I have been keeping a secret from you for the last couple years. Partially out of embarrassment and partially out of the belief that I could quickly remedy the situation, I swept it under the cupboards and kept my lips sealed. The truth is that I do not know how to cook. While I know enough to fill the refrigerator and keep my stomach full, the knowledge and techniques involved in cooking often escape me. Take away my spatula and mixing bowl and things quickly slide downhill.
The ability to cook and the ability to bake are often entwined, but to me they have been two very separate activities. They feel different. Baking comes naturally to me; I understand how to turn butter and flour into something beautiful with little effort. Cooking, on the other hand, has always been a challenge. I fumble around fresh cuts of meat and vegetables, uncertain of myself.
My method of cooking is to throw a few vegetables together with egg noodles, top it with a fried egg, and call it dinner. While I do not mind these bland, makeshift meals, they certainly are not worthy enough to serve to anyone else (in fact, my boyfriend often turns his nose up at the strange combinations that find their way onto my plate). I am miserable when it comes to seasoning food, relying heavily on salt and pepper to rescue my dishes. Other spices seem to be beyond my culinary grasp.
My biggest pitfall, however, comes with cooking protein. Every time I place a chicken breast in a hot pan or grill, I radically misjudge the cooking time. I have to cut apart the chicken to check for a pink center (which there invariably is) as all of the juice runs out. I am excellent at preparing dry chicken. Moreover, I was recently informed that I incorrectly fry hamburger, rendering it to a nearly inedible rubber consistency (to my further discredit, I had assumed this was how it was supposed to be).
I did not realize how far I had fallen until I tuned in to the last season of MasterChef. Gordon Ramsey cursed out a contestant for frying an egg incorrectly. Since the contestant's browned, rejected eggs looked just as my own (beloved) eggs, it was another indication of how little skill I possess in front of a hot stove.
When I try to reproduce a recipe, I am fairly successful. To my own credit, I am quite good at following directions. It is when I am left to my own devices that my culinary skills seem to escape me. Recently I have been phasing processed food out of my diet which makes dinner time feel more difficult. While I do pop open the occasional can of soup or spaghetti sauce, the majority of my meals come together on the cutting board. I would love to learn how to cook, to understand vegetables and proteins as well as butter and sugar. To wield a knife and fry a fish fillet to perfection. Perhaps I just need to set aside some time to teach myself, to take away the intimidation and replace it with confidence.
Until I can cook a dinner from scratch that would make my mother proud, I think I will stick to what I know and love—baking. I like to believe this Fresh Strawberry Cake can effortlessly hide any shortcomings I may have in front of the stove.
Fresh Strawberry Cake has a bright, natural flavor and rustic appearance. Fresh strawberries are quartered and pressed into the top of the batter, which gives the option to choose how many or few berries you would like. Whole wheat flour lends the cake a subtle nutty flavor that makes the bites without the berries positively delightful. This may be a simple cake, both in ingredients and appearance, but the flavor is quite remarkable and worth experiencing.
Fresh Strawberry Cake
Yields 7-inch cake
4 tablespoons (57 grams) butter, softened
1/2 cup (112 grams) granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or pure vanilla extract)
1/4 cup (30 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (60 grams) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk
1/2 pound (225 grams) strawberries, hulled and quartered
Powdered sugar, for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Lightly grease a 7-inch cake pan.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla bean paste. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir in the milk. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth evenly.
Press the strawberries cut side down into the batter, distributing them evenly throughout the cake (you can use more or less to taste). Sprinkle cake with roughly a tablespoon of granulated sugar. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until lightly golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool before slicing and serving.