Tag Archives: cooking

Chicken Three Ways

25 Mar
A threesome of chickens.

A threesome of chickens.

Wait. Before you think I’m dramatically changing the focus on this blog and have a sexual interest in poultry, let me explain…

Tonight I’m giving thanks for having some culinary skills. I think my life would be infinitely less rich if I didn’t know how to cook. I may not have won Top Chef (yet!), but I do know my way around a kitchen. I routinely surprise myself with the meals I can construct on the fly with random ingredients in my fridge.

The meal that prompted my most recent pat on the back was this: A chicken roasted from scratch (thank you, 40×40!) served with the most amazing roasted asparagus… then plucked and used to construct… white bean and sausage cassoulet… and garlic penne with chicken and asparagus. A week of meals, all created in less than an hour (if you ignore the hands-off cooking time).

Friends who are intimidated by the kitchen often ask how I learned. Here’s my answer: I had a good role model. My mom didn’t teach me to cook – or instruct me on specific recipes – but she has modeled a few things for me:

  1. Be curious. She often flips through cookbooks or magazines and earmarks pages for things she wants to try. She doesn’t always make them, but they add to her knowledge base.
  2. Don’t be intimidated. Cooking isn’t exactly a mystery when you’re driving off a recipe. Someone else is giving you explicit instructions – so as long as you can read and follow directions, you can basically cook anything. This might explain why – after being impressed by Chicken Divan at a “Brunch with Bach” (the gold standard for our community’s quarterly cultural events) – my Mom found a recipe and tried her hand at it. It rocked.
  3. Improvise. I don’t think I can open any of my mom’s cookbooks without finding recipes that include her handwritten notes of modifications she’s made – either based on what she had on hand, or the family’s preferences. I think her experimental notes would earn an approving nod from scientists.
  4. Take risks. I can’t remember the specific risks my mom took, but I DO remember the occasional meal hurled straight into our compost bucket – which tells me she was pushing her limit. It also makes me realize I’m doing something right when I spend four hours trying to create crunchy spiced nuts and then end up having to write-off an $8 bag of walnuts because it’s all stuck to my wooden spoon.
  5. Pay attention. You’ll start to realize what works well together – and develop your own library of what to combine when you need to add a pinch of something to get the flavor just right. This makes you confident and nimble – and able to create your own recipes.
  6. Love food. If you enjoy eating, cooking isn’t a chore – it’s an adventure.

So that’s my gratitude for the day – knowing how to cook, and having had a great role model to inspire me. Thanks, Mom!

Now if you’re interested in the most amazing asparagus ever, comment and I’ll share it. Warning: It involves a wee bit copious amounts of bacon butter.

Image Source: http://www.quickmeme.com/meme/35dv15

Sorry. Can’t be bothered to come up with a theme.

6 Oct

I have a half-dozen, half-baked posts that I just don’t have the attention span to finish. So instead, I’ll regale you with snippets.

Snippet #1:

On Friday I made fresh tortilla soup for dinner. The recipe called for a diced jalapeño, so I went to town on the pepper. Unfortunately, my allergies were also going to town, which apparently caused me to brush my nose/mouth at some point after I’d finished chopping.

Alan arrived home from work to find me in tears (from an especially pungent chopped onion), ranting that my face felt like fire ants were attacking it. Pretty sure neither of us wants me to bookmark that recipe for a repeat performance.

Snippet #2:

At work, my battle with the woman who pees on the toilet seat continues. Last week I had to pass over three separate stalls because they had either been dribbled on or had a paper toilet seat cover still stuck to the toilet. Enraged might be a tad strong to describe my reaction, but it was enough to prompt me to post the following sign in the bathroom:

© 2013 pithypants.com

And guess what? No more pee on the seat for the rest of the week. Uh-mazing. Apparently she can read. Just not wipe.

Snippet #3

Alan and I picked his kids up yesterday for his mom’s birthday celebration. On the ride to their house, this was the conversation:

Son (playing a video game): Sweet! I just made this camel spit!

Daughter: I’ve seen a camel.

Um, happy birthday?

Um, happy birthday?

Me: Did it spit?

Daughter: No, but it had diarrhea.

Me: Seriously? Where was this?

Daughter: At my friend’s birthday party.

Me: Were you guys at the zoo?

Daughter: No. They had a petting zoo thing come to their house.

Me: So a camel had diarrhea in your friend’s backyard?

Daughter: Uh-huh. It was gross.

Me: That’s awesome.

Son: Now I’m riding a cockatrice!

Me: Was there one of THOSE at the birthday party?

Random: Unrelated observations from my week

11 Mar

Lessons in Flying

#1: They say that people seated in the exit row on airplanes must speak English, but it turns out, that’s not true. I know because I sat next to a hulking blond dude who responded to the question “Please confirm you speak English by responding with ‘Yes’ when I get to you.” After seven other people successfully said yes, Vlad looked at the flight attendant blankly, then said, “Da-di.” I don’t think that means yes in any language, but he was allowed to keep his seat.

#2: I saw a man digging through the recycling bin in the airport next to my gate. At first I thought he was homeless, looking for food, but then I smacked my head realizing homeless people generally don’t make it past security since they need both an ID and a boarding pass. Then I decided he was resourceful for using someone else’s newspaper instead of paying $20 for one from WH Smith. Now don’t ask me where I got that InStyle.

#3: The Boston-based flight attendant who helped us bounce back to DC on Friday deserves an A+ for enforcement. She made the announcement about stowing all portable electronica devices, then walked down the aisle, row by row, checking to make sure everyone had put them away. When she found people still using their phones, she said – with a thick Boston accent, “Really? Really? You heard my announcement and just decided to ignore it? C’mon. I’m an Italian mother. Don’t make me pop you with a spoon.”

Speaking of Boston

I was in Boston for a new hire training session. The last time I was there, I mistakenly tried to enter the classroom mid-session by quietly easing my way in through the room’s back door. Turns out, the door I’d eased open was to the EIS closet, rather than the classroom. Which must’ve made everyone who witnessed that wonder what technology I was trying to sneak up on. This time? No such idiocy.

There Goes MY Cordon Bleu

I tried to make polenta this weekend and now I’m considering buying a wrist brace. Have you ever tried to whisk cornmeal for 30+ minutes while you wait for it to firm up “until it begins to peel away from the edges of the pot?” I didn’t think so. It’s like stirring cement. Which is why I asked Alan to help. Although, he didn’t like the way I asked. Apparently it’s not funny to say, “Can you help me with this? I’d assume you’re better with repetitive wrist motions than I am.”

And THAT’S what I’ve been up to. You?

Shuns: what ninjas use when they’re not performing stunts.

22 Mar

Let me start by claiming I’m a pretty decent cook. I’m curious about food. I read about food. I have a pretty good sense of what flavors complement each other, and what techniques best develop those flavors. And – most importantly – I spend a fair amount of time in the kitchen experimenting.

Knowing this, Alan has found it inexplicable that I stubbornly use a set of poor quality kitchen knives that I won via a contest back in the late 1990s. (Yes, let’s digest that for a moment: WON KNIVES IN A CONTEST. My life parallels the plot from “Glengarry Glen Ross” with surprising detail.)

Back to the knives. In my defense: they were sharp when I got them. I guess (like anything else) I’ve just adjusted as they gradually lost their edge.

This fall I finally confessed that I agreed with Alan’s assessment, that they were CRAPPY knives. As soon as the words were out of my mouth, he responded with, “Great. That’s what I’m getting you for Christmas: real knives.”

We finally went this weekend to Sur la Table so I could handle all of the knives and see what felt right. Forty minutes later, we walked out with a set of Shun Premier knives. Holy awesomeness.

I’ll admit, I was initially prejudiced against the Shuns based on appearance. As I told Alan, “If I didn’t know anything about knives and saw these in someone’s kitchen, I would assume they bought them at World Market for $50.” They just look a bit OVER THE TOP.

And by “over the top,” I mean they look like something a samurai should carry in sheath, not something for my urban kitchen. On the up-side, I figure if I ever have dinner guests and the conversation stalls out, I can whip out one of these knives and use it to segue into the story of my surviving a car accident due to my mad ninja moves.

“I realize these aren’t traditional knives,” I can imagine myself saying. “But ever since my ninja training saved my life, I feel a real affinity for all things Asian.”

Anyway, suffice it to say: if I chose the knife that I liked least on the basis of appearance, it must mean it did something pretty spectacular when I held it. You’ll just have to take my word for it.

I’ll admit, these knives are more than a little frightening. Having had a dull set for over a decade, I realize how easy it would be to cut myself. I’ve already told Alan it’s a foregone conclusion that it WILL happen, so he shouldn’t freak out when I tell him it has.

He just shook his head at that thought. I guess I’ve done a good job desensitizing him to random ER stints… as any good ninja should. Now bring me some tin cans so I can show you what these knives are really capable of!

The Muscles from Brussels broke my sink. Make that Mussels from Whole Foods..

31 Oct

Friday we had my friends Mike and Betsy over for a joint birthday dinner. Her birthday is the 21st and mine’s the 30th, so we combine them each year for a nice night out. This year we decided to stay in, but to make it festive, I wanted to get a bit experimental in the kitchen.

The tricky thing is that Betsy is a vegetarian, which isn’t where my mind immediately goes when I’m thinking of new flavors. I like a protein that was once breathing on my plate. So I got crafty and decided to make steamed mussels for the first time.

And because I’m an overachiever (and somewhat indecisive), I decided to make mussels two ways – one in a Curry Cream sauce, the others a more traditional sauce of fresh tomatoes, wine and parsley.


So a few things for people out there who have never prepared mussels:

From the moment I purchased them at Whole Foods (a ten minute walk from my house), I felt like I was carrying the Nuclear Football. The guys at the fish counter gave me good advice – don’t tie the bags shut, keep them on ice or put them in the fridge, rinse them but don’t submerge them… etc. – but it was like getting instructions on my first babysitting job ever. There was SO MUCH to remember, I was convinced these mussels would die on my watch.

And yes, there’s some irony for you. I am going to kill these mussels, but I don’t want them to die before I’m ready. Seems a bit sadistic, no?

So I rushed them home, and put them in the refrigerator. Through the bags, I could see that they were opening in what I imagined to be some final gasps of breath. (I don’t know why, but I started thinking of the shells as mouths.) I was a bit alarmed that they were suicidal, so I broke out the computer and googled “will mussels die in my fridge?”

I couldn’t find any kind of confirmation, so I just started prepping ingredients and pacing. When Alan arrived, I was a Stress Cat. “But you don’t understand!” I greeted him. “I am afraid the mussels are DYING as we speak! This is going to be a disaster!”

Alan assured me that restaurants wouldn’t serve mussels if they were that trigger-happy, which offered me some reassurance that they might not die prematurely, or that if they did, I wouldn’t accidentally serve a bad mussel and kill someone.

Just before Mike and Betsy arrived, I decided we should clean the mussels. Mussels have “beards” – hairy fibers that hang out of the shell. Although most cultured mussels are already debearded when you buy them, there are a few stubborn suckers that insist on making YOU yank the beard off, which is not fun and not for the weak handed.

We then scrubbed each mussel individual (the car wash) and gave it a good “thunk” with our finger to make sure it would snap shut. Those that weren’t tight got pitched. We were through the first 50 mussels when Mike and Betsy wheeled in. In retrospect, while Betsy is fine with seafood, she probably was somewhat horrified to walk in and see us confirming that each creature was still alive. (For our next trick, well throw lobsters in boiling water after letting her pet them.)

The mussels turned out great. Restaurant quality – and there was only one mussel that failed to open, so Whole Foods gets a thumbs up for the quality of their catch.

The only failure of the night was my foresight. We scrubbed and debearded the mussels in my sink. When we were done, I rinsed the beards down the garbage disposal without thinking.

Until this morning, when I noticed that the water was slow to drain from my sink and I went to run the garbage disposal. And it made no noise and smelled hot. Damn. I’m going to guess some bit of shell was attached to a beard and has jammed up the gears.

In an attempt to manually solve the problem (and prevent my house from smelling like compost when I return from Chicago later this week), I stuffed my hand down the disposal (while it was off, of course). I pulled out pulped tomato bits, parley pieces, onion, and some chunks I couldn’t identify, as well as some of those tell-tale beards.

I’m pretty sure I now know what a veterinarian feels like when he goes in up to elbow to deliver a calf.

Actually, now that I think of it, maybe this is why Betsy is a vegetarian.