Sunday, March 25, 2012

Nom nom

Cooking.  It is something I have, until the last 4 years or so, not really known much about.  I just wasn't that interested!  I liked food, I ate food...didn't care to cook it myself.  These days, I watch and listen in amazement to "kids" in middle school and high school who are knowledgeable about how to make banana bread or put together a simple dinner of spaghetti or whatnot.  I knew nothing of the sort for a long time.

Here's a story to prove my point (and this is in no way an indictment of my mother, who I do recall showing me on occasion how to make food happen...I just literally was not inclined to make it myself since I didn't have to.  We rarely went out to eat as mom really cooked a lot...so I learned a bit by osmosis...anyway...here's the sad, sad story.):

I was an older teenager (maybe 17 or so?) and sitting in the living room as my mom was making dinner...spaghetti with meat sauce if I remember correctly.  She had to go do something...maybe take an important phone call or use the bathroom...anyway...she had to leave and asked me to continue browning the ground beef.


I panicked.  "Um....how do I know if it's done?"


"It will be brown," she matter-of-factly said.


I cringed.  "But, what if I let it go too long?  What do I do?"


She sighed in exasperation.  "I won't even be gone that long, just keep stirring it!"  And she left.


And I was alone with the skillet and pinkish brown meat.


I can't even describe the ridiculousness of my anxiety of ruining our dinner while she was MIA for all of about 2 minutes.  I kept stirring and looking fertively towards the hallway into which I had last seen her go.  My palms were sweaty, my thoughts simultaneously envisioning spaghetti with no meat in our sauce, (which in my mind, wasn't worth eating) and berating me for not knowing how to cook ANYTHING.  I kept stirring and hoping for relief.


Finally, she returned and took the spatula and I walked away in shame

So, I think I've come a long way since then.  There was college, where I learned to eat healthier with the assistance of a meal plan and a salad bar.  And hummus wraps with tomato and sprouts!  Those two things were my lifeline freshman year.  Then came apartment living junior and senior year, and with it wonderful apartment-mates who were domestically inclined, so I was able to, um...mooch would probably be an accurate word here.  They didn't seem to mind, and if they did, and are reading this, I am appropriately ashamed and sorry for my blissful and yummy existence as your roommate.

Anyway...when Jeremiah came along, there was a lot of time spent in front of the TV watching Food Network while he sucked the life out of me.  Favorites at the time were Rachael Ray, Ina Garten, and Giada de Laurentiis.  I was able to get into my head what cooking was all about, what flavors worked with what raw ingredients, and how to manipulate basic recipes to fit what I actually had in the pantry.  I mean, there were literally days of Food Network.  By the 5th time I'd seen a roux made for gravy/white sauce/stew....I began to put some things together.  I began cooking every night, and I stopped wondering why things didn't taste quite right and fixing it so they were edible.  I think Jon was happier too.

Well, if you've made it this far, I'm going to assume you are interested in what cookbooks and recipes are the ones I have come to use most in the last year or so.  I feel that, as a family, we now have dishes that we habitually eat month to month, as well as ones that I can count on to be crowd-pleasers.  Here are my humble recommendations:


 This cookbook was given to me by my dear friend Abby, who talked about it so highly to me that I became convinced it would do nothing but good for me to try it out.  I have not totally embraced everything in it, especially as I still have a hard time understanding how to properly prepare dried beans for consumption, but it is a cookbook that is wonderful and I love already.  It's basic premise is about consuming less of the world's resources and thereby being more responsible human beings...i.e. cooking "more" with "less."  The recipes I've tried are very flavorful and we all like them here.  I have tried many dishes, but what I make most often are:

homemade granola
Pilgrim Bread
Pizza with homemade pizza dough

I anticipate using this cookbook more and more over the years as Jon and I strive to become healthier in our eating habits.  I love being able to make our own dough and breakfast cereals.


 

Giada de Laurentiis has amazing, fresh, easy food.  She has created an empire that makes Italian food easy for americans to cook.  Her cookbook Giada's Family Dinners is so good...I love so much of it.  She is also a very fun personality - Italian through and through, very easygoing and joyful, beautiful, stylish in dress and in home.  Jon doesn't like her because he thinks she showcases too much of her...assets.  (I am trying to put it nicely...did it work?)  Doesn't bother me, but I'm not a guy trying not to look.  :)  There are literally over a hundred recipes, and I haven't gotten to all of them, but they look fantastic.  My favorite recipes in this book are:

Braised Swiss Chard
Linguine with Chicken Ragu
Fresh Fettucini with Roasted Chicken and Broccoli Rabe


 

This...this is the THE cookbook I love the most.  I LOVE this woman's cooking...some find her show a bit blase, but I find it peaceful and homey and her recipes are SO comforting and easy and incredibly yummy.  I have many things I make from this book quite often...they have become sort-of standards in my culinary repertoire.  What I love about this book is I get inspired just reading it.  I don't like to sit and read cookbooks.  I read this one.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies and variations (like reverse Chocolate Chunk and Peanut Butter!)
Chinese Chicken Salad (actually, I usually only use the Peanut Sauce in Stir Fry, but the whole recipe is wonderful.  The Peanut Sauce is incredible!)
Perfect Roast Turkey (use this for Roast Chicken as well)
Chicken Soup/Stock
Garlic Roasted Potatoes
Chocolate Ganache Cake
Pasta Pesto and Peas
Butternut Squash and Apple Soup
Old Fashioned Apple Crisp


There are so many other recipes I still have yet to try...all of them look so good!