Friday, October 22, 2010

Driving Miss M

Here's the thing about cooking - it's sort of like driving a car.

Okay, hear me out! Think back to when you first learned how to drive. It was kind of scary and intimidating because there were so many things that you needed to learn and remember. Not only did you have to learn how to operate this large piece of machinery, but you also had to remember all of the laws regarding driving and pay attention to what other people around you were doing. You had to remember to check your mirrors, slow down before turning, use your blinkers, and check your blind spot before changing lanes. You were probably nervous and a bit clumsy when you first started out.

But here's the thing. It turned out, that the more you drove, the easier it became. Things like slowing to turn a corner became so ingrained that you didn't even have to think of the steps anymore. Indeed, driving probably ended up being such a natural thing to do that you barely think about it as you do it.

It didn't happen by magic. It happened with time and practice. Therefore, I say that learning to cook is like learning to drive.

You hear people tell you all the time, Oh, I'm not a good cook. But the thing is, they're probably not a good cook because they don't cook. At least, they don't cook often enough that they can give themselves the opportunity to grow. Imagine that the only driving you've ever done in your life, since you were sixteen, was to take a couple of side roads to the grocery store that's a few blocks away once or twice a month. Would you have ever gotten to be a good driver? Probably not!

I haven't gone to the grocery store in over a week, and the last three times I went I was bad and went with no meal plan. I just bought stuff that looked good and maybe things for one or two random meals. As a result, my home is now full of random food, the kind of stuff that languishes in your cupboards, forgotten, until the day you go to clean them out and you throw have to throw it out because it expired. I have issues with eating "old" food, and I definitely have issues with wasting money, so tonight I decided I'm going to start fixing things based around what is in the cabinets and freezer to try and clear some things out.

This means I can't go buy a bunch of stuff off a list to make a specific recipe. This means I need to be creative. Would I be able to do that if I was rocking Taco Tuesday (ground beef with a packet of taco seasoning and hard store-bought shells) and Spaghetti Friday (a jar of Ragu dumped over some noodles) every week? Maybe, but I'm guessing not. Because I have spent so much time practicing cooking and forcing myself out of my comfort zones (remember your first time getting on a Freeway? I do!) I now have enough knowledge and understanding of flavors that I can fly by the seat of my pants every so often and be okay.

This was what I made just using what I had on hand:

First of all, for someone who has "given up" canned tomatoes, I sure have a heck of a lot of them in my cupboards! I wonder how that happened? I had four small chicken tenderloins in the freezer, and half a bag of frozen baby peas. I always have onions and garlic, and there were three carrots in the crisper. Digging through the pantry allowed me to find a large can of tomato sauce in addition to a jar of mushrooms and a box of farfalle. Pasta usually calls for some Parmesan cheese in my world, so I rooted around in the fridge until I found the small piece of Parmigiano Reggiano left over from making the Soupe au Pistou the other night.

Sounds like dinner to me!

I cut up the chicken into bite sized pieces, seasoned them lightly with salt and pepper, and browned them in my French oven with a little olive oil. I removed them from the pot, added a teensy bit more olive oil, then cooked the onions, garlic, and carrots for about ten minutes, until the carrots started to soften a bit. Then into the pot went a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes, the same size can of tomato sauce, and a can of water. I also drained the mushrooms and tossed those in as well. I made sure the pan deglazed so that I could get all the browned bits (sometimes called fond) from the bottom.

Those are pure flavor, baby.

No, I don't know where I got that. Probably Pioneer Woman. Anyway, I brought that to a boil, reduced the heat, tossed the chicken back into the pot along with a few herbs and spices, and we were good to go! I let it simmer for about 45 minutes. While that was cooking I made the pasta in a separate pot, keeping some of the cooking water to use for thinning out my sauce as needed. About ten minutes before it was done I tossed in the frozen peas. A little sauce on a bowl of pasta, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and dinner was served!

Now, was this a gourmet dish? No. Could it be served in a fancy restaurant? Probably not. Was it good? Heck yeah it was! And I'll tell you what - even though it was a bit more work than cracking open a jar of pasta sauce and dumping it on some spaghetti noodles, it was worth it because it tasted so much better and was definitely a lot more healthy for my family.

So, if you think that you're not a "good cook," I challenge you to forget about all that and just start cooking already. You'll find that the more you do it, the better you'll get at instinctively knowing what flavors will work together and which combinations to avoid. Nobody is born being good at anything - we all have to learn and practice our crafts.

P.S. I use the learning to drive analogy a LOT. It really applies to everything; sewing, cooking, baking, playing an instrument, your new job, etc. Think about it! :)

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Blogger Paula - Buenos Aires said...

My mom used to make "Lavoisier" meals. It comes from a science principle of energy "nothing is wasted, everything is transformed". Same went for food at home and I make the same principle work. I´m a big fan of "fridge" sauces. Whatever I find in the fridge is used. Lol!

10:48 AM  
Blogger Billie said...

I would love to know what seasonings you used besides the salt & peppa. I am great at following recipes, not so much at making up my own things. This sounds yummy and I'd like to try it since I'm pretty sure I have everything you listed.

7:39 AM  

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