I’m in a pickle. I offered to cook dinner for my in-laws, but as you probably know by now, I cook as well as David Hasselhoff dances. And sings. And acts. My mother-in-law already knows this and she reminds me of it on a regular basis. All the same, I figure that I just need to find the right recipe to shed my bad reputation. So as I’m searching through Paula’s recipes, imagine my surprise when I discover a bunch of easy recipes for slow cookers! I can hardly believe my luck: A batch of recipes written for the cooking impaired.
I select the recipe for Pulled Pickled Beef Sandwiches because my mother-in-law, like any good Midwesterner, loves pickles and loves beef. Putting them together will only double my chances for success. I’m less concerned with impressing my father-in-law. His taste buds are less discriminating. He eats Spam, kimchee and canned corned-beef hash, which I’m certain is reconstituted dog food.
Before going to the grocery, I skim the recipe’s directions. The first sentence causes alarm: “Place chuck roast in a slow cooker and pour entire contents of dill pickle jar over it.” Who is Chuck? And why am I eating him?
I turn to the magic crystal ball for answers, otherwise known as the internet. I Google “slow cooker” but instead of bringing up a picture of me, my search reveals some newfangled portable-oven do-hicky. Turns out, my mother-in-law has one. Turns out, every household in America has one. I’m starting to think there’s a cooking conspiracy against me.
At the grocery, I search the meat department for a roast cut from a cow named “Chuck.” I find a “bottom round roast” and a “rump roast”—neither sound like the end I want to eat. Just when I’m about to give up, I spot Mr. Chuck Roast. And for some reason, he’s tied up with a string.
At home I cut the string, eager to find out what’s inside. Liver? Giblet? Temporary tattoo? But there’s nothing. It’s a mock box. I consider returning the roast to the grocery for a refund, but I don’t have time. Chuck has a 10-hour day ahead of him.
The assembly is easy: meat plus pickles. Ten hours later, the house reeks of dill. Paula warns that this will happen, saying, “the smell is quite pungent.” I tie a bandana around my nose and mouth while I pull the meat apart with a fork. The fumes are so overpowering, I nearly faint. Nothing says “dinnertime” like a sulfuric mushroom cloud.
My in-laws and my husband sit in quiet skepticism at the dining room table as I carefully assemble the sandwiches. I serve my 4-year-old daughter first because she’s usually in my corner, thinking everything I touch turns to gold. But tonight she goes rogue.
“I don’t like that meat,” she says, her little button nose curled up to her eyebrows.
I tell her to try it. She plunges the sandwich in ketchup—the salve for all unsightly foods. While she does this, I’m painfully aware that everyone else is holding their sandwiches in mid-air as they wait for her reaction.
My daughter takes a big ketchupy bite, gives a few perfunctory chews, then goes stiff.
“I’m gonna throw up,” she mumbles through the mouthful of food.
“Oh, just swallow it.” My in-laws casually set down their sandwiches.
My daughter shakes her head. Then her mouth opens.
I catch the half-masticated glob of meat into a napkin as it falls from her mouth. The table emits a collective “Ewwwwwwww.”
“She doesn’t like pickles,” I explain. When no one moves, I narrow my eyes into scorned-daughter-in-law slits. Time to play the trump card.
“If we have another child, I hope she’s not as picky.”
That’s all it takes. My mother-in-law starts munching away at her sandwich, unable to conceal her delight. Not in the sandwich. In the prospect of me giving her another grandchild. She’ll do anything. Even this. After dinner she tells me that the sandwiches were “interesting”—the closest thing to a compliment my cooking has ever received.
“So, about having another baby . . .” she begins.
Yep, I’ve cooked my way into a pickle.