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February 26th, 2006

pâté chinois

One of my goals for 2006 was to make a new recipe each month, something I hadn't made for dinner before. The recipe for February was what most of you know as shepherd's pie (though my copy of Joy of Cooking explains when you use beef, it's properly called cottage pie). However, everyone in my family calls it "Chinese pie," because we're French-Canadians by descent and that's what they call it, pâté chinois. (Actually I thought the name in French was plat de chinois, I don't know whether I'm misremembering, or whether both names are used.) The origin of that name is more complicated than I realized. I always understood it was just a reference to the Asian style of preparing all the food together in a single dish rather than as separate dishes. When I was growing up, the school lunch menus always called macaroni and hamburg "American chop suey," presumably for a similar reason.

Making the dish reminded me of why I don't like cooking. It's a very simple dish: sauté a pound of ground beef with chopped onions and put it in a baking pan; then put in a can of creamed corn; then top it with a layer of mashed potatoes; bake it at 350F for 30 to 45 minutes. Well, it took me an hour and a half just to get these very basic ingredients prepared and put into a pan, so I could bake it. That is way too long! There are plenty of things I'd rather spend an hour and a half doing than preparing a meal that then takes half that time again to cook. For special occasions, sure, but not on a daily or even a-few-times-a-week basis. I did grudgingly admit to myself that maybe if I took a cooking class as certain people are always pushing me to, I might learn some super-secret ninja techniques for reducing preparation time. Still, I can't imagine ever having the enthusiasm for cooking, particularly for experimenting with cooking, that my younger sister has. I'd rather do the clean-up.

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