Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cooking Lessons

OK I have covered my thoughts on lots of different things here but I don't think I have given a cooking lesson so today you get my cooking philosophy.

I believe there are 2 kinds of cooks: artists and scientists.

Scientists follow the recipe exactly.  My mom is a scientist.  I laughed one afternoon as I watched her pull out her cookbook and study the recipe for a dish she had made at least once a week for most of my life. Scientists scrape the top of the measuring cup perfectly level before dumping in the flour and level out the liquids on the counter to make sure they are putting in exactly 1/2 cup of water before pouring it in.  They do what the recipe tells them to and expect the experiment which is cooking to produce the results the book promises.


I am more of an artist.  Recipes are nice but they are more like concepts.  They produce inspiration but do not necessarily need to be perfectly followed.  Measurements are approximates and can be eyeballed for the sake of saving washing more dishes.  My mom and I are hilarious in the kitchen together.

Here are a few meals I would consider to be concepts.  You take the original thought but you can go anywhere with it.

Pizza:  Just ask yourself what carbohydrate do I have in my house to make a base?  Tortillas, English muffins, crackers.  What saucy type stuff do I have for a sauce? Spaghetti sauce, hoisin, pesto, Alfredo, salsa.  What veggies or meat can I toss on top?  What did I have for dinner last night?  Taco meat, chicken, steak, stir fry, and anything that comes out of the garden, put it on the pizza.  Toss cheese on top, or don't that is good too, and you have a meal.

Meatloaf:  Just mix any old combination of some sort of bread, seasonings and veggies and put it in a loaf pan.  Think themes like taco, pizza, shepherd pie, garden veggie, etc.  And just toss whatever would go with those themes into your ground beef, turkey, chicken or pork.  Or a combination of those meats.  Be sure there is some sort of binder like an egg and some sort of carb like crackers, potatoes or corn flakes.  But really there are no rules, just go for it.

Tacos:  recently a friend said she had great fish tacos somewhere and wished they had the recipe. A recipe for tacos?  I asked her what was in them.  Fish, mango salsa, cabbage, cilantro.  It sounded good so I made it that night, I happen to have those ingredients on hand.  I just fried up my favorite fish, no breading just toss it in a little olive oil, sprinkle a little of your favorite seasoning (salt, pepper, cumin since it was tacos, whatever), chopped up the cabbage and cilantro and defrosted some frozen mango which I tossed in my store bought salsa.  Voila the recipe.  Don't over think here.  Just do it.

We had a couple favorite meals from Kenya that we have developed at home.

Rice and beans.  Cook up rice, open a couple cans of beans (we like red but have used black as well).  We cook up a chopped onion before adding the rice and beans then add your favorite seasonings, for us garlic and curry go in there and balsamic vinegar.  Stir fry until warm and serve.  delicious.  I have also modified it using frozen veggie fried rice from trader joes, some sesame oil and rice wine vinegar with beans for a more Asian flavor or adding more Mexican spices and a little salsa with the black beans for a south of the border feel.

They serve a lot of cooked cabbage in Kenya which we just loved.  It seemed like it must be more complicated than it looked but cabbage is pretty cheap so we just bought some, red and green, chopped it up and tossed in in the skillet with a little olive oil and salt and pepper and waited until it looked like Kenyan cabbage.  Turns out it really is that simple.  Just like we remember it.

The Hot Dish (that is what we call a casserole in Minnesota) is a lost art.  Possibly for good reason but in a pinch it is handy.  Simply take your favorite meat, or the meat you have on hand, some rice, a bag of your favorite frozen mixed veggies and a can of cream of...soup.  Mix it all together, add a little water.  Sprinkle the top with croutons or bread crumbs or tater tots or something like that, a little cheese if you must and pop in the oven.

Finally, as I am learning to simplify my meal time I am thinking back to the old fashioned meat and potatoes meals of my childhood and updating them Melanie style.  So we just look for our favorite meat on sale, Pork tenderloin, chicken, beef, pork chops, ribs, etc.  And simply cook them up.  Pop them in the oven with a little seasoning on top, toss them on the grill, or fry them in a skillet with simple seasonings.  Don't look for a recipe, when in doubt salt and pepper go a long way.  Or toss them in a marinade ahead of time.  A marinade is just an acid, a base and some seasonings mixed together.  So oil, vinegar and garlic or some variation on that theme.  don't worry about amounts just keep them balanced and remember you are going to toss the marinade so who cares what the amounts are. Then I add a big salad, I keep a giant bowl of lettuce in my fridge that I cut up once a week so a salad is always a moment away or a veggie or maybe even potatoes and I have a delicious but simple meal.  And actually my kids seem to like this a little better than when I mix a bunch of ingredients together and use too many sauces.

OK so now you know I am a little crazy in the kitchen but don't be afraid to join me!  Tonight, go into your fridge and throw together a meal with whatever you have on hand.  There is a delicious meal in your fridge just waiting to be discovered.

1 comment:

  1. As a bona fide neurotic kitchen scientist, i am laughing through this post. this is SO you and SO displays our complete oppositeness. i felt like i might breakout in hives at any moment reading this, hahahahaha! :) loved it.