Saturday, January 19, 2008

Iron Chef? Not So Much.

So I'm sitting around the house, trying to figure out what to make for dinner. I decide to construct a meal out of ingredients I already have in the house. Some buccatini pasta. A hunk of Cantalet. A hunk of pecorino. Milk.

Hmmm. Mac and cheese? I'ver never made it before, unless you count the stuff from the box.

After scanning and my trusty copy of Cooking For Mr. LatteI cobble together a recipe.

As I boil my pasta water and grate my cheese in the kitchen (which is also, conviently, my living room), I flip on the Food Network, to which I am addicted. Iron Chef is on--my favorite! It's Battle Side of Beef or some such carnivorous thing. Bobby Flay is hacking into raw meat like a kid at Christmas.

I thunk an empty saucepan onto the stove and stare at it. The mac and cheese calls for a bechamel sauce, which I've never attempted before. Always a little daunting.

I heat the butter in the pan until it's foamy. Once the butter is melted I add the flour and whisk like a madwoman with my little baby whisk.

On the TV, Bobby Flay is making a bechamel, too. I doubt it stresses him out as much as it stresses me out. He's whisking away without a care in the world.

I am whisking as if my life depends on it.

The butter and flour come together, a pretty gold color that smells faintly of nuts. I've made a roux! But there's no time celebrate...I must add the milk.

I do this, a little a time, whisking, whisking, and it's evident that my baby whisk isn't up to the task. I grab for the big whisk, and in my haste, knock the baby whisk to the floor. Betty pounces on it, licking it like a lollipop. I leave it. I can't abandon my bechamel.

Note to self: Get a new baby whisk.

I'm whisking and whisking, but I'm not sure what's supposed to happen next. The sauce won't get thick.

On the TV, Bobby has finished his bechamel and moved onto more complex tasks.

I whisk faster.

The phone rings and I risk my whisking for a moment to stop and see who's calling. It's my friend Lori. I let it go to voicemail, and when I return to my whisking, my bechamel is congealing on the bottom of the saucepan, ugly white globules floating to the buttery surface. Damn.

I whisk until my wrist hurts, but my efforts are rewarded: I come away with a slightly lumpy but serviceable bechamel. I stir in the cheese and the pasta, making a gloopy yet satisfying mess. I pour it into a casserole, top it with breadcrumbs, more cheese, pepper, and freshly grated nutmeg, then slip it into the oven and run a hand across my sweaty brow.

My kitchen is in complete disarray. A shred of cheese falls out of my hair. My dog has appropriated my whisk and carried it into her crate, placing it next to her Nylabone. There are breadcrumbs all over the floor, sticking into the bottoms of my feet.

On the TV, the Iron Chefs have stopped cooking and it's time for the judging. I think about this for a moment. In one hour, Bobby Flay has dismantled a side of beef and assembled a five course meal with it; I've made a lumpy-ass bechamel sauce and poured it over some noodles.

Clearly, I have a long way to go.