Cooking Abroad

I am no renowned cook, but I’ve always thought, if you can read a recipe, then what’s the big deal? You follow the instructions, it tends to turn out.

In France, that was challenging. Problem 1: everything was in French. Problem 2: all of the measurements were different. Problem 3: the grocery stores didn’t always have everything or anything I needed (see my post on making cookies to see just how challenging that can be).

So now that I’m here in Ireland problem 1 is gone, which helps a lot, and I have a few American measuring cups, etc. here so problem 2 is also not really a problem. But pesky problem 3: ingredients.

While my tales of cooking woes aren’t nearly as epic as in France, the results were far less edible.

Shortly after arriving, I bought a crockpot. I’ll admit, I don’t  love to cook and I figured I would have little time to cook with grad school anyway. However, I enjoy variety in my meals and wanted to have little hassle with delicious results. A crockpot seemed like the answer and mostly it has been. Except when pesky cultural and linguistic differences get in the way.

First casualty: crock pot chicken marsala. I found a Betty Crocker recipe for chicken marsala in the crock pot. (How can you go wrong with Betty Crocker, right?) Everything looked good and I was able to get all of the ingredients except cornstarch. Fine, I said. You can substitute flour for that. I’m only missing one ingredient…seems like a win. I found a couple of websites that gave amounts for substituting cornstarch for flour. And I did the conversion. This seems like a lot of flour for a little bit of cornstarch, I thought. But, then again, what do I know about cooking or chemistry? Just follow the recipe.

So I did.

Even as I was pouring the first of two cups of flour into the meager amount of liquid to thicken the marsala sauce, I questioned the conversion. I double-checked it, came out with the same number and said, well, I’ve never made chicken marsala before, maybe this is just how it is supposed to be?

As I poured the gelatinous paste onto my chicken, I could only laugh bitterly at how this looked nothing like Betty’s perfect meal and that this is what I planned to eat for at least the next three meals.

Second casualty: tacos. How in the world can you screw up tacos, you ask? This was an error of translation. Meat, particularly that which comes from a pig, has different terms for everything than what we have in the United States. Crispy bacon doesn’t exist, but the term bacon is used to describe something that looks more like ham, etc. So I went to the pork section of the meat aisle. Nothing said “pork”. I remember that the previous time I’d made this recipe, what turned out to be “pork” as I know it wasn’t labeled that way. So I looked for what most closely resembled pork. Looking back, I have no idea what the label said, but I remember thinking, this is probably close enough.

It wasn’t.

So I seasoned the meat with a blend I found online for a carnitas, stuck it in the crockpot and left it to cook all day. Eight hours later when I went to check on it, I sliced it down the middle and saw that it was still pink. Like REALLY pink. How could this be, I thought, it has been cooking all day? Then it dawned on me. This wasn’t the pork loin or whatever I thought it was. It was ham. I had just seasoned ham as taco meat. I was going to have shredded ham tacos for at least the next three days.

And you know what? I was really looking forward to this meal. Why? It was my first meal after I finally finished the gelatinous paste crockpot chicken marsala.

I cleansed my palate eating out in Dublin for a few days after that.