more hour until supper is complete. Time to begin peeling the potatoes for the whipped potatoes.

* The four year old boy comes in followed by his five year old sister and the six year old neighbor girl. They are looking for your children. (It is assumed that when the neighborhood kids can't find my girls that means my girls are hiding from them.) The boy pauses a moment and tells everyone to smell, he wants them to smell the food roasting. He hovers around the kitchen asking what you are doing, what's cooking, and when can he eat. After trying to persuade you to let him and his sisters eat there you tell him "not tonight dear" and shoo them all outside. The girls disappear but the boy stares at you from the back door. Right about when you begin to feel creeped out he discovers something interesting and is gone.

* Potatoes are in the pot boiling away. You drain the chicken stock that has been cooling for an hour and put it into freezer containers to go in the chest freezer in the basement. You set the table and pour the waters. The potatoes are done and resting.

* A large kitchen towel is placed on the island on top of that you put a large cutting board for the chicken to rest before carving. (The towel is to catch the juices.) The chicken is done and is resting on the board. The drippings are put into a large measuring bowl. The fat is skimmed and half of the drippings are poured into a saucepan. The other half is mixed with flour. As the saucepan drippings simmer you slowly whisk in the slurry. The gravy comes together within in minutes and is covered until ready to serve.

* The potatoes are drained and put through a ricer. Butter and skim milk are added with some salt, pepper and a quarter cup sour cream. The potatoes are whipped until smooth and creamy. The pot is placed on the stove while you start to carve the chicken. You pop the frozen peas in the microwave. They are tossed with a pat of butter.

* Supper is done. The food is plated with everyone getting the parts of the chicken they like and the proper vegetables. You are ready to eat. You call your family, they are no where to be found. Just when you think perhaps you should eat alone they come riding up the driveway. No wonder you were able to get so much done without distractions. They went on a short ride around the park. Everyone washes up sits down and digs in. The lack of conversation tells you that the meal is good.

* Everyone is too stuffed from supper to eat dessert. At least it looks pretty.

You wish you were a famous chef because you would make your support staff do the clean up.

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