Let’s be honest, I can’t cook.
But that’s sort of because I never have. It’s not because of a lack of good chefs around me growing up, either. At every holiday, my extended family gets together and delivers one of the best spreads you’ll find in North Carolina. Growing up, I loved everything my momma made. My wife, too, is an excellent chef (she gets it from her momma). So I have no excuses for why I shouldn’t have picked up a few things along the way. Unfortunately, throughout the first 25 years of my life, the only thing I learned to cook was an omelet.
When people asked how this was possible, I usually just laughed and said, “But it’s a meeeeean omelet.”
So here we are in Zurich. Not only do I get to try my hand at writing full time, but I also get to try my hand at being head chef in the kitchen. It’s kind of fun. First, I really enjoy going to the grocery store. Right now, because it has air conditioning. But usually just because it has one of my favorite things: food. And even though the majority of what I’m looking at is in three languages that are not English (German, Italian, and French) and I understand only a few words (AKTION = SALE!) I’m still liking the process. So here’s what I’ve learned and how our experience has been in the kitchen:
1. Switzerland (and specifically our apartment) doesn’t support bulk shopping.
There are no carts. At all. Every grocery store carries the typical hand basket and they also require you to bring your own bags for groceries. Also, we have a tiny fridge with an even tinier freezer. Think about having a really NICE college fridge. Right now it’s jam packed with a few ice cream cones, our ice trays, and 1lb. of frozen ground beef. And it’s tight. So I’m not able to go shopping for crazy deals or anything and we’re really forced to shop for the night’s meal, or maybe two night’s meals if we’re lucky.
2. Don’t stab the chicken.
One of the crazy, limiting factors so far to my blossoming career as a chef is our kitchen. We have one and a half burners, and really can’t feasibly cook on both of them simultaneously. We also have a microwave/oven that… we don’t…. understand. We “grilled” chicken on it the other day and got what I like to call “dining hall dry.” So until we figure that out, it’s a ton of stove top cooking in a skillet with limited supplies.
So we had a hilarious moment the other day when I started cooking chicken for a salad. Katie came home about half way through and read through a blog about things you can do to keep a chicken juicy/cook a chicken effectively on a stove top. Of the eight things she listed NOT to do, I had pretty much done ever single one of them. Don’t stab the chicken! Especially if you’re planning on stabbing the chicken over and over again.
3. Fruit Salads, or should I say, Not All Fruits Allowed
So… yeah. My mom makes this great fruit salad with strawberries, blueberries, and cantaloupe. I snagged some fruits today, hoping to mix up her typical recipe. But it turns out bananas are the wimpy kid of the fruit section. They bruise easily. Very emotional. Nor do apples have the longevity you want from a typical fruit salad. So I ended up with a strawberry and nectarine combo that, while not as versatile as I would have wanted, was delicious.
4. Red Pepper Flakes aren’t Paprika
So I’m looking through our spices because Emeril has this absurdly complicated seasoning he’s trying to make me put on these burgers… and I need paprika. Here’s the deal: I have no idea what paprika looks like. Not a clue. In a line up? No chance. So I grab one of the spices Katie bought here, and translate the German. The first THREE links pop up with the word, “Paprika.” Bingo! So I add it to my mix… but get a funny feeling. This just looks a little off. So I search again and find out they’re RED PEPPER FLAKES. Seasoning gets tossed, I start it up fresh, we’re good to go.
5. It’s the little things.
I would say that, in spite of how sparse and tapas style it looks in this picture, I did pretty well on dinner tonight. One of the most rewarding things that happened was Katie’s expression as she walked in the door and found this on the table.
Again, not the craziest spread… but I did a little bit extra by salvaging our bar of dark chocolate and melting it in a little tupperware container at the top of the screen. We dipped our fruit in it Swiss fondue style and enjoyed a nice dinner!
Let’s play a game: do you know these cheeses? Because all of our favorite guys: Frank, American, Lou have been replaced with cheeses named Pierre, Gruyere, Garcon, etc. We don’t know these cheeses! Final example: we found the ONLY block of cheddar on the very bottom shelf, in a dark corner of isolation. And it really kind of tasted like Swiss.
All this being said, I look forward to starting my Swiss restaurant back in the States. Everything inexplicably 34 dollars, even though it looks like hot dogs. Thanks for reading!