A Chicken, A Salad, A Chocolate Cake.

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"Essayez les huîtres des Rocheuses."
“Essayez les huîtres des Rocheuses.”

When I moved into my condo, I chose not to get a washer and dryer.

There’s a hookup in my pantry (nearly typed “panty”) for this, but I have my priorities. These piorities include high heels, quality prosecco, and a refusal to allow enormous metal boxes to hold my pantry hostage. Besides, there’s a cheery, spacious laundry room in my building. Let the 21st floor have the metal boxes; my calves get exercise anyhow when I take the stairs with a hamper on my hip.

The best part of the laundry room is that there’s this magazine shelf. Done with your magazine, kindly resident? Put it on the shelf for someone else to enjoy! Give a magazine, take a magazine. This is almost worth my entire monthly assessment. On the shelf with astonishing regularity are Town & Country, Vogue, W for heaven’s sake! I leave New York and Harper’s and Elle and though the magazines are not always current, it doesn’t matter. Is Town & Country any more relevant to me now than it was in April of 2011? You see my point.

There are often, gloriously, issues of Food & Wine and Bon Appetite, though these go fast. It was in a hastily grabbed March 2012 issue of Bon Appetite that I learned a simple, fascinating way to discern a good cook from a mediocre one. Ready for this?

Ask the chef to roast a chicken, make a salad, and bake a chocolate cake. That’s all you tell them. Here now, excerpts from the article by Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer:

“You can tell a lot about a person’s cooking skills from these tasks. Take a roast chicken. First, there’s choosing the bird itself: Is it organic and locally raised, or one of those hormone-injected, bodybuilder-like things? Do the cooks rub the skin with butter, olive oil, or nothing at all? How are those trussing skills? Do they roast long and slow or high and fast?”

On salad:

“When they make the salad, what is the choice of greens–tender, crunchy, or both? How do they wash, dry, and store the leaves? Is the vinaigrette made with lemon juice or vinegar?”

And the cake?

“Even a simple chocolate cake requires some baking acumen, not to mention imagination. A sponge cake is really just two foaming batters folded together as the flour and cocoa are gradually sprinkled in. Visualizing those delicate batters, you can see and know how to carefully mix them together without deflating one tiny bubble.”

And so it is that I have a system for gauging my own cooking: In what manner do I roast a chicken? Just what is my chicken-style? If I have a signature salad, I can say with conviction that whatever it is, nuts are involved. As for the cake, I made a killer Sacher torte over the holidays last year and if I needed to impress, I’d do that again.

There’s a special feeling one gets reading words like, “rub the skin with butter,” “tender, crunchy,” and “two foaming batters” while doing a load of whites. To be learning and drying, well, it’s worth a nice roasted chicken for dinner, at least.