Cheapness has its place, but the kitchen isn’t one of them.

7 Dec

Well, something has finally happened to me that I never thought would happen: I spent a surprisingly large amount of money (for me, anyway) on kitchen accessories.

Around this time every year, the company I work for gives everyone cash gift cards as a holiday gift. This is completely rad, as it’s a fairly decent chunk of money. Until this point, I have always spent the money on random crap for myself like video games, Snuggies (a man’s gotta have a full range of colors, amiright?), or candy corn. One year I went on an 80’s music spending binge. When’s the last time you listened to Walk the Dinosaur by Was (not Was)? It’s aural sex, I promise you.

While my taste in purchases is eclectic when it comes to random holiday gift cards, one thing has always remained constant: I have always purchased inconsequential shit that I immediately regret.

Always, until this weekend, that is.

My special lady friend works in the book industry. A direct correlation to working in the book industry, believe it or not, is being exposed to a lot of books. As such, I usually expect to see a couple new books in our house every few days. Meg especially likes bringing home two genres of books almost exclusively: fantasy books and cookbooks.

Until about 3 weeks ago, I guess both genres could have classified as fantasy in our house.

Anyway, I’d usually quickly thumb through the cookbooks, looking for the token Thai recipes they contained before tossing the tome back on the kitchen table, not to be used except in my uttermost need. Seriously, Frodo could have hidden the Ring of Power in any of our cookbooks and no man would have ever seen it again.

About the same time we started this 30-day challenge, Meg brought home another cookbook. However, this one immediately caught my attention for two reasons: you could prepare food ahead of time, and everything just required one pot. The cookbook claimed to contain delicious, nutritious one-pot recipes that would layer an entire meal in the pot, structuring everything in such a way that each type of food would cook correctly and completely, retaining its own flavor while at the same time adding to the overall meal. Once the meal was done cooking (which you could judge by smell, by the way), you simply spooned down through all the layers, taking a bit of everything, and you were ready to go.

Sweet Fancy Moses, I thought. This cookbook not only offers to help cook everything in one pot, it will give my wife a complete meal in one pot. No more trying to piece together pairings of meat and whatever else goes along with meat. No more guesswork. It tells me exactly what to put in, and I get a full, correctly proportioned meal for my better half.

There was just one problem with this magical book: every meal required a dutch oven. I should have realized that by the name: Glorious One-Pot Meals: A Revolutionary New Quick and Healthy Approach to Dutch-Oven Cooking.

Glorious One-Pot Meals by Elizabeth Yarnell. It's great. Buy it!

In case you don’t know, a dutch oven is a big-ass cast iron pot. There might be more to it than that, but I don’t really understand anything else. The only things I understood were that dutch ovens were big and heavy, and that I didn’t have one.

No problem, I thought. I saw dutch ovens in a big pile at the grocery store. They cost like 30 bucks. Luckily for me, Meg knows a thing or two about cooking, and more importantly, she knows herself. Invariably, the things that we use in the kitchen the most often are the things that are meant to last and meant to be used often. We have 5 good knives and use them constantly. Our two favorite pans come from a company called Swiss Diamond, and I hardly use anything else.

This, she realized, would be the same. If I bought this $30 dutch oven, it would ruin our food, or it would taste gross, or it would be hard to clean. We would stop using it, and it would be another wasted purchase. “We’re trying to make our dollars go further,” she said. “This would be no different than buying a cheap ass meal at Burger King on the way home. We’ll use it once, and throw it away cause it sucks.”

Of course, Meg was right. And luckily, Meg had answers. Her parents use, and have become loyal followers of, a company out of France called Le Creuset. They make cookware. More importantly for me, they make enamel-coated dutch ovens. This makes them incredibly easy to clean while retaining all of the benefits of a good dutch oven, which I guess cooks food real good. However, the problem is that Le Creuset cookware is pretty spendy: my dutch oven was going to set me back over $200, or ‘Two Notes’ as I never say.

One day, my kitchen will look like this. Except for the teal. Dear god, never the teal.

A couple weeks later, we heard about a pop-up store opening about a mile from where we live. Pop-ups are surprisingly popular nowadays, especially in an economy where ‘for lease’ signs litter strip malls like, well, litter. This particular pop-up would be open for about two weeks, and would only sell…well. You know. This wouldn’t be a very good blog post if it was selling Christmas trees, would it?

We stood there in front of stands of multi-colored Le Creuset pots and pans, when we noticed that almost everything was on sale. Our dutch oven, normally well north of two-hundo, was selling this day for just over $160. Suddenly, without thinking, I grabbed my brand new holiday bonus gift card, and before you could say, “I would like to purchase this dutch oven, please,” we had purchased a brand new, heavy-ass orange bowl of sexiness.

I have to say, the meal was friggin’ AMAZING. We made an asian salmon rice bowl, layering jasmine rice, salmon, fresh veggies, avocado, and a spicy soy sauce in the dutch oven. It flash-cooked everything in just over 30 minutes, and created perfect rice (just a little burnt on the edge of the pan, but not truly burnt, just making a delicious layer of brown, crispy goodness to peel off and eat), crunchy carrots, and perfectly flaky salmon. The avocado provided an incredible creaminess to the whole dish and took the edge off the surprising amount of spiciness created by a tablespoon of red pepper flakes.

I gotta say it. I’m SO happy I didn’t go cheap on this thing. I’m sure the whole experience would have been a nightmare otherwise, forcing me into a life of shame and sadness because I accidentally burned the house down thanks to my crappy dutch oven. I would have invariably tried to put out the flames myself, but everyone knows better than to pour water on a grease fire, so now the skin is sloughing from my bones, flames terrible and hot, my nerves deadened. I stand there in shock, collapsing to the floor in a burning mass of flames, flesh, and failure, my mind reeling at how quickly and completely things have spun out of control. The dog walks by, realizing my terrible need, but she smells the abomination I’ve created in my $30 dutch oven and she recoils, too frightened and disgusted to even urinate on my desiccated frame. I survive, barely, thanks to a firefighter’s pity, and I’m forced to live out my days, alone and nerveless, because Meg realizes that I was never going to improve as a cook, so what’s the point?

That’s right. In my fantasy creative writing session there, my wife leaves a burn victim because he makes bad decisions. I know it’s not true. That’s why it’s called creative writing.

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