The joy of cooking

 Is it me or has the TV recently had an explosion of cooking shows?  Everywhere I look there’s Iron Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, Cake Boss, No Reservations and so on and so on…not to mention Julie & Julia on the silver screen.  They make it all look completely effortless and utterly delicious.  I have never been a big one for cooking or baking.  I put it down to 1 tablespoon of Laziness, 1 cup of Busy Schedule and 67 fl oz of No Skill or Interest.

My mother is a great cook – her Christmas turkey and puddings are the highlights of the season – but I’ve just never picked up the habits or bothered to learn.  As a child I treated her and Dad to breakfast-in-bed a couple of times.  I can’t remember the consistency of the eggs, but what I do remember is my budding restaurateur career being shut down prematurely once the damage to the kitchen was surveyed.  They figured that getting up and making their own breakfast was infinitely less work.  I failed to see the logic – I had toiled on a hot meal for them; the least they could do is clean up the resulting mess.  By the time this little bird was ready to leave the nest, an amazing invention known as The Microwave had hit the market and I was saved from any further culinary education.

Now those who know me might say I’m prone to slight exaggeration, so just to clarify:  Yes, I have baked the odd cake and created some dishes once in a blue moon that have been palatable, maybe even very tasty, but I am certainly NOT a home-cooked-meal-thrice-a-week kinda gal.

So there I was, minding my own business, surfing the web at home one day when I espied an article about a man who had written a cookbook filled with his versions of popular restaurant recipes.  Apparently nestled in aforementioned book, among others, were the formulae for making KFC Original Recipe Chicken and Cinnabon cinnamon buns.  Omigosh!  Breathe Vicki, Breathe…  Bear in mind that I was already well on the fitness wagon at this stage, but I couldn’t resist the notion of being able to produce such mouthwatering delicacies upon request.  In my vision I skipped past the cooking portion of the process and saw myself serving up buckets and buckets o’ chicken and cinnamon buns the size of car tyres to grateful and incredulous friends, all of them marveling at my dazzling talent.  I couldn’t wait for the adoration to begin – I found his website, paid for the electronic version of the book, downloaded it and printed it out.

That very afternoon I planned my strategy.  I would start with the KFC and then move on to the Cinnabon.  After all, it would be cruel to bring two franchises to their knees on the same day.  The first hurdle was my lack of a pressure fryer.  I had friends in the local restaurant industry, but didn’t fancy walking in their door with armfuls of ingredients begging to use their machines.  In the end I settled for a standard fryer with side-by-side baskets, so when I made my inevitable foray into the fast food world via “Burger Queen” I would already be ahead of the game when it came to equipment.

The supermarket was my next stop as I scoured the produce and spices section for vaguely familiar herbs and the like.  Some were in the exact form specified, but others were more au natural – plants instead of finely ground versions.  Not to worry, surely I could pound them into submission at home.

As I was in the aisles anyway I stocked up on Lean Cuisine meals for my calorie-counting regimen, so it was a cart full of contradictions that finally made its way to the cashier – on one side there was a healthy low-fat grilled chicken entrée and on the other, two hearty cans of Crisco.

Predictable skepticism greeted my return to the house, as I staggered through the door under the weight of my new fryer and bags of groceries (equivalent to the cost of about 15 large buckets of the genuine article), the relevant recipe page clutched in my hand.  No time for dawdling – clear the counters and let the magic commence!

Immediately there was a hiccup as I opened the box and found an instruction booklet which advised against using solid lard in the fryer due to the possibility of uneven heating and smoking.  Like any idiot on a mission I chose to ignore it.  I set it all up and started heaving great ladlefuls of lard into the large bin.  Two tubs just about brought me in line with the “Minimum Level” marker.  I left it to sit whilst I turned my concentration to concocting the coating.  The flour and certain dry ingredients were no problem at all, but I was having an uphill battle with anything possessing leaves.  I tried to mash them sans mortar and pestle, but they weren’t cooperating and I found myself with a small, albeit fragrant lump of moist remnants.  I think I now realize why I’m not a great cook – I have no patience.  If I don’t have exactly what I need, I’ll improvise rather than wait.

The bits of leaf went into the mix along with everything else and I folded merrily away.  The drumsticks were coated nicely with egg and now I had to liberally cover them with the powdery substance.  On went the fryer and immediately the lard began to melt.  It looked perfectly fine to me as it turned into a sea of clear, dangerously hot liquid.  I placed the initial batch into one of the baskets, paused for a mental drum roll, and slowly lowered it into the fat.  Two things became immediately obvious:  The chicken had instantly and powerfully adhered itself to the metal of the basket, and the substance into which it had been plunged was not high enough to cover it.  I attempted to roll the pieces so that they were not burned on one side and raw on the other, but they clung to their captor for dear life.  I cajoled, I prodded, I jabbed and finally managed to wrestle the weakened buffalo from the pack, but it left its skin and my coating efforts behind.  One by one I took them from presentation level to a complete mess and even those that looked half decent in no way resembled KFC chicken.  “The Colonel will sleep well tonight,” I muttered, as I plucked a dark brown example from its bath and placed it on some paper towel.  It was time to sample my efforts.  I bit in and was rewarded with the strong dominant flavour of one of those infernal leaves.  The skin was so crisp it would have taken the hardiest dental work to task, and although the chicken tasted fine, no one from any state south of Chicago would be shaking in their boots.  I sighed, rescued the others, turned off the fryer and called it a day.

As of today I have not yet found the strength to tackle the Cinnabons, but I DID buy a tray specifically for them, so perhaps on the next rainy afternoon I’ll find the enthusiasm and whip up a batch.  They don’t require any Marjoram, Oregano, Sage or Basil.  It gives me hope.