Cooking with Covid

Cooking with Crisco and Sudsing with Dreft. You have to be someone of a certain age to remember that old jingle, but here’s a 2021 twist.

With restaurants shut down during the pandemic many of us have had to re-up our cooking skills. One extreme example would be that of my literary agent. Alice and her husband were stuck on Kawaii for a number of months. For her it was either learn to cook or starve, and to everyone’s surprise, including her own, she’s become quite adept at rattling those pots and pans.

The same is true for me. Years ago, during the course of my first marriage and later as a single mom, I cooked, of course, and in the early years of Bill’s and my marriage as well. But then, after Bill retired, he took over most of the cooking responsibilities, and why not? He’s better at it than I am. I was still in charge of Thanksgiving dinner and when it came to baking rhubarb or pumpkin pies, but for day to day meals, he was the one doing the cooking.

A year or so ago, I wrote about being a fan of plain Jane French toast—the kind made with plain white bread that hasn’t been jazzed up with cinnamon or vanilla or lemon zest or powdered sugar. Why anyone would slice up a sweet roll, coat that with batter, and call it French toast is beyond me. But it turns out most restaurants only cook the fancy kinds, and so for a long time, I did without. Then, after paying all of forty bucks for a non-stick griddle from Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I was off to the French toast races. The griddle sits out in the open and in a place of honor on our stovetop. It’s good for French Toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, and grilled tuna sandwiches as well. It’s so slick that the only cleaning required is a wipe down with a damp paper towel.

Bill loves to watch Cook’s Country. My problem with that is they always seem to make things harder than they need to be. In the one we saw last night, they slathered a beef roast with rosemary before putting it in the oven. I found myself wondering “WHY?” Who needs rosemary with roast beef? And then they sliced up some skinless chicken breasts, coated them in a beer batter that included chopped almonds, and deep fried them—something that took two quarts of oil and a thermometer attached to the pan! What did they do with all that leftover grease?

Here’s my idea. I melt a cube of butter and pour it into a pie plate and mix in a tablespoon or so of minced garlic. (I keep a jar of that in the fridge.) I make a breading mixture on a paper plate—Panko, some Wondra Flour, salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion power, and paprika. Then I use our very old cast iron frying pan. I put some of the butter and garlic mixture in the bottom of the frying pan before lining things up on the counter, left to right—frying pan, breading mix, and butter/garlic. If you have those close enough together, there’s no muss/no fuss as you coat the chicken first in the butter mx and ,then the crumbs before placing it frying pan. After pouring the remaining butter around the sides of the pan, I add in a couple of quartered waxy potatoes and maybe a vegie or some sort. This week I decorated the edge of the pan with potatoes and frozen Brussel sprouts before cooking he whole shebang for an hour and fifteen minutes at 375. It was a wonderful one-pan meal.

I’m Scandinavian through and through, but I’ve developed enough secret ragu short cuts that people might suspect me of being Italian. Newman’s Own Marinara sauce is fine as far as it goes, but it’s a little bland. I add in some ground round, some of my minced garlic, salt and pepper, some ground Parmesan cheese, and my secret ingredient for all things Italian–a couple of tablespoons of Pesto Classico! I’ve been known to go so far as to mix IKEA Swedish meatballs into this handy-dandy version of ragu. Talk about fusion cuisine! As for my favorite pasta? That would be angel hair. Once it’s in boiling water on the stove, I know for a fact that if I walk 180 steps, it will be done perfectly!

And speaking of steps. On Sunday morning, I was out walking and wondering what we were going to have for breakfast. I was thinking about French toast, but then a memory from long ago popped into my head—Monte Christo sandwiches. Remember those? We just happened to have the very last four pieces of our Easter ham still sitting in the fridge. Isn’t that what was in those Monte Christo sandwiches—French toast, ham, and melted cheese? So into the house I went and mixed up some French toast. What’s my recipe for that? Two egg, a literal pinch of salt, a heaping sugar spoon of sugar, and enough milk until it looks right. Once the French toast was cooked on one side, I piled on slices of ham and cheese while the other side cooked. Once the cheese started to melt, I slapped them together and served them with Lingonberry jam not strawberry. (I’m Swedish, remember?)

When I was in high school, Miss Rosewarne gave me a bad grade in Home-Ec after I added three teaspoons of salt to a chocolate cream pie. It should have been three teaspoons of something else, and trust me, it was AWFUL! So the idea of my writing a blog filled with J.A. Jance’s cooking secrets is almost as unlikely as my routinely handing out exercise advice. I still remember the dismayed look on my doctor’s face when I told him a few years back that my major form of exercise was jumping to conclusions.

The BHS classmates who had to choke down that long ago chocolate cream pie would probably think that I have a lot of nerve for sharing cooking advice of any kind.

And they’re right—more nerve than a bad tooth!

So now you have my permission go rattle your own Covid pots and pans! Have fun. You might turn out to be better at cooking than you ever knew.

PS. By the way, for as long as Evie could get it Dreft was my mother’s favorite laundry detergent. No wonder that jingle is imprinted on my heart.