Anything but Ramen: Reevaluating my culinary ability

Food columnist Aaron Pellish on finding something to impress his mother with when he goes home for Thanksgiving

When I realized that we are more than halfway through first semester, my mind went to a couple places really quickly.

My first thought was, “It feels like I’ve already done three semesters since school started. Please just make it stop, for the love of all that is good. Make this semester end already, please.”

My second thought was, “Thanksgiving break is coming up soon! I get to go home and try out some new recipes on my mom!”

My third and most relevant thought was, “Wow, I’ve really been slacking on my food column. I should start making cooler stuff so I can prove to my mom I actually know how to cook when I go home.”

I have to admit to myself that the food I’ve been making recently hasn’t exactly been the most complicated or exciting food I could have made. Last week, I made mashed potatoes. Literally, I just boiled potatoes and then mashed them and had an actual party in my home while I did that, because that’s how it is to cook mashed potatoes from scratch.

If I’m going to impress my mom when I go home, though, I figured I needed to start elevating my degree of difficulty for my meals from now on.

When I asked my friends (and the Internet) for suggestions on complicated meals to make that would challenge my cooking ability, they gave me types of foods that either A) required me to get a larger and more thoroughly-prepared kitchen, or B) take a nap and somehow magically wake up as a five-star chef.

Since neither of those were happening, I got upset at how limited I was in my ability to cook cool stuff. In my fury, I threw my hands in the air and looked up recipes for a dish that I assumed was complicated beyond measure: gnocchi.

Making pasta from scratch has the reputation of being a strictly grandmotherly activity because nobody else has the time or the incentive to make their own dough from scratch and then flatten it out and harden it and do all the other little complicated things that goes into making pasta by hand.

Gnocchi, as it turns out, is very different. Whereas most pastas are grain-based, gnocchi is potato-based, and potatoes are a lot easier to work with than raw wheat. Apparently, gnocchi is not as notoriously complicated to make as I thought it would be, which got me very excited. Gnocchi is exactly the kind of badass thing I need to be able to make in order to impress my mother.

To start, I got a box of instant mashed potato mix, emptied it in a bowl and poured about two cups of boiling water into it. At this point, I had successfully made mashed potatoes. (That’s how easy it is to make mashed potatoes, in case it wasn’t clear enough already.)

Then I threw in a couple of eggs, salt, pepper and a whole bunch of flour, and made a dough. Finally, I took that dough, cut it into tiny little balls, and boiled them until they floated to the top of the pot. Throw on some sauce, and you’ve got yourself some bona fide, restaurant-level gnocchi.

I’m glad gnocchi isn’t that hard to make, only because now I feel like I can repeat the recipe quickly and easily when I get home. In case it isn’t readily obvious, I care a lot about if I’m actually improving as a cook or if I’m just a good enough cook to consistently impress my perpetually hungry roommates.

My mother is an honest person and someone with cooking ability that I respect, so it means a lot to me to be able to go home and prove to my mom that I can actually cook real food other than Kraft Mac & Cheese. With this gnocchi recipe, I think I’ll be able to prove it to her.

And even if she thinks its bad, I’ll just tell her that if she doesn’t eat it, she won’t get any dessert, just like she used to tell me.

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