For Valentine’s Day this year, we’ve decided to make dinner at home rather than go out. There are so many pros to this approach: we’ll save money, we won’t be stuck choosing between two or three uninspired prix fixe entrees, and we won’t be hurried through dinner in an overcrowded restaurant while unintentionally eavesdropping on the conversation of the couple next to us. (Let it be noted for the record that I am not knocking all Valentine’s Day prix fixe experiences; my boyfriend and I had our first actual date on Valentine’s Day back in 2006 at a cute little Middle Eastern place in Chicago where we sat near a fireplace and ate falafel, which was served as an amuse bouche, for the first time.)
There is, however, one really big con: I am a terrible cook.
My boyfriend was horrified the first time he ate over at my apartment and I served him the same thing I ate for dinner most nights in law school: plain tofu scrambled with mushrooms and spinach, placed atop a toasted English muffin with a slice of fat-free cheese, liberally doused with Tabasco sauce. I’ve come a long way since then, but I am still not terribly successful in the kitchen.
Case in point: I tried to cook us a nice dinner at home for New Years Eve. I ended up with desperately overdone steak, a couple of kind-of adorable but impossible to eat spinach pastries, and three burns on my arm, one of which persists to this day. The one triumph of the evening (other than not putting an eye out with the champagne) was the chocolate bread pudding which somehow turned out okay despite the fact that I made unauthorized substitutions for half of the ingredients. (Vanilla almond milk is basically the same thing as 2% milk and vanilla extract, right?)
I’m not all that sure where I go wrong when I put on my apron, but I think my problem is three-fold. First, as a former vegetarian, I struggle with cooking meat. I live in fear of infecting us with salmonella or trichinosis or some other food-borne parasite, and, as a result, I end up cooking the everloving hell out of every piece of meat that crosses my path. Second, I am what my boyfriend affectionately (at least, I think it’s affectionately) calls the Lazy Cook. I’m not interested in exact measurements, and taking the time to thoroughly mince onions bores me. Finally, I can’t be trusted to read the entire recipe. I recently made some a crockpot meal (a crockpot meal from Real Simple nonetheless – I can’t think of anything more difficult to mess up than a bowl of cereal) that was so terrible we kept pretending we didn’t see the leftovers in the refrigerator, and one of the main problems was that I glossed over the instruction to brown the meat before putting it in the crockpot. (Other potential culprits included my failure to chop the onions as finely as I should have and my haphazard use of seasoning – see the second point above.)
All that said, I’m not hopeless. As mentioned, that chocolate bread pudding was delicious, I can make a mean marinated tofu, and I’m excellent at frying eggs (scrambled eggs, unfortunately, remain just beyond my grasp). Also, of all things, I can make popovers.
So help a girl out. What’s something that I can make for Valentine’s Day? Something that will redeem me for the mess I made of New Years Eve dinner and won’t result in my boyfriend taking over the kitchen and relegating me to the role of sous chef? I’m all ears.