I am a novice cook.
Wait, it's worse than that. I am an unlucky novice cook.
Even frozen dinners are too much for me. I have two burn marks — one on my left hand, one on my right arm — from recently heating up premade shepherd's pies.
Last month, I tried to make my dad homemade fudge brownies for his birthday. What's the most important ingredient in fudge brownies? Chocolate. What did I forget to include? You guessed it. Somehow, I put in just a quarter of the required chocolate, which led to what I can only describe as a sugar-and-flour paste baked into brownie form.
I was going to try baking them again, but the oven burst into flames.
I told you. Unlucky.
But I'm tired of flinching from ovens and hiding from recipes. I've been writing about food for years. It's time I tried this whole cooking thing myself.
So here's the challenge: I will tackle a new recipe each month, then write about the results in this column. Please wish me luck, because I'll need it.
COOKING CHALLENGE: Chipotle Chicken Burritos With Homemade Tortillas
This month's challenge: surprise my boyfriend with a dinner made from scratch.
"What's your favorite food?" I ask him.
"Chipotle burritos," he answers.
I am now tasked with re-creating the burritos from one of America's beloved burrito restaurants. My only familiarity with making burritos is when I wrap my 5-month-old puppy in her sheepskin blanket every night and chant: "Be a burrito! Be a burrito!" (This, along with classical piano music, lulls her to sleep. Don't ask me why.) Somehow, I don't think my puppy-wrapping skills will help me today. I don't even know what an actual chipotle is.
A Google search informs me that they're dried, smoked jalapenos drenched in adobo sauce. Jalapenos! If cooking makes me anxious, then cooking with hot peppers terrifies me. I find a Food Network recipe for chipotle chicken burritos that looks fairly easy, then decide to level up. Not only will I make these hot-pepper burritos — I'll also cook the tortillas from scratch.
On the phone, I try to sound confident as I invite Ben for his surprise meal.
"I can hear the angst in your voice," he says. "It's reverberating across the cyber space."
Storm clouds darken the sky as I enter the grocery store. In the Mexican food section, I find La Costeña chipotles on a shelf above Our Lady of Guadalupe candles. Torn between a pineapple soda and Mexican Coca-Cola, I choose the Coke. Although I intended to make homemade guacamole as an appetizer, I cave and purchase a premade batch. I almost buy premade tortillas, too. How much better can homemade ones actually taste?
Turning my back on the temptation of more convenience food, I move to the checkout counter, sans tortillas.
At home, YouTube teaches me how to strip and mince cilantro. My puppy offers emotional support by lying on the rug at my feet, hoping I spill something interesting. I remove the chipotle from its fragrant adobo sauce, then realize it's laden with seeds. Yet another Google search reveals the secret of removing the seeds: You rinse the pepper under water. It also warns to avoid touching your eyes after handling the hot pepper. I am obsessively careful to obey this rule.
By the time I shred a Publix lemon-pepper rotisserie chicken, it's almost time for Ben to show up. I haven't even begun the tortillas.
Slightly panicked, I prepare and then knead the dough until it becomes elastic, dividing it into eight small balls. Ben knocks on the front door before they're ready to cook. That's fine. I could use some reinforcements.
Since the first tortillas turn out smaller than expected, we combine the remaining dough balls into larger, burrito-sized ones — yielding fewer than the recipe's promised eight. As Ben rolls out each tortilla, I cook it in the hot skillet until it turns golden brown on both sides. The results are mind-blowing: flaky yet elastic, with a hint of butter. I may never buy tortillas from the store again.
The burrito filling is a success, despite a horrifying moment when I dump in lettuce instead of cilantro. (They look so similar! They're both green!) I'm not a fan of spicy food, but I have to objectively admit that the sauce is rich and flavorful.
Spooning cooked rice onto a tortilla, still warm from the skillet, I add the chipotle chicken, then sprinkle cheese, shredded lettuce and mild salsa overtop. It looks beautiful.
"Do you like it?" I ask Ben. "Do they taste anything like the burritos from Chipotle?"
"Better," he says.
Maybe I'm not so unlucky after all.
Contact Emily Young at firstname.lastname@example.org.