Last month, after I finished running 26.2 miles, more than one person said to me, “I could never run a marathon. I can barely run a block,” to which I would respond: “Anyone can run a marathon if they want to, if it interests them.” I believe that. You put one foot in front of the other. You do it every day. You increase the mileage slowly. You eventually cross the finish line. Most people have no desire and they confuse that with a lack of ability. That’s normal. Running 26 miles is not.
In the same vein, I’ve lost count of how many people have told me they can’t cook (not to be confused with “I don’t cook”, which is just plain willful). I don’t believe that’s honest. Anyone can create an edible dish if they really want to. Desire is necessary. Encouragement is a big plus. It also helps to be literate so you can read a recipe and follow it. The more you try, the better you’ll get. Unlike athletic talent or a musical gift worthy of Carnegie Hall, I don’t adhere to the idea that cooking is an endowment. If you practice enough and experience success, you’ll build enough confidence in the kitchen so you won’t have to follow a recipe and still serve a meal that won’t make your guests or family want to retreat to the bathroom after and stick two fingers down their throat.
Priscilla Welch, by her own admission, was a couch potato and a pack-a-day smoker when she took up running at age thirty-five. She won the New York City Marathon seven years later, in 1987. Now, no matter how hard I train, I don’t think my muscles will ever be capable of such a feat. Welch is naturally gifted in running long distances swiftly. But, I can boast of having decent enough marathon finishes to qualify for Boston three times, after having been a bloated wreck of a thing at age twenty-nine.
When I moved away from home at seventeen, I didn’t know to put a lid on a pot of water so it would boil faster. Five years later, I still had no idea how to cook a baked potato, much less season it.
I don’t think I’ll ever be Julia Child or Mario Batali, but I’m no longer afraid to look at their recipes and occasionally attempt to recreate a masterpiece. Sometimes I fail, but more often than not, I get compliments and a request for a second helping. Not bad for someone who didn’t know how to beat an egg properly until her mid-twenties.
You get my point.
There’s a good chance if you read Thursdays in the kitchen with Jo, you’re not afraid of the word sauté or the phrase “season to taste”. On the flipside, you might be like a co-worker I knew years ago who had cereal with her husband every night for dinner. She claimed to not know how to use the microwave.
Don’t think a dish has to be fancy to be appreciated. I have three children. I don’t have time for fancy. To that end, I give you today’s recipe, a slight twist on an old-time comfort food – the twice-baked potato. Depending on how you garnish it, it’s hearty enough for a meal. This recipe serves 6.
Bleu cheese twice-baked potatoes
3 large russet potatoes (almost a pound each)
¼ cup butter (half a stick)
½ cup milk
2 T. sour cream
½ cup crumbled bleu cheese
Chives (chopped, for garnish)
Bacon (for garnish, optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400°. Scrub potatoes clean and dry. Put a few drops of olive oil in your hands and rub the potatoes with it. You don’t want to pour the olive oil over the potatoes because it’ll be too much and they’ll get soft/soggy in the oven. Sprinkle with salt. Place the potatoes directly on the oven rack and cook for approximately one hour, or until you can easily pierce them with a fork. Allow them to cool for about ten minutes. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, melt the butter and add milk and sour cream. Cut the potatoes in half and gently scoop out the middle, creating a potato skin “boat”. I make my mashed potatoes using a ricer, but you can use the back of a fork or a hand or upright mixer. Add the butter/milk/sour cream to the mashed potatoes. Add 1/3 cup of the bleu cheese and mix well. You can use a pastry bag to squeeze the potato mix back into the skins (fancy) or you can just spoon it back in. Sprinkle each half with a few pieces of bleu cheese and put back into a 400° oven for about 5 minutes or until slightly brown on top. Garnish with chives and/or bacon bits.
When you get comfortable with this recipe, you can do whatever you want with it. Substitute different cheeses. Add garlic and rosemary. It’s great for a dinner party because you can make it in advance, clean up, and just leave the browning for right before you serve the meal.
You’re not afraid to eat. Don’t be afraid to cook.
FYI, I’ve had six glasses of water already today. I’m floating away.