I had known how to cook for a long time. I could make toast. I could even do hot dogs, instant oatmeal and pour a bowl of cereal. There came a time in life when that wasn't enough though and I would have to step it up more than a notch or two for Brett and myself to survive.
Brett was in his late pre-teens when Barb took a job that required her to work well past the dinner hour on a regular basis. It fell upon me to become the head chef of the house for week day dinners. I knew that it would take more than sandwiches, toast or oatmeal to keep Brett and I on a health diet. I decided to turn to a source of cooking that could not go wrong. Hamburger Helper was the obvious answer to my predicament. I went to the store and picked up five pounds of hamburger and five boxes of Hamburger Helper. We decided we liked the Cheeseburger flavored best and so the next week I got two boxes of the cheeseburger mix.
After three weeks of a steady diet of Hamburger Helper with Cheeseburger being the choice for up to three times a week, we became experts on the meals. We were becoming such experts on the meals that dinner was becoming something to dread instead of something to look forward to.
I came home from work one afternoon and looked at the row of boxes on the shelf set for that weeks dinner. This was not going to work. I had visions of the scene from "Vacation" where Randy Quaid says that "They call it Hamburger Helper but I think it tastes fine all by itself." Brett and I were not going to be sinking that low on the food chain.
I started looking elsewhere in the cabinets and came across a can of Campbell Soup. The neat thing about this can was that on the back of it, there was a recipe for a dish of food that could serve as a meal. I looked at other cans of soup. They all had a recipe on them, a different recipe for each kind of soup. This could be the answer to our problem. That night I made a chicken pot pie that was very tasty and also a welcome change from our former diet.
I soon became an expert on the recipes from Campbell Soups. I would now buy soup at the store and the ingredients that each recipe required to cook a decent meal for the two of us. As five or six boxes of Hamburger Helper sat aging on the shelf, we became lovers of soup recipes for several weeks.
Soon the excitement of soup recipes went the way of the Hamburger Helpers. Things were becoming too common and boring. Once again dinner was not something to look forward to anymore. Something had to be done and it had to be done quickly. I think Brett was starting to make plans to eat at friends houses every night if something didn't change.
I was talking about my situation at the office one day when one of the girls told me I wasn't cooking at all. All I was doing was warming up stuff and pretending it was a meal. she gave me a recipe for chicken and dumplings. It was real food and it was fairly simple to make. I stopped by the store that night on my way home and picked up what would be needed to prepare the surprise meal for Brett.
He loved it and so did I. I decided we could have that at least once every two weeks. Then I decided that the chicken pot pie worked out fairly well and I added that to a two week menu. Hamburger helper would never again be eaten in our house to this day. We had managed to ruin any chance of any flavor of Hamburger Helper to make any kind of menu in our house.
I picked up a few more recipes from people at the office. The only requirement was that it be different, easy to fix and taste good. I managed to collect a few recipes from the office. Brett and I were starting to enjoy dinner again.
Next I found some old cook books of Barb's and started leafing through them on the look out for something simple. It was in one of these old cook books that I found gold. It was a cookbook that use to be Barb's mothers. It was a collection of recipes from a group of church ladies that they had sold as a fund raiser many years ago. The gold was a recipe that I still fix on a semi regular basis. It was a chicken and rice dish and when I took it out of the oven it was clear that Brett and I had hit the jackpot.
This dish smelled terrific. The golden brown rice hiding the chicken breasts underneath was a golden brown and look extremely tempting. We anxiously got some plates down and dished out the best meal I had ever cooked excepting steaks on the grill of course. I watched Brett as he took the first bite. His eyes closed a little then opened wide. This was great stuff. Before he took his second bite he allowed me to take my first taste. Oh my, now this was cooking. The chicken was tender and had cooked in the rice and mushroom sauce for a little over two hours. Sure it took awhile to cook but it was well worth the wait.
After that experience I began to pour through the cookbooks find something here and there. I was very picky on what recipes sounded good enough to try out. Within two months I was cooking up a storm. We were eating well enough that we felt justified in going out for hamburgers once in awhile. I had hit my stride and had become the cook of the house.
Then it ended. Barb began to come home earlier where she would have time to fix dinner. I fought for my spot as cook of the house but the bottom line was that she was a much better cook than I had developed into. We came across a compromise where I could cook a few times a week while she cooked the rest of the time. As time passed I slowly turned over the reigns of the kitchen back to Barb. She is such a good and natural cook. There was not a chance that I would be able to compete with her except for one item.
Brett and I still absolutely loved that chicken and rice dish we had discovered what seemed like years ago. Barb understands that we love this dish and that it is OUR dish. We have the chicken and rice miracle about once a month and whenever we do have it, I am the one who gets to cook it. It is about the only cooking I do.
Well, I do other cooking as well as the chicken and rice. I make toast, hot dogs, instant oatmeal and pour a bowl of cereal once in a while.