Monday, January 2, 2017

That Time I Adapted a Recipe Called Easy Penne Pasta Bake

5:00 PM

Okay. I wasn't even going to do this, because I was kind of having a nervous breakdown today. But the whole purpose of this stupid adventure is to learn to cook even when you don't feel like it.

I was going to make firecracker chicken. I survived the garlic chicken from last week. Then, as the day wore on, I wasn't feeling well. I said, "You know what? I'm not going to make chicken, because if I don't feel well tomorrow, I don't want to blame it on my cooking unless I absolutely know that's the cause."

Then, I remembered that I have a fairly well stocked pantry. I should be able to whip something up. In theory.

This is the thing, this is why I don't know how to cook, and this is the thing that eludes me and I probably am never going to learn because I do think this is a skill, to be able to look at a whole bunch of ingredients and be like "THIS is what I'm going to make!"

I can't do that. I don't ever see myself having that ability. I can follow a recipe. But to figure it out on my own? I can't do that.

I was thinking how about some penne with mozzarella and some tomatoes and maybe some peppers and onions, because I have a frozen bag of peppers and onions? You would think there would be some sort of recipe online with those ingredients. They're not weird ingredients. But, no. Not having any luck finding anything remotely like that.

I found a recipe called "Easy Penne Pasta Bake." I'm adapting it, which, right there, is scary. That's a scary word for me when it comes to cooking. Adapting.

My bag of frozen peppers and onions was frozen solid. The protective ice, as Debbie Reynolds said in the movie Mother.

But I read a hack on Google to put the block of ice-peppers in a colander and rinse it with cold water. This seems to have worked. It's no longer a block of ice.

So what I'm going to do right now is chop up some FRESH garlic. Then, I'm going to cook up the onions and pepper with garlic. The recipe calls for garlic. But the recipe doesn't call for the red peppers and onions. It calls for an onion, but not the red peppers and onions and not frozen. THIS IS THE ADAPTATION PART.

See? This is where I get confused. Is frozen going to make a difference? I know fresh is ideal from a snooty foodie perspective, but is it going to change the actual recipe? Those are my questions.

5:04 PM

You know what annoys me about cooking websites? When someone posts a recipe and then you have all these questions in the comments. And the person who posts the recipe does not answer them.

Answering the questions should be a law.

You have to respond to the people, to the idiot cooks like me trying to figure this cooking thing out and respond to any questions people have. It's polite. I know people are busy, but sometimes I look and they haven't responded to any of them. The recipe's been posted for a while, and people have questions. People like me, who have absolutely no idea what they're doing.

5:07 PM

Right now, I am chopping garlic.

This recipe is not that complicated. I'm making it complicated, of course, because I am adapting it by adding in the frozen peppers and onions.

5:09 PM

You know what I will do? I will get the water boiling anyway. That I can do.

Normally, when you do a baked pasta dish, they tell you to undercook the pasta, because it's going to continue cooking during the baking process. I think I'm going to go by that here, even though they don't state that in this recipe. I don't know. We're kind of making things up as we go at this point, which doesn't make you a cook. It makes you desperate or something.
5:10 PM

Okay. The bag of frozen peppers and onions says to sauté in one tablespoon of olive oil. The easy-baked- penne recipe wants me to sauté garlic and onion in two tablespoons of olive oil.

Let's see. Maybe I'll do one and a half. Split the difference. Maybe I'll do two. I'll do one and a half. I don't know what to do. Does it make that much of a difference? I don't know. One tablespoon, two tablespoons. See? Again, something I don't know. I have no idea.

[editor's note: one and a half]

5:11 PM

You know what? I'm not a perfectionist. I'm not. I want to get things right. I want things to be safe. I want things to taste good, but I wouldn't call myself a perfectionist. I like to know. I don't like to guess.

I know cooking is about going with your feel and having fun and blah, blah, blah. You know what? You do that and it screws up, and you're eating saltines with peanut butter over your sink. That's your dinner. That's depressing at the age of almost 44. I should not be doing that.

5:14 PM

I'm waiting for things to heat up. I suppose I could open the cans of tomato. That I can do. I have Hunt's fire-roasted diced tomatoes. One can with garlic and another one with basil, garlic, and oregano. It should be flavorful, I hope.

Peppers and onions go with tomatoes, right? This isn't going to be weird. I don't think. What do I know? I don't know anything.

One can's opened. Once again, I haven't even looked at the cook time. Oh yeah, prep time 10 minutes, total time 30 minutes. That means an hour in my language. I'm ridiculous.

5:20 PM

Does everyone keep fresh basil in their home at all times? I never do. I understand in the summer, if you have an herb garden or something, you are going to have fresh basil. What about the other months of the year? Should I get a fresh basil plant? Will it keep? Does it continue to grow? How does all that work?

Everything calls for fresh basil. Then, I feel weird and guilty using dry. And I always forget the conversion rule of fresh to dry.

5:25 PM

I'm putting the garlic in my pan right now. This is happening. Oh, we're sizzling. Then, I'll put in the peppers and onions. Smells good. Yeah. Garlic cooking always smells good.

This is the third week in a row that I'm cooking, which is probably, to be perfectly honest, a record. In fact, I know it's a record. Cooking to this level. Definitely a record.

5:27 PM

Now, I'm going to put in the peppers and onions. That's happening right now. It's probably good that I got rid of all the ice. That would've been a lot of extra water.

5:30 PM

I will say this whole not-able-to-cook thing has affected (obviously) my self-confidence, but it has also affected me socially. Because if you go to a dinner party or you go to a cookout or you're invited to something, you're supposed to offer to bring something. Or you show up and ask what you can do to help and my biggest fear comes true when the host asks me to do something, like cut this or chop that, and I totally fuck it up and look like a fool.

As for bringing something, sure you can do store bought. I think it's perfectly fine to do store bought, especially if you know what you're doing in the kitchen. It shows that you're a busy person or whatever.

But store bought for me is pretty much, I don't know, it's defeat. It's because I have to.

5:35 PM

I have a friend from high school. She is a stay-at-home mom. She cooks. Her kids have allergies, so she does all this special cooking. Her kids cook. She pickles and she jams. I have no aspirations for pickling or jamming. That is way too much work. Plus, botulism. Okay? I'm worried about getting people sick.

I feel like such a failure as a woman. I know this is a fixable problem. I know it's a first world problem. I get it. Still, it affects me, so I'm trying to change it.

5:38 PM

Today, I found a blog called "Kitchen Meets Girl" or something like that. It was about someone who wanted to learn to cook. Actually, more like embrace it (tagline: "success from the kitchen of a reluctant cook"). She has. She's got this little cottage industry and has cookbooks and ads and sponsors.

That's never going to be me.

This is a confessional blog. It's probably going to be therapy, because I don't plan on having my own recipes. I don't see myself as "Julia Child 2017"or anything like that.

I'm trying to reach people who are like me. There's got to be other people out there, who, for whatever reason, never learned to cook, weren't taught, suck at it, feel kind of self-conscious about it. They want to know that they're not alone. They want to laugh a little, maybe. I don't know how funny I'm being today.

5:40 PM

This is looking good so far, I have to say. Smells good, too. All right. Maybe this'll be the best thing I make yet. My little recipe that I do the adaptation for.

5:41 PM

I know it's funny that I always worry that it's going to be chicken that makes me sick. Wouldn't it be funny if it ends up being something else? Like vegetables?

I'm pouring in the diced tomatoes, and the tomatoes from one of the cans have black stuff on 'em. It's not black stuff. It's likely herbs, but I don't know if they're supposed to be black. I don't know. I can't even tell if the food that I'm eating is ok. I think it is. We're going to hope. I did check the dates. Also, I imagine there would've been a recall if this diced tomato thing was making people sick. Let's hope that hasn't happened and I missed it.

5:42 PM

Putting the penne in the boiling water. Woo-hoo! This is supposed to cook for eleven minutes. We're only going to cook it for, say, nine. 5:51. That works.

5:43 PM

I was thinking of getting pizza tonight. That's where I was at. I was like, "You know what? I haven't had pizza in probably well over a year. Take out. I deserve take out." But, nope. Here I am cooking possibly my last meal.

5:45 PM

See, here's the thing. You're supposed to taste stuff as you're going. I have no idea what this is supposed to taste like. I have no clue.

And when someone tastes something with a spoon and then they put the spoon back in the food—UGH. You have to change out the spoons. I don't care if you're not sick. That's gross.

I mean, if you're only cooking for yourself, fine. But if you're cooking for other people, don't put the spoon back in. Get a different spoon.


5:46 PM

Okay. What else? I'm supposed to add salt and pepper to taste. "Add salt and pepper to taste." LOL

I have no idea what that means. I have no idea how much. I'm adding it willy-nilly right now. That's all. This is a peppercorn medley. How much is too much? I have no idea. None at all.

5:47 PM

I'm going to do something scary. I'm going to taste this, because that's what you're supposed to do. Not that I have any idea what it's supposed to taste like. I guess if I don't gag, that's a good thing.

Hot. hot. Tastes good to me.

I'm low maintenance, though, so I really can't go by my taste buds. I mean, seriously: I've lived most of my adult life on Lean Cuisines.

5:49 PM

Finding recipes for one person is challenging. Sometimes the meals I make are for six to eight servings, and I haven't mastered the art of freezing yet. Freezing will be a definite thing that we'll be talking about at some point. I have no idea how to freeze stuff. That's beyond me.

5:50 PM

What's going to happen next is the pasta is going to finish. Once that happens, I blend the pasta with my sauce and some cheese. Then, we put it in the casserole dish and we layer it with some more cheese. Then, we bake it for 20 minutes.

5:51 PM

How are we doing there, penne pasta? Probably ready to take you off.

That's another thing. Do you rinse your pasta or not? I don't know if I'm supposed to. I think I used to, and then I think I read something about not rinsing, so now I don't. I suspect it's a major debate online. Whatever. I'm not tonight.

5:52 PM

I'm doing pretty well here. I'm impressed with myself at the moment. Like I said, this is probably going to be the meal that makes me sick. Right now, I'm feeling kind of cocky, which is always dangerous.

5:53 PM

I'm concentrating on what I'm doing. I'm mixing my tomato-pepper-onion-garlic sauce. It sounds pretty good, doesn't it? It looks good. There we go. In with the pasta. Then, we're supposed to mix in the cheese.

We're mixing. We're blending. We hope this works. We hope I don't get sick. We hope they don't commit me. We hope I'm not completely boring the hell out of you.

Sprinkling the rest of the cheese on top. Then, I'm putting this puppy, this bad boy in the oven.

My best friend, she sent me a picture of everything she baked for Christmas. Seriously, the woman is amazing. Single mother, kid, has her own business. See? I'm a failure as a woman. That's me. I don't even have a cat anymore.

Like I said, first world problems and I'm perfectly aware of that. Lucky sitting here obsessing about how to cook my food. I'm lucky I have food. I'm lucky I have water. I'm lucky I have shelter. I know that. Perfectly aware.

5:55 PM

All right. I think we're about done. I'm going to put this in the oven for 20 minutes. I might eat at a decent hour. Amazing. We'll find out. All right. There we go.

Cook away. Cook away, little bird.

Don't kill me.

[editor's note: survived]


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