Cooking Hints from the Cookery Maid

I believe I’ve mentioned before that there was plenty of singing in the Busk household when I was growing up. We sang while we did the dishes, while we did Saturday morning house cleaning, and while we went on long family drives. The songs we sang were the ones our mother taught us. Evie had the lyrics to hundreds of songs lodged in her head. As for our father? He listened but didn’t participate. As my brother Arlan once said, “There are eighty-eight keys on the piano, and Daddy sings in the cracks.”

So today we’ll start with one of my personal favorites of Evie Busk’s songs.

There once was a maiden to cooking school went, Vive la cookery maid.
On dishes delicious her heart was intent, Vive la cookery maid.
Her apron was spotless her cap it was neat, The figure she made was distractingly sweet, But the stuff she concocted a goat couldn’t eat.
Vive la cookery maid.

She started with doughnuts that didn’t cook through, Vive la cookery maid.
She toyed with the soup and they used it for glue, Vive la cookery maid.
The used her plum pudding to poison the rats, Her griddle cakes could have been used for door mats, With her biscuits her brother disabled three cats, Vive la cookery maid.

At last she made something, a pie so she said, Vive la cookery maid.
’Twas hard as sole leather and heavy as lead, Vive la cookery maid.
She put it away and retired to bed
A burglar broke in and upon it he fed.
When they came in the morning, the burglar was dead, Vive la cookery maid!

See there? Even as a little kid, I loved murder mysteries!

But the truth is, I grew up to be a walking talking ‘cookery maid.’ In a high school Home Ec class I mistook 1 tablespoon for 1 teaspoon. The resulting chocolate cream pie was inedible.

At Pima Hall, there was a good reason I didn’t sign up for any of the cooking duties. I didn’t want to poison anyone.

I managed to pick up a few cooking skills during my first marriage and while I was divorced—I was especially good at pancakes, but once I married Bill, he did most of the cooking. I made occasional pies—pumpkin in the fall and rhubarb in the spring. I also took charge of Thanksgiving dinner, but Bill was usually the one at the helm in the kitchen, and he was very good at it.

All that changed four years ago when a sudden onset of health issues put me in charge of the kitchen for the first time at age 75. It’s been a long learning curve. I own an InstaPot but I haven’t exactly made friends with it. My failed effort to make chicken curry in that was definitely a one-and-done affair.

But I’ve kept at it. My initial efforts at making breaded pork chops were always spectacular failures. One day Bill found a recipe for wiener schnitzel which he printed out and handed to me. I’m accustomed to starting rattling pots and pans about 5:15 in the afternoon in order to have dinner at six.

That’s what I did that day, too, but then I read the recipe. You dose the pork cutlets with lime juice and salt—then you let them rest for half an hour. Then you dose them with flour—and let them rest for half an hour. Then you dose them with the egg batter and crumbs—and let them rest for half an hour. Then you cook them over a low heat.

Dinner wasn’t ready at six pm that night. By you’d better believe the coating stuck. I’ve since breaded pork chops with everything from potato chips to Cheez-Its. Trust me, that hour and a half of resting is what makes it work. By the way, the same technique can be applied to coconut prawns.

Somewhere during the pandemic, I gave French toast a try. Last week I gave my grandson a choice between a trip to Burgermaster or Grandma’s French Toast. He chose the latter. Whoo-hoo!!!

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I made short ribs in my trusty CrockPot while the InstaPot continues to gather dust. They were delicious, and I tasted them as I went. If you decide to give short ribs a try, be advised. You’ll have to spend half an hour or so ladling grease off the top of the gravy.

While the ribs were cooking, I boiled a big pot of potatoes and mashed them—with plenty of melted butter and sour cream. That’s what Bill and I had for dinner last night—short ribs and mash. During dinner I noticed there wasn’t enough color to the mix, so after dinner I added a bag of frozen peas to the ribs. Then I grabbed five plastic takeout containers and dished up five meals worth of short ribs and mash. They’re in the freezer now, and we’ll be having those for dinners here and there along the way when I’m ready to press the easy button rather than rattling pots and pans.

I’m sure Miss Rosewarren, my high school Home Ec teacher, is spinning in her grave at the idea of my writing a blog update full of cooking hints. My Phys Ed teachers would be equally astonished at the idea of my becoming an on-line fitness advocate. Please note I didn’t say “coach.” As far as I’m concerned, the coaches I met in my past life were anything but encouraging!

As for tonight’s dinner? We won’t be having short ribs and mash. The menu for tonight is egg salad, with the eggs cooked in my six-egg egg cooker—which works like a charm, by the way. In my past life, I’ve burned up more than one pan while boiling eggs. As long as you remember to unplug it when you’re done, the egg cooker doesn’t overheat.

By the way, don’t ask me how I happen to know that last small detail.

It wasn’t pretty.