The Conundrum of Cooking

I live in constant fear of undercooking food.

Allow me to elaborate. (I mean, that’s why you’re reading this, isn’t it? To hear me elaborate on some ridiculous topic.)

I hate cooking. I really do. I don’t like making food at all, for various reasons, which I don’t really care to think about, but I guess I could summarize it in about three main points of dislike: it’s too much work, it takes too much time, it takes too much planning. It’s just the whole, “Wow I’m really craving some mac and cheese,” followed by the whole, “Oh, well I guess I’ll have to go buy all these super complicated ingredients, like the box of mac and cheese, and milk, and butter,” followed by the whole “boiling water” ordeal, followed by the whole “mix it all together” nonsense. And by the time I’m done with all that running around (because the smoke alarm will inevitably go off and I will have to deal with the fire department, and so on) I don’t even want the damn mac and cheese anymore; I’ve moved on to bigger and better things– like spaghetti.

Anyway, so I hate cooking so I never really learned how to cook because it wasn’t something I was interested in. So when I got my own place, I sort of relied on eating the most rudimentary foods at abnormal times in the day, like a bowl of canned corn at 3 PM, or a salad at 11 AM, or Poptarts at midnight. And that was all well and good for me for a while, until I went on a kick of only eating at restaurants, which was all well and good until I decided it was cheaper and healthier to buy and eat groceries. But back to the main point.

I live in constant fear of undercooking food.

So I have a basic idea of what various foods should look like at their proper cook time/temperature. I know chicken should be white and ground beef should be brown and toast should be golden, but that doesn’t eliminate this fear I have that I won’t do it good enough. When others cook food, I’m fine; I live in this mentality where I view everyone else on this planet as infinitely more competent at cooking than I am, and thus I trust everyone else to just know how to do this cooking thing that I somehow missed out on. I have absolute peace of mind when others cook my food, because they’ve done this; they do this. I don’t.

That leads me to go to some extreme measures when cooking. Once I made a chicken breast in the oven, and I used my roommate’s meat thermometer on it even though the inside was completely white. I just wanted to make sure! And then I even put it back in the oven because I needed to be triply sure. It got a little burnt, which ruined the taste a little, and made it kind of dry, but at least I didn’t get salmonella.

Another time I made tilapia and I didn’t know if it was done. I cooked it at the appropriate temperature for the appropriate time, but as I was eating the flaky yummy fishness, I still doubted myself. “I’m gonna get sick… But it tastes so good.” It turned out fine; I was just paranoid of course.

And yet another time, I reheated chicken on the stove top that had been leftover in my fridge for a week, and I wanted to make sure I heated it up well and good enough to where I wouldn’t die. I had it on there for so long that it burnt, and even still, when I went to eat it, it didn’t feel hot enough so I picked it all out and threw it away. I was just too nervous about it.

That’s why I don’t cook meat anymore. I’m not a vegetarian, I just leave the meat-heating to the professionals: everyone else.

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from undercooking my other food; last week I was making pierogis, and the outsides started to burn, so I figured I had let them cook long enough, but when I took a bite out of them, the insides were still cold and stuck together. But I had already doused them in the appropriate amount of sour cream (read: ALL the sour cream), and so I couldn’t throw them back in the pan. I ended up sadly nibbling around the edges of them regretting a variety of life choices I had made leading up to that point. I got Chipotle later.

You can see this is a real problem. It’s just that even when food comes out looking right, I still don’t trust myself not to have royally overlooked some life-saving executive food decision. I’m like, “The chicken is white throughout… But is it too eggshell-white and not enough cream-white? Or vice versa? Juliet! (that’s my cat) Where are the paint samples? I need to compare the swatches to my chicken.”

And it’s not even that I’ve been wronged by undercooked food in the past; I have never had food poisoning, I’ve never gotten sick from something I ate, I’m just ridiculous. I have never been scorned by the raw cruelty of meat or other food items. I mean, it’s a totally irrational fear and I’ve proven to myself time and time again that I’m not going to die from eating a burnt chicken breast that I’m still not convinced is cooked enough.

In the end, I just buy groceries that don’t involve heat beyond a toaster. Oh, I can cook Eggo waffles like a pro. Popcorn, oh yeah. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I could concoct in my sleep. Don’t even get me started on whipping up some apple slices and peanut butter. And peanut butter banana smoothies– I’m really good at making those. (I maaay have to write a blog entry about peanut butter in the near future.)

So because of all this, I stick to foods that can’t harm me by consuming them un-cooked: peanut butter, with a side of peanut butter. Topped with peanut butter ice cream. And chocolate syrup (I’m not a madwoman, after all).

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