It cannot be overstated! I am not a very good cook. Cooking is not a skill that I have honed to any notable degree in my nearly 50 years on this planet. I have learned not to burn steak to a crisp, even though that’s how I like it. I have figured out how to time different elements of a meal so that they are ready at approximately the same time. I have a small collection of simple, yet fairly impressive dishes that I can whip up when necessary. My greatest culinary achievement remains not having given anyone food poisoning (touch wood).
The meals I prepare for myself are simple. I’m happy with a salad and garlic toast, or a bowl of soup, or a plate of cheese and crackers. Eating is something necessary to sustain life and I harbour no desire to spend any more time preparing and consuming food than what is needed to fill that requirement. Fancy dishes don’t impress me. I am not likely to be found haunting classy restaurants any more than I am likely to be found in my own kitchen creating extravagant banquets of multiple courses.
Yet, I do enjoy having people over for dinner now and then. When the occasion arises, I will don my proverbial apron (keep thinking that I should invest in a real one someday) and plan a real meal for my chosen guests. Last night was just such an occasion!
I was inspired to invite my husband, my father-in-law and my brother-in-law over for a turkey dinner. Turkey dinners are relatively easy. I throw a turkey in the oven, boil the hell out of a pot of potatoes to mash, steam some veggies, whisk up some gravy, toss a salad together, put out some pickles and buns and cranberry sauce, zap some Stove-top Stuffing and make something for dessert. Voila! Dinner! Add a bottle of wine – or two! – have some coffee ready, throw in some juicy local gossip and usually the evening is deemed a success. Usually!
I had everything planned out. I had all the ingredients. I was excited about the prospect of feeding my guests a meal that I knew without doubt that I could pull off.
I started in the morning by making dessert – a tropical fruit cobbler, which I would put back in the warm oven after the turkey was done to re-heat in the cooling oven and be served with real whipping cream. It smelled delicious and looked fabulous. I was pleased. While the cobbler was baking, I started the tedious process of turning 10 boiled eggs into Deviled Eggs. The original plan was to slightly over-fill the bottom halves of the eggs with the filling and then put the top halves back on, add two walnut-piece eyes and a carrot-shaving beak and make them into Easter chicks. Wasn’t happening! The process proved far more tedious than my patience could withstand and so they became regular Deviled Eggs with a smattering of paprika, of course.
The failed Deviled Egg chicks could have been a sign of things to come. I could have taken heed at that point and been warned of the impending doom that hovered over my dinner party. But I didn’t. I remained optimistic and excited about the evening, looking forward to spending time with the guys, and continued to prepare the salad and get the pickles (that never ultimately made it to the table) and cranberry sauce ready. I was enjoying myself, reveling in the immense enthusiasm I had for my little party.
Dinner was scheduled for six o’clock. I estimated that the smallish turkey I bought would need about 2 ½ hours to cook properly and so just before 3:00 p.m., I prepped it for the oven. I dutifully removed the giblets, gave it a wash, sprinkled it with salt and pepper, placed it in the roaster, added an inch or so of water, tented it under tin foil and popped it in the oven.
At ten to four I realized that I had forgotten to turn the oven on!
Crap on a cracker! My confidence felt the first inevitable shake as the cloud of doom burst overhead in a thunderous mocking jolt, enlightening me at long last to the fact that this dinner party was not going to get any rave reviews.
My response was to turn the oven up to a higher temperature and hope for the best. I altered my potato and veggie schedule, moving it up a half hour, and adopted the mantra, “It will all work out. It will all work out.”
The guests arrived at the appointed hour. I apologized immediately and explained that dinner would be slightly delayed. They are all pretty laid-back guys and politely said replied that it was not a problem. I offered drinks and got them settled in the living room where guy-talk blossomed over beer and coffee while I checked on the turkey. It was far too pale.
I poked it with a fork and was horrified to discover blood dripping out of the holes. My heart lurched. My stomach knotted. A lump of fear swelled in my throat. I asked my father-in-law to provide a prognosis. “Was it completely thawed when you put it in the oven?” he asked. I assured him that it was. It certainly should have been. I had taken it out of the freezer the previous morning. It wasn’t that big of a turkey. He kindly told me not to worry and returned to his beer and the guy-talk.
I was determined not to panic. At seven o’clock the turkey was still not done. We gathered around the oven positing possible contributing factors. At seven-thirty, my husband took on the mission to go to the store and purchase a meat thermometer. I had visions of the bill to fix the oven and it wasn’t pretty. The guys, in true guy fashion, kept assuring me that it was no big deal. The rest of the meal was congealing on the counter and the meat thermometer confirmed that the turkey was nowhere near edible condition. It was a big deal.
More beer, more coffee, more wine, more guy-talk, desperate attempt to stave off tears of defeat…
I offered the Deviled Eggs, an ironic choice of appies, I must say.
At quarter to nine, my father-in-law pronounced the turkey cooked and I quickly rallied to re-heat the potatoes, veggies and gravy. We sat down to eat what was not an altogether horrible repast. At least, I told myself, I got to spend some extra quality time with my guests. They even went – probably politely – back for seconds.
When the plates were all empty, I cleared the table and started to get dessert ready. The cobbler was warm from the cooling oven and, with the aid of my handy-dandy food processor, the whipping cream was whipped in less than two minutes. I started to dish up the cobbler. The final blow struck my heart with relish. The cobbler crust was not cooked. With all the fuss over the turkey, it hadn’t occurred to me to check it. The top was a lovely golden brown. The fruit was tender and sweet. But the inside of the crust was raw dough.
Again, in true guy fashion, my guests comforted me by diving instead into the Easter basket full of chocolate that had been the centre piece on the table. Thank goodness for back-ups!
At 11:30, fully sated, my guests departed, leaving me with the sound advice to purchase an oven thermometer and test the temperature before I called in a repairman. The general consensus was that the temperature probe - a simple fix, they said – would have to be replaced. No one, however, knew who repairs appliances in Houston, though they had all regaled me with anecdotes of their DIY prowess in fixing their own various appliances, including ovens, over the years.
I cleaned up the kitchen, loaded and turned on the dishwasher and got ready for bed. Exhausted, embarrassed beyond measure and thoroughly discouraged, I couldn't help but notice the full moon hovering in the south-eastern sky as I closed my bedroom blinds. I sighed. I should have known…