Thursday, January 13, 2011

Is it Really Worth It?

As I've said before, I don't fry chicken (just can't do it). But, I do take pride in my culinary skills. Not only have I managed to pull off some incredible and complicated meals, no one (that I am aware of) has died or been severely disabled by the ingestion of a dish I prepared.

Italian cooking is one area I have shied away from. It seemed way too difficult, I don't particularly like pasta, and there is the language issue. However, many years ago, I decided to make homemade lasagna starting with a tomato sauce from scratch. I pulled out my cook books and found an authentic sauce recipe that started with fresh tomatoes and included fourteen herbs and spices. After hours of peeling, chopping, cooking, sauteing, mixing, and simmering I finally, if I must say so myself, had this incredible tasty tomato sauce.

Now I could brown the meat and Italian sausage, cook the pasta, and prepare the cheeses. Soon it was time to put my masterpiece together and place it in the oven. After fifty five minutes at three hundred fifty degrees and then thirty minutes of "resting", my Pièce de résistance was ready for presentation. My family was most impressed. I was thrilled with the accolades. After dinner when I returned to the kitchen to survey the mess, all I could have said was it should have been a success based on the collateral damage left on the counters. If one counts the number of bowls, pots, pans, and utensils left in the wake of a triumphal meal as a measure of the success, this was a masterpiece.

For years, I toiled with pride making this recipe, every time basking in the compliments I received. Even the mess it left in the kitchen was worth it. This was the "Italian" portion of my culinary portfolio. True, I wasn't much of an Italian cook, but I can make one Heck of a tomato sauce.

Well, that was until the night when one of my daughters had specifically requested my Lasagna for dinner. After work, I ran by the grocery store to pick up the remaining fresh ingredients I needed for the dish. It had been a long day at the office and ,as much as I love to cook, the idea of spending an hour and a half preparing this dish tonight did not thrill me.

As I reached to pick up the box of lasagna noodles (No, I do not make fresh noodles - I have a life) my eyes stopped, there it was - perhaps an answer to my prayers, a jar of Prego Spaghetti sauce. Surely I could "spice" it up. Could they really tell a difference? At this point, I didn't care. I'd apologize later. What the Heck, they would really appreciate all the work I put into my homemade sauce now.

I picked up two jars and a box of noodles and headed home with my goods. I must admit, I did feel guilty as I poured the sauce into bowls (to make the preparation look authentic) before I put it in the pot to simmer. Then I put two clean pots, I normally would have needed, in the sink and added hot soapy water in them for them to soak, to recreate the normal scene. I chopped onions and garlic, added that to the sauce and went forward with the lasagna preparation. (To further hide any culpability, I shoved the sauce jars to the bottom of the trash can.)

Dinner was ready. I served it and sat down, ready to see how they were going to tell me that my dish wasn't "quite up to snuff" (as my dear Aunty would say). I was ready to tell them, "Now you can appreciate all the hard work I go to to create an authentic tomato sauce. I would never use a sauce from a jar - not for my family." But that comment never came. Instead, as always, I was lauded by my loving family about how delicious the dish was. My youngest daughter said,"I don't know how you do it, just don't ever change it."

As I cleared the table and went into the kitchen to survey the "mess", I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. All that work for years, slaving over the details and the fresh ingredients, making sure I got everything just right. And, all I needed to do was open a jar, added some fresh onions and garlic, heat and add meat, cheese, and pasta. And, Voila, perfect lasagna. Two pots, one cutting board, one baking dish. Then it got worse. My oldest daughter came into the kitchen. "Mama, next time you make your lasagna I want you to show me how you do it. I need to start now so I can get it right." Ah, the conundrum.

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