When I was in junior high, home ec was a required part of the school curriculum. Well, home ec or shop. The girls usually took home ec to cook and sew skateboard pillows (mine was pink and purple with stripes and Hang 10 felt feet) and the boys toughed out the wood shop to make bookends or the like.
I remember very little about what we cooked through my 8th grade year. Except for the mayonnaise. I remember the mayonnaise so, so very clearly.
Because I failed. Failed mayo. Do they even teach mayo in middle school any more??
I don't remember the teacher's name, but what I remember is that she yelled at me; yelled about the stupid mayonnaise. Something I'd never made before and something, that for a new cook, require patience and sometimes even a bit of finesse. I've thought about it for years and I've never forgotten that feeling, deep in my gut that I wasn't good enough. For mayonnaise.
Think about it: Here's the recipe, here's a whisk, be sure you drizzle the oil in one drop at a time. To a thirteen year-old girl. One Drop. At. A. Time.
Patience has never once been one of my virtues. I want it and I want it now. You want me to pour this entire cup of oil in a drop at a time? Are you insane??? And at 13? Not a chance.
I was certain that if I just whisked hard, I could take a few liberties with the whole drop thing and perhaps just start with a steady stream of oil. FYI -- that doesn't work. I had created a gloppy, nasty, oily mess and was told it was completely unusable (which is not entirely true: you can fix a mayo that breaks into clumps--no, really--you can).
Mayo is all about forming an emulsion with egg yolks, oil, and a touch of seasoning, perhaps Dijon mustard, salt, and maybe the teeniest, tiniest hint of acid. You don't rush it. You take your time and do your best to get all zen with it. If you've done it right, you're rewarded with something luscious, creamy, and silky. Something that tastes nothing like that junk in a jar. Something that any Frenchman (or woman) would be proud to drag their fries through. And it is delicious.
I've been thinking quite a bit about the building blocks of cooking. The little shortcuts we've accepted over the years as required or really haven't given any thought to at all. How to roast a chicken in a cast iron skillet, or how to make homemade chicken stock or a good no-knead bread, how to make your own grainy mustard (it's super easy--pinky swear), and yes, how to make real, honest-to-goodness mayonnaise. No blender in sight. Just you, some eggs, and a bit of oil, whisk in hand, ready to take the challenge.
With the new domesticity sweeping the land, the timing seems right to teach you a few simple recipes and techniques that will ramp of the quality of your food, without a lot of hassle.
So I came up with this class: The Homemade Kitchen: Back to Basics.
On January 25 and March 17, 2012, I'll hold your hand and walk you through a few of the steps your grandmothers took to make your dinners, well, just better. And I promise, if your mayo breaks, I won't yell, not even a little bit. We'll just walk through how to fix it, and maybe give it another go. Because it's just food after all.