I’m not ashamed to admit that I’ve wasted hours upon hours watching Food Network. It’s not a guilty pleasure, it’s a regular pressure. Who doesn’t enjoy watching a fat ginger Italian (I swear I didn’t know they existed) cook for three random strangers? Who hasn’t spent an entire road trip imitating the dubbed over announcer voices on the original (read: good) Iron Chef. Who hasn’t been spellbound by the enormous head yet strange hotness of Giada de Laur…di Laur…Di Lo…that one chick? I’m sure you can agree that an afternoon spent watching the Food Network is not an afternoon wasted.
Unless, of course, you’re like me, and you can’t cook.
Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve just never cooked before. It never was something I thought to do, out of fear that I’d cause a white-hot structure fire and have to chew on a charcoal briquette that was at one time a tender, succulent loin of some grass fed beast, choking down my own deep, bitter tears all the while.
But then I realized that the inverse might be true: it could work out great. I could unearth latent skills I never realized I had, kicking it up to notches heretofore undreamed of my man or Emeril. Why not me? Why can’t I cook?
It started two weeks ago, when I decided I wanted to make chili. I figured it would be hard to screw up. I went to the store and bought myself all the needed ingredients (and why the hell not, I’ll share the recipe, borrowed from that amazing sports blog Deadspin:
This was an afternoon well spent. As this Mexican-inspired nectar of the gods simmered in a pot I bought at Target strictly for this occasion, an aroma not of this earth filled my apartment. This chili was fantastic, and I nearly cried I was so happy. I greedily devoured two bowls of the stuff, and although it could probably have used a bit more heat, I was very happy with my first effort. Heartened by my success, I decided I’d try cooking again very soon.
That brings me to this very day.
I was off from work, and decided to try a new recipe. I googled “cheap recipes” because I’m a cheap sonovabitch, and didn’t want to waste good money on artisinal Belgian bread crumbs when there’s a perfectly good canister of 4C in my pantry. I found something intriguing: potato crusted chicken fingers. Ooh, that sounds good. I read the recipe, and I’m struck by how brilliant the idea for breading was: rather than bread crumbs, it utilized crushed up baked potato chips. This, I thought, was going to be a breeze.
I should’ve realized I was going wrong when one of the first steps says to mince up the chips in a food processor. I don’t have a food processor. What I have is the two powerful meat hooks at the end of my arms that Xenu saw fit to bless me with. With these mighty hamhocks of justice, I went to town on this bag, pounding, punching, and grinding these poor reconstituted potato granules until they begged for mercy. As I dipped the chicken breasts in the ground up chips, I realized they weren’t sticking all that well. No matter, I ground the chips into the flesh of this poor bird, and then a hot iron skillet laden with canola oil awaited.
My first problem was that I dropped the breast into the oil with far too much force, sending hot oil out to places that don’t really like to have hot oil on them. Namely, my forearm. It was just a drop, but it was enough to send shockwaves of pain throughout my body. I’ve included a visual representation of what it felt like below:
This oil burn landed directly on top for my right forearm, which was already red and peeling from a fairly nasty sunburn. After a couple of minutes of using every profanity I knew, including some I’m fairly sure I made up, I went back to work.
In retrospect, I’m pretty sure the chicken breasts I got were far too big, and I should definitely have cut them prior to dropping them in the skillet. Getting them to cook evenly was a bitch. After two minutes of cooking on each side, I fished the first breast out and cut it to see how it looked inside. It was as pink as a newborn babe, and just as soft. Damn, I thought, back on the skillet. After another couple minutes on each side, I retrieved the breast, cut back inside, and still saw a disconcerting amount of pink. At wits end, I returned the bird to the pan, and let it blacken and char, and finally removed it, satisfied that it’d be white on the inside. I moved onto the next breast, and repeated basically the same steps outlined above. After breast two, I was convinced I had a good idea how to set my heat and cook it effectively. Breast three obeyed my commands, turning a sumptuous looking golden brown in the pan.
It was at this point that I noticed the smoke. Those potato chip crumbs that I had such difficulty attaching previously? They didn’t like staying on in the pan, either. I realized now would be a good time to turn on the hood fan. As I looked behind me to check the television, I realized that gray smoke had done a pretty effective job of filling up my apartment. I rushed around, opening my front door and a couple of windows to get the smoke out. As I did this, the breast in the pan took on the consistency of a worn out shoe, and was no longer fit to be eaten. Dejected, I turned off the heat.
Oh well, I thought, at least the first two were in good shape. I cut into them, and still saw enough pink to lay me out with the worst case of salmonella in recorded history. Dejected, I began my search for a pizza menu.
Don’t worry, though, I haven’t given up. Someday, soon, I’ll whip up a feast worthy of the kings of yore. Once the fire marshall gives me the okay, that is.
Onto some actual improv news: our next show is August 16 at the Main Street Theater in Parlin. It’s our regular monthly gig, 5 bucks to get in, it’s at 8pm, and you can all congratulate me on having entered the last year of my twenties while I reply to each birthday greeting with “I’m a Toys R Us kid”. Also, we’re very happy to announce that we’ve been accepted to the Boston Comedy Arts Festival, and if you’re in that area, you can check us out on Thursday, September 5 at 10pm at the Improv Boston Studio. And if you want to drive to see us, but not as far as Boston, we’re returning to the South Jersey Comedy Festival on August 17 at Harper’s Pub in Clementon at 3pm.
*Now, I’ll admit to taking some liberties with the recipe. First of all, I’m a good boy, so joint ash was out. I used a pound each of ground beef and ground chicken. Honestly, once they spent 4 or 5 hours simmering and the meat absorbed the flavors of all the other stuff, I couldn’t tell which was which. Also, I couldn’t find liquid smoke in the supermarket, and as a result, despite that fact that they have a shockingly tasty store brand tortilla chip, wrote a strongly worded letter to the good people of the Highland Park Stop and Shop. In it’s stead, I squirted in a generous helping of Sriracha, which is one of the greatest inventions of human history. I wholeheartedly endorse this recipe, but if you’re like me and like it hot, I’d add more peppers.