Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chocolate Strawberry Fields Forever

Me and my creation - read on to find out what it is.
I must establish something: I am not a cook.

I am not a chef. I am not a baker. I am not a homemaker in any way.

My kitchen skills are nil. My efforts are "make-shift" at best. I was raised by a mother who owned at least two dozen 3-ingredient cookbooks, and another dozen 4-ingredient cookbooks. My dad has about ten signature meals that he makes over...and over...and over...and over again.

And it's fine. Since I am a vegetarian I no longer want for very much when it comes to cuisine. I love going out to eat, but most of the time my options are limited. So the tried and true things that I can eat at home are a suitable, if not preferable, alternative.

That being said, when I endeavor to make food - meals, sides for a potluck or just desserts - I absolutely adore it. But that adoration is coupled with an absolute hatred for the kitchen. Why?

Because I am ill-equipped in every possible way.

My dad's kitchen is like something out of a horror film for chefs. He has cupboards of food stocked up for the nuclear winter - graham crackers, herbal teas, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese (this one's my fault, actually), boxes and boxes of Toasted Oats (off-brand Cheerios are just as good, you know). Worse, he leaves tons of packaged foods on the counter so the boxes are within reach and also so there is absolutely no room for preparing meals. Even worse, he stores all his pots and pans in the oven.

It can be so terribly annoying that when I do try to make a meal (which is rare because I'm such a lazy bum), I often give up halfway and call my dad to bring home a pizza. This can be caused by many factors in my hellhole of a kitchen.

One reason that is very common goes as follows: I'll be preparing something that needs to be baked and I'll preheat the oven. As I'm preparing to throw my project in, I'll remember that I forgot to remove the pots and pans before heating the thing. Problem is, by the time I've realized this the oven has gotten somewhere close to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It's so far-gone that I can't even dream of pulling out all the scorching hot kitchen equipment for a very long time. This is not acceptable and I either become very frustrated or I just stop and put what I was working on in the fridge.

Nothing can't halt the process. If something does, I will inevitably stop mid-project.

So today, I did something different. Instead of trying to create food that requires extraordinary heat or (dare I say it) effort, I made a dessert that is both beautiful and tasty with minimal input of effort. Here you will see my very easy, but incredibly rewarding, process of making chocolate-covered strawberries:

Step One: Clean, dry and give each strawberry the love it deserves.

The last step is the most crucial, and it is really a rule that must be scattered throughout the process. Be kind to your strawberries, handle them delicately so they do not bruise or squish or become angry. Strawberries have feelings too.

As for real life directions, though, you must rinse your strawberries in the sink, then pat them dry. I've tried leaving them wet during this process and it just doesn't work. Don't even try. Got it?

I leave the stems on because they're so nice and pretty and so I have something to hold onto when I dip the strawberries in chocolate. Eventually they will be removed, but don't you just love the look of strawberries with stems?

Step Two: Measure one cup of chocolate chips and grab a few to munch on before going any further.

Part of my kitchen routine is constant tasting. I am not a famous chef, therefore I do not care if I look horrid licking chocolate goop off my fingers while I bake cookies or make chocolate-covered strawberries. Having said that, I do wash my hands before handling the food. You will not become ill from eating what I cook - hopefully.

This is where the make-shift-ness of my kitchen efforts really comes into play. While most people would pour the contents of their measuring cup into a mixing bowl for the next step in the process, I leave it in the measuring cup for two reasons:

One, I am lazy, therefore I hate doing dishes. Two, the bowls in my house are not as pretty as my new measuring cup.

Step Three: Melt that chocolate until you'd rather drink it than dip strawberries in it.

I took the easy route in melting my chocolate chips. Microwaves were invented for a reason, after all.

By the time you've melted all the chips and stirred them to a lovely creamy consistency, you will no longer want to dip strawberries in them. Rather, you will want to eat the melted chocolate with your fingers. Follow my lead and resist this urge. Instead, eat the chips in their solid state.

Step Four: Coat strawberries with chocolate and try not to smear the chocolate all over the sides of the bowl/measuring cup.

I don't follow my own rules, clearly.

I am a terrible cook, so I start to become hasty with my chocolate coating efforts. Some strawberries are covered with a smooth coat of melted chocolate, others look like they've gone through a game of Fruit Ninja and then had a knife swat at them with chocolate sauce. Sounds yummy, huh? Can you resist the temptation?

Step Five: After fully coated, take strawberries out of chocolate and try to rid of the string of chocolate gathered at the tip without licking it.

As you may have noticed, my problem with cooking is the battle between my conscious mind and my subconscious mind. The former wants me to make these chocolate-covered strawberries for everyone to enjoy. The latter wants me to remove the chocolate remnants by eating them without even allowing the chocolate to harden. It's a difficult place to be.

Step Six: It's refrigerator time!

You can barely resist the temptation of devouring your adorable little strawberries right after you dipped them in chocolate. But just wait! If you put these little beauties in the fridge for 30 minutes you will have hardened chocolate that melts in your mouth as you bite into the strawberries. Then, and only then, is it time to finally partake in the deliciousness.

Stare at your watch, set a timer on your phone, count the seconds if you must: but definitely wait it out. When you finally remove those goop-less strawberries from the fridge you will have the right to give in to your ravenous desires with no remorse. It will be glorious. Just wait.

Step Seven: It's time to get to eating! But first take pictures.

No cooking experience is complete without a full-on photoshoot with your food.

Even if you're like me and you make imperfect desserts that speak more to your idiosyncracies than your abilities, it can be really fun to look back at what you made and then try and recreate it only to be dissatisfied that it didn't come out as well as it did in your pictures.

Okay, maybe not. The real reason it's fun to take pictures is so you can look back and brag to your friends about how you once made good food. Once.

 Step Eight: Admire your lovely creation.

Is it time to eat yet? Yes!

I've sampled the chocolate, smelled the fresh strawberries coated in cocoa goodness, counted the seconds on my fingers as they sat in the fridge and indulged myself with vain photos of my stellar work.

Now I must eat. And take more pictures.

(Note: I deliberately took this photo in front of a Beatles poster so I could use the title "Chocolate Strawberry Fields Forever")

I leave you with this image of me and my one true love: fatty desserts. Without fatty desserts, I would not be here today. Or at least the chubbier parts of me would not be here today.

Now who wants some strawberries?

Cooking is an adventure for me. I don't usually have the proper accoutrements. I don't come with a background in baking or cooking or making anything for consumption really. It's all a really crazy experiment. I'm a mad scientist in my crazy kitchen, yet I make do - when I'm in the mood.

When I am older, I'm going to have a grand kitchen. I'm going to go to the store to pick up whatever cooking utensils and equipment I need so that, over time, I will build a store of supplies that will enable me to make whatever I want whenever I want.

But until that day, I am happy making my strawberries. The feeling of creating something so beautiful that you desperately want to eat is unlike any other. Even if it's simple, it provides a feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction unrivaled by a lot of other types of creation. Cooking really is one of the luxuries of life - and frustrating as it may be, it's worth the expended time, effort and love to get to that finished product.

Now excuse me while I go eat some of my chocolate-covered strawberries.

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