Photo of Meryl Streep portraying Julia Child in the movie Julie & Julia. Photo taken by Jonathan Wenk for Columbia/Sony.
For most girls growing up in the South, cooking is an art that is learned from their mothers, who learned how to cook from their mothers, who learned how to cook (well, you get the idea). For me, it just didn't happen. Instead of helping my mom cook, I was busy reading a book or playing outside with my friends. My job was to set the table before dinner and to clean up afterwards.
As I grew older, I learned how to make cross-wind landings in single-engine airplanes, how to pack a parachute, and how to turn flips in freefall. But the two things that continued to give me trouble were cooking and baking. I guess you could say that we just didn't mix very well.
I'll never forget the year my husband went out of town on my birthday, leaving us girls alone to celebrate. You can't celebrate a birthday without a cake, so we went to the grocery store and bought a box of cake mix, some frosting in a can, and decorations to go on top. Hmmm. We called that cake a "dinosaur wasteland" and not just because the decorations were tiny little dinosaurs. We gave it that name because it looked like a dinosaur wasteland. The frosting kept sticking to the cake, causing me to peel off huge chunks of cake every time I made a swipe to add more frosting. It wasn't a pretty thing at all.
And cooking? Well... other than cooking spaghetti and my own family recipe, I've left the kitchen to my husband. Let's just say he's done a lot (okay, make that 99.9%) of the cooking since we've been married. He's the kind of person who can come in and put together a meal in less than 30 minutes. Get me in the kitchen and a dish that's supposed to take 10 minutes to prepare and another 20 minutes to cook might take two hours to complete.
That is until now!
If you want to know what I've been up to this summer, look no further. I've been in the kitchen learning how to cook. Complete meals... not just a dish here or there... but complete meals!
No, I didn't run out and buy a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Instead I turned to any Southern gal's best pal in the kitchen (that would be Paula Deen), my neighborhood Publix store, and a few other trusted souls. With their help, I've been able to wow my family with some pretty good eating these past couple of months. And most importantly, I've begun to get comfortable in the kitchen. The acts of chopping vegetables, mincing fresh herbs, and stirring the pot have been rewarded with savory aromas and a pervading sense of well-being that I felt when I began to actually feed my family something good. Instead of feeling rushed and unsure of myself, I began to enjoy the process.
I can't wait to tell you about one of my family's favorite dishes.... It's Paula Deen's Herbed Stuffed Chicken Breasts (page 65 of The Lady & Sons Savannah Country Cookbook).
Paula Deen (courtesy of pauladeen.com)
When you read the recipe, you'll see that you have to pound the chicken breasts and then coat them on one side with cream cheese. After that, you place crumbled feta cheese on top. Then, you sprinkle basil, oregano, and Paula's House Seasoning over all of it. Next, (this is the fun part) you roll the chicken breast up and wrap a slice of uncooked bacon around it.
When I place the chicken breasts in a baking dish and pour melted butter on top, I just have to stand back and admire my creation. It looks like something you would be served in a nice restaurant... something cooked by a real chef!
If you haven't heard of Paula Deen, you may want to mosey on over to her Web site. You can read all about her or just skip to the recipes that are posted online.
I'll tell you more about what I learned from Publix and the other trusted souls in the weeks to come. Until then... as Paula says, "let's get cookin'!"
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