The thing I did wrong and the thing I did right

In my house, we adore potatoes and we adore cheese.  Back when we filled our cabinets with boxed meals, we often cooked boxed cheesy potatoes or potatoes au gratin.  Because of its fancy shmancy name, I’ve never imagined homemade potatoes au gratin would be an easy dish to make.  But when I saw a recipe for them from Pioneer Woman, I couldn’t resist.  Not only did I learn that there’s not a whole lot to potatoes au gratin, but I got to celebrate when I produced this BEAUTY of a dish:

Never.  Again.  Never again will I cook boxed potatoes au gratin.  I’ll sign a statement in blood if need be.

So, the other day I finally ran out of cooking spray and had to buy a new can.  Boy, was I surprised when I discovered that cooking spray comes in a variety of oils!  No joke, this is news to me.  Not only did this cause inner frustration as I stood in the aisle trying to determine which one I needed (and for that matter, which one I’ve been using all along), but I realized I know nothing about oil.  I own two kinds of cooking oil:  extra virgin olive oil and vegetable oil.  Unless a recipe specifically calls for vegetable oil, I always use olive oil by default.  When I left the store with my can of canola oil cooking spray, I gave myself an assignment:  educate myself about oil.

Today marks the first day I ever knew there is a thing called a “smoke point.”  I also never knew some oils are used to prepare food, but are not to be cooked with.  I learned which oils contain which types of fats, which means I also learned which types of oil are healthier than others.  I’m not an oil expert by any means, but I do feel enlightened and I’m positive what I’ve learned is going to help me make better decisions when cooking with oil.

Now, back to the smoke point.  About a month ago, I made blackened chicken for the first time.  The recipe I followed called for the chicken to be heated in olive oil.  At the time, I thought I’d done something terribly wrong.  My house filled with smoke and I couldn’t stop coughing.  I was terrified to lift the lid off the pan, thinking I’d unleash the flames of culinary hell.  Now that I’ve read up on the different types of cooking oil, I’ve discovered that olive oil (especially EVOO) isn’t necessarily the best choice for blackening chicken.  It tends to cause more smoking than would, say, vegetable oil.  Go figure.

It feels good to know that choosing an oil isn’t some arbitrary decision like when I decide which socks to wear every day.  It’s especially satisfying to know that cooking spray doesn’t come in different varieties for the sole purpose of confusing people like me.

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