Tag Archives: cooking

The Fruits of My Labor?

3 Jan

Wow, that kind of sounded like I was going in a childbirth direction, but I’m not.  Actually, I was thinking about all the time and energy I put into our New Year’s Eve celebration.  The prep and cooking time alone for our fete was a good eight hours not to mention the shopping, setup and cleaning up.  But every minute was worth it.

It was truly a pleasure planning the menu and preparing by myself most of the tasty tidbits served that evening.  I created a “tasting” menu, thanks to the inspiration of seeing the cute mini dishes that are becoming the rage at stores like Pier 1 and World Market, and then actually receiving some of said dishes as a birthday gift from my family.   The menu included balsamic rosemary chicken skewers, ginger shrimp on a bed of coconut rice, and a honey lime fruit melange as well as Korean BBQ ribs and an assortment of dessert breads and candies.

That evening, our guests not only enjoyed the food but were most complimentary. These are two of the fruits of my labor: the happiness of my guests and the recognition of my efforts.  The third fruit is the satisfaction I got by doing the work itself.  I felt a bit guilty accepting the thanks of my guests for creating such a feast because my actions were largely selfish.  I wanted to do it.  I think I almost needed to do it.  I immersed myself in it all day, not noticing how the hours were flying by.  I guess I needed to be employed but in an enjoyable way, to have fun, to play, as Chick Tracey talks about in New Year’s Playfulutions.

When we question whether the reward is in the journey or the destination, we set up a dichotomy that does not necessarily exist.  Maybe it’s not an either/or choice.  Maybe it’s both.

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For those who are interested, below is my balsamic rosemary chicken recipe.  It’s super easy.  As you will see, I do not like recipes with more than a handful of ingredients or too many steps.  I also care very little for measurement, so adjust your quantities to your taste and need.

Ingredients 

Chicken tenderloins, diced into pieces very roughly 1 inch square

Diced squash and zucchini (or other veggie of your choice) of same size

Balsamic vinegar

Fresh rosemary

Olive oil

Kosher salt

Instructions

Morning –

1. Put the diced chicken and veggies into separate Ziplock bags.

2. Into each bag, pour a tablespoon or so of olive oil and some balsamic vinegar (enough to coat all ingredients), and a sprig of rosemary.

3.  Into the veggies, also throw a little kosher salt.

4.  Store in refrigerator for a few hours.

Evening –

1.  Pour a spoonful of olive oil in your pan (cast iron is great) and begin heating.

2.  Pour the contents of the chicken bag into the pan, add more rosemary if you like and saute it all on medium high heat until chicken is no longer pink.

3.  Pour the contents of the veggie bag into the pan and cook for just a few more minutes, ensuring chicken is fully cooked and veggies are slightly soft but not mushy.

4.  Remove pan from heat and as soon as cool enough, skewer chicken and veggies in alternating order on some fancy party toothpicks or small skewers.

5.  Serve!

Creativity in the Kitchen

17 Mar

I admire achievement or skill in all creative endeavors, but there is one that I didn’t quite “get” for a long, long time: cooking.

Cooking is truly an art.  I love, love, love enjoying the results of it, when done well.   So much so that I can tell you about specific dishes I had years and years ago, they were that memorable to me.  Unfortunately, my appreciation for the act of cooking has come only recently.  

In my youth, I squandered the opportunity I had to learn from an excellent cook: my father.   He was an artist in the kitchen, making everything from shrimp creole to curried chicken to a to-die-for rib eye.  When we were living in the same household, I had no interest in cooking, or, truth be told, in listening to much of anything a parent had to say.  When I got older, I was too busy.  And I still wasn’t interested.  

Now I’m interested, but he’s gone. 

A few years ago, though, I started going to one of those commercial kitchens.  You know –  a place where they prep everything for you, and you just show up and throw all the ingredients together according to the recipe.  Then, you take the meals home, throw them in your freezer, and voila! you thaw out a restaurant quality meal every night and throw it in the oven.   (Notice all the “throwing”.)   I had found the answer to my prayers because what I hate the most about cooking is the prep work.  This made it so easy.  It was an ideal solution.

But something else happened along the way.  I learned how to cook. 

I learned what ingredients go well together, which flavors go with which, and the magic of lemon juice and zest.  I learned what effect an egg has in a batter, what “searing” and “blanching” mean, and much more.   It turns out, once you know the basics, it changes everything.  Not so different from painting.  Or drawing.  Or photography.  Or…you get the picture.

Now, I’m actually cooking a lot of things at home.  From scratch.  Because I enjoy it.   (Gasp!)  Don’t get me wrong – I’m still a beginner, but I can make quite a variety of dishes now.  I often try making new things, and without a recipe (because following a recipe is the second-most thing I hate about cooking.)  Surprisingly, my new dishes usually don’t go too awry.  

I’ve found that once we acquire some basic skills, and we are willing to fail here and there, we can really release our creativity.   And in being creative, there is joy.

“Sometimes, we need to exercise just a little elbow grease in any creative direction that we can find.” ~Julia Cameron

There is one thing of my dad’s I learned how to cook many years ago: spaghetti sauce.  I’ve been told it tastes like authentic New York Italian spaghetti sauce, which is a huge compliment in my book, particularly since we’re not from New York, or Italian.  I make it from scratch, the way he did, and even grow basil on the back porch because fresh basil makes all the difference.  I truly enjoy making it.   I don’t measure anything, I just know what ingredients are needed, and throw in a pinch of this and pinch of that, until it tastes just right.   I feel like an artist.  In the kitchen.

My dad would be so proud.

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