If you ask Zelda, or my mother, or any of the six different roommates I’ve had since moving to New York, they will all tell you that I don’t cook. I don’t cook often when I’m home in Kentucky, and I pretty much never cook in New York (aside from the occasional mac and cheese or scrambled eggs, or if you count pressing the re-order button on the Domino’s website). Now before you get up on your culinarily superior horse, let’s make one thing clear: It’s not that I can’t cook. It’s just that I don’t. I can hold my own if given a recipe, but particularly in the confines of Bushwick, I almost always opt for Seamless or cereal rather than busting out the pans.
I think my hang-up is mainly environmental. I can tolerate cooking, even enjoy it, if I have enough space to spread out, keep things orderly, and minimize mess. But my New York abodes have never provided more than about 2 feet of counter space — plus, the lack of dishwasher makes the eventual cleaning up even more intimidating –so the inevitable mess ends up distracting me the whole time I’m trying to enjoy the fruits of my labors. At the end of the day, I’d rather steer clear of the process altogether.
And so, through lack of experience or motivation, I often get teased about my lack of culinary acumen, especially since I should be genetically predisposed to gourmet feats. My grandmother is an excellent cook and baker, and my mother was named Betty Crocker Family Leader of Tomorrow in high school (make of that title what you will). Being descended from such fine Southern cooks, I do feel a sense of responsibility to my heritage — a call to the counter-tops, if you will. So as of today, I have resolved to try my hand at cooking a little more, starting with the five dishes below. Call it a mid-year resolution: Hopefully by this time next June I’ll be able to say I’ve done at least slightly more cooking. Maybe I’ll discover a latent talent after all and become a secret kitchen pro! I’ll never know until I try.
1. Gaga’s White Chicken Chili: A staple recipe from my grandmother (called Gaga by all), this is the only chili I really love. We have an ongoing debate in my apartment about chili (Stephanie, being from Texas, has a lot of opinions on the subject). So I’ve been promising to make the dish for a long while, to convince her that chili does not in fact need to contain beef.
2. Cornbread: If there’s one thing I’m consistently dissatisfied with at New York restaurants, it’s cornbread. It’s either too fluffy, or too dense, or too spicy and not sweet enough, or god forbid contains actual kernels of corn (which, in my personal opinion, is just a travesty).While I know it will probably take multiple attempts, I’d like to try my hand at this one. My future happiness depends on it.
3. Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler: My roommate Stephanie makes this amazing peach blueberry cobbler at least once a year, and I keep telling myself that it can’t be that hard. It’s basically fruit hiding under a glorified biscuit, right? Strawberry rhubarb pie is one of my favorite flavors, so I thought I’d challenge myself to make a cobbler version, and see how it measures up to Steph’s.
4. Burgoo: Okay, hear me out on this one. Burgoo is a traditional Appalachian stew, and the bona fide, from the coal mountains version is made with whatever meat is handy, be it squirrel, opossum, raccoon, etc. I’ve had a more upscale version of the dish twice, at two reputable Louisville restaurants, and both were unique and tasty (and made of much more supermarket-friendly meats like chicken or pork). I’m all for celebrating traditions, but I don’t think I’m quite up for true burgoo just yet. Instead, I think it’d be fun to try a middle ground — something with a little more gamey flavor than your typical white meat, like rabbit, bison, or even venison. I’m not sure how easy finding those in New York will be, but I’ll give it a shot.
5. Pulled Pork: For me, the quintessential Southern meal is a pulled pork sandwich. I’d probably save myself a lot of money if I just learned to make it myself; I’m on a budget here in the city, after all, and genuine BBQ doesn’t come cheap. While I can’t make the real deal, lacking a proper smoker, one of the roomies does have a slow cooker, so I will channel my inner suburban housewife and let the Crock-Pot work its magic.