Gourmet Cooking: ‘Some Assembly Required’

Those celebrity chefs make it look easy, don’t they? Some of them aren’t even formally trained. And we think to ourselves, heck, I can do that this weekend, no problem. However, in order to proceed, you will need the following to create your magical gourmet meal:

Kitchen appliances are mandatory: an all-purpose KitchenAid with multiple attachments and bowls; (You can’t whip up fluffy meringue or airy whipped cream with a fork.) food processor (for homemade breadcrumbs, pesto sauce, mayonnaise, salad dressings and shredded cheeses);Unlimited food budget: seafood, prime meats, French wines, imported cheeses, baking chocolate, Madagascar vanilla extract, organic fruits, veggies, and premium olive oils don’t come cheap;

Bakewear: spotless cookie sheets, bundt and springform pans, muffin tins, loaf and brownie pans, parchment paper, rolling pin, pastry cloth, marble slab, butcher block cutting board, plus extra shelving to store them all;

Cookwear: skillets (3 sizes), sauce pans, roaster, Dutch ovens, pasta kettle, double boiler, assorted casserole dishes with lids;

Utensils: zester, whisks (three sizes), corkscrew (preferably automatic), razor sharp knives (at least five for different jobs),spatulas of high quality rubber (minimum two), wooden spoons, juice reamer, measuring cups, ice cream scoop, garlic press, mixing bowls, all sizes;

Complete spice rack and fresh herbs from your garden (or small greenhouse window set up in your kitchen), sauces, mustards, mortar and pestle, coffee grinder, peppermill;

Well, okay, you can skip the restaurant-grade oven and range top and just go with your regular one, but it won’t turn out the same. And give away the microwave. No self-respecting gourmet chef would even think of using it. (Have you ever spied one in the kitchens of Martha Stewart or Ina Garten?)

Okay, so now you have the tools, but the real challenge is yet to come: the assembly.

That chicken dish looked pretty easy, and chicken is a no-brainer. Off to the grocer for thighs and breasts, artichoke hearts, organic bone broth, sea salt, Dijon mustard, Gruyere cheese, peppercorns, panko crumbs (no one will suspect they’re not homemade), capers, unsalted butter, 2 lemons, fresh thyme, extra virgin olive oil, and white wine. (Three bottles to be safe.) Oh boy, that put a dent in the monthly food budget, but this is special.

The new food processor and dutch oven are washed and ready to go. You’ve set out a whisk, the juice reamer, a wooden spoon, the cutting board, measuring cups, a colander, knives, teaspoon, tablespoon and meat fork. You prepare the chicken as directed, gently ease the breaded parts into the melted butter and olive oil-coated dutch oven, saute lightly. Gee, this is a breeze, why didn’t you do this years ago? Drain the artichoke hearts, juice the lemons, grate the Gruyere cheese in the food processor. Those chicken parts seem to be browning a little too fast, better turn down the burner heat. Then deglaze the pan with some white wine (taste it first to make sure it’s good quality–chefs always say never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink). Add remaining ingredients (do you drain the capers?) sprinkle cheese on top, cover and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. The chicken looks a little bit over-browned, but the sauce will cover that up. Maybe just a bit more wine.

You throw together a simple green salad (thank heavens for prepackaged lettuce and bottled dressing–it’ll be your little secret). By now, your husband is home and sits at the kitchen table describing his day. You join him and crack open the second bottle of wine (good thing you bought 3). He tells you it smells great and praises your ambition. And what a nice surprise. (It’s usually rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and frozen peas.) He comments on the complexity of the food processor and asks if that will be difficult to wash. (You are hoping he volunteers.) And all those utensils in the sink. You must have worked hard. The wine bottle is empty but you have a third. Plus a bottle of merlot in the pantry. (It really doesn’t go with chicken, but always have a back up.)

When the timer rings, you turn off the oven and let the chicken sit (or as the chefs say, “rest”). It really does smell good. You’ll leave the cleanup for later. Out comes the Dutch oven, the aroma is incredible, the chicken a wee bit too brown but you stir in some flour to thicken the sauce (was that in the recipe?),toss some store-bought rolls in a basket, (they’re not warm but you don’t have a microwave anymore) toss the salad, and viola. Dinner is served.

Break open the third bottle of wine, (no crystal goblets but juice glasses will do just fine), and you beam with pride at your delicious and perfectly made gourmet dinner for two. Okay, so the chicken is a little overdone, and you should have drained the capers, and maybe just a bit too much wine and lemon juice, but for a first try, pretty darn impressive.

Since you’re still a novice, let’s forego the table setting and opt for TV trays. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Gosh, it sure was a lot of work, and the clean-up was daunting. When all is said and done, maybe next weekend just go out to dinner and let someone who’s trained do the cooking. (It’ll be cheaper and no clean-up.) Or foregoing that, throw a few Lean Cuisines in the microwave (you really couldn’t part with it–you stashed it in a closet). Perhaps schedule a garage sale which will save the neighbors from having to outfit their own gourmet kitchens. Come and get it, folks: real cheap. But “some assembly required.”

Author Dale Phillip fancies herself to be a gourmet cook, but frozen dinners are always in her freezer and her microwave is kept busy. She is addicted to celebrity food chefs, especially Ina Garten. And she does enjoy white wine, with or without a gourmet meal (cheese and crackers do just fine). A former Midwesterner, she resides in Southern California, where great restaurants abound. She invites you to view her numerous articles on Food and Drink, and visit her blog: http://myfriendlyu.blogspot.com/

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