December 8, 2020

AUSTIN | Does Mollie Katzen Know You Raid Her Cookbook?

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Normally, I’ll cook one stand-alone recipe or two dishes that go together every week. But this week I was feeling very productive and made two completely separate dishes — one sweet and one savory. For my sweet dinner, I made Cottage Cheese Apple Pancakes, and for my savory dinner, I made Spanish Couscous Paella. Please do not eat these together.

I am a proud card-carrying member of the Breakfast Club. I would eat traditional breakfast foods for any and every meal if given the chance. If I was planning my ideal menu, it would be pancakes with a side of more pancakes. However, as much as I love pancakes, I initially wasn’t quite sure how I felt about the addition of cottage cheese, much less cooked cottage cheese. But I was very pleasantly surprised. 

My first step was to grate the apple. Considering I don’t have a grater and I don’t trust my knife skills, it was time to whip out the food processor. After mixing the chopped apples, flour, egg, cottage cheese and cinnamon, it looked revolting. It was chunky, brown, white and awfully vomit-y looking, but unexpectedly smelled delicious, like fall — warm, crisp and a little bit smokey, even before I charred the bottoms. 

I heated up the pan, scooped a quarter cup of batter in and watched the cottage cheese melt in a very unsettling way. It started to bubble and firm up like regular mozzarella cheese — exactly what I don’t want to eat in a pancake. I’ve never met a pancake I don’t like, but at this point, I was seriously having my doubts. 

After cooking, I slathered on some peanut butter, doused them in maple syrup, and took a veeeery tentative bite. Oh my gosh! They were moist from the cottage cheese, deliciously carb-y and had little explosions of sweetness when I bit into an apple chunk. They tasted so much better than they looked (which is a pretty common theme with my cooking) and are definitely my favorite recipe so far. 

I’m not sure what classic appliances are in Collegetown kitchens, but I’m pretty sure a food processor isn’t usually included. In this case, a blender or grater would work just as well for the apple — or if you’re feeling ambitious, try out your knife skills. I would give it a 7/10 for ease, a 3/10 for appearances because it looked like the aftermath of a wild night out and a 9/10 for overall taste. I’m not normally a leftovers person (I leave that to my roommate), but I even ate them for breakfast the next morning. They warm up well in the microwave, and if you slap some chunky peanut butter over top, they’re delicious.

Now we have the savory dinner (ew). My roommate would take savory over sweet any day; often, the leftovers won’t even make it a full 24 hours because she’ll eat them for breakfast. We’re quite the pair — me with my 24/7 breakfast, and her eating chicken soup at 8 a.m. 

When a meal sucks, parents tell children to be polite and say “it’s not to my liking,” instead of “your cooking is atrocious.” This paella was not to my liking. However, it was probably the most adequately seasoned of any of the savory dishes I’ve made thus far from the cookbooks. 

Couscous is great for everyone who hates washing dishes because it’s a one pot recipe. The vegetables are sauteed in the same saucepan that the pasta is (Google told me couscous is not a grain) cooked in, and, if you’re like me, it acts as a serving dish as well.

After sauteeing the vegetables in olive oil, I added the spices, frozen peas and water. When it was time to add the couscous, the recipe called for an additional tablespoon of margarine or butter. That seemed like a lot of added fat, but I’ve never made paella before, so I didn’t know if this was standard. I added the margarine and couscous, crossed my fingers and prayed that it cooked properly.

I have a horrible track record when it comes to water absorption. Growing up, I was very fortunate to have a home-cooked meal on the table nearly every night. My mom taught herself how to cook, and I think she did a pretty darn good job at it. When I began cooking at home, most of what I learned came via osmosis from watching my mom. However, the one thing my mom cannot do is make rice. Somehow her rice is always either burnt to the side of the pot, soft on the outside and crunchy in the middle or all stuck together in a mass of starch, salt and the occasional raw rice grain. I inherited her rice-making skills (or lack thereof). 

After the longest eight minutes of my life, I pulled the lid off the pot to reveal … beautifully cooked couscous. While I’m not sure I can really describe it as beautiful, since it was brown and kind of sad looking, it was fully cooked and, surprisingly enough, cooked well. I would probably remove that extra tablespoon of margarine at the end because it made the texture a little slimy. That being said, this was super easy to make and didn’t require any fancy ingredients or materials (since I left out the scallions), so I would give it a 9/10 for Collegetown capability. In terms of taste, I would give it a 5/10 because it wasn’t to my liking. However, to provide an unbiased opinion, my roommate who ate it for breakfast the next morning would give it an 8/10 (but “wouldn’t call it a paella”). 

This was my favorite week yet. Both of the recipes were easy, I didn’t mess up on either one and both my roommate and I were happy. After doing this for about a month, I think there’s a learning curve. After a lot of bumps in the road (and pretty much driving off the side of a cliff with that disaster of a carrot soup), I finally hit my stride. While I’m by no means converting to being a recipe person, maybe this won’t be as bad as I thought. I guess I’ll find out next week.

Sarah Austin is a sophomore in the Cornell School of Hotel Administration. She can be reached at sarahaustin@cornellsun.com