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COLUMNS

Jason Offutt: Just pass the ranch dressing

Staff Writer
The Examiner
The Examiner

I like trying new things in the kitchen, and by, “new things,” I don’t mean swinging or setting the refrigerator on fire, I mean food.

If you’re a fellow Midwesterner, you may be afraid of an unfamiliar recipe because it’s exotic and calls for strange ingredients like that seductive temptress paprika. Or, even crazier, it may try and convince you macaroni and cheese doesn’t come out of a box.

Take a deep breath. This is OK.

Sometimes cooks don’t like to step too far outside their comfort zone. In the Midwest, our biggest culinary risk is putting ranch dressing on pizza and, like a jobless relative, we can’t get rid of it. If that’s our crowning achievement, we should definitely experiment with food more often.

“What’s for dinner tonight?” a child asked. I’ve given up keeping track of them. I just hope the ones in the house are ours.

“Chicken,” I said. “And, uhmm.” I did a quick web search for something that goes with chicken. “Herbed rice. Yeah. Herbed rice.”

That’s simple. Just herbs and rice, right? I know a guy named Herb and, trust me, he’s not that complicated either.

Then I read the recipe. Extra-long white basmati rice. Basmati? Boss-mattie? Bathmat? Why doesn’t it just say “rice?”

“Do we have any Bass-O-Matic rice?” I asked my wife.

“No,” she said. “We have Jasmine.”

“Jasmine? Like in ‘a whole new world’?” I sang.

“Quit it,” she said. “Right now.”

I stopped singing. Tonight’s crowd was tough.

The recipe also called for kosher salt. Kosher salt? Seriously? I don’t think it’s possible to ritually slaughter a mineral.

Dill. Now, there’s a word I understood. We have some pickles somewhere.

Next, Italian parsley? Whatsamattawit regular parsley? (I owe someone an apology.)

We have a jar that says “parsley.” It’ll do. How about saffron?

I stopped one of the kids. “You ever heard of saffron?”

The child shrugged. “I think it’s a character from ‘The Lord of the Rings.’ An elf, maybe?”

Oh, geez. I’m supposed to lightly grind it between my fingers. Sorry Legolas, this is going to hurt.

I stopped reading before my head exploded. Who, outside a chef or the French, has these ingredients in their kitchen? When the recipe said “herb,” I thought it might call for something leafy in a bottle marked “Herbs,” not exotic plants from Middle Earth.

There was one ingredient left — dried fenugreek leaves. I’m supposed to have dried fenugreek leaves in my cabinet? I do not. Neither, I suspect, does any grocery store within 50 miles.

One thing a seasoned cook understands is, when faced with ingredients written in the language of elder pagan gods, there are always easy substitutions.

For example, while cooking, if you discover there’s no wine, don’t panic. Slam a couple of beers instead. And, when there’s no saffron or fenugreek? Slam a couple of beers then, too.

See? Easy.

Dinner was fine, but tomorrow night we’re having mac and cheese right out of the box.

Jason Offutt’s upcoming novel, “So You Had to Build a Time Machine,” is available for preorder at jasonoffutt.com.