2.27.2011

I'm Still Cooking...Kind Of

Ok...so I've been MIA here on the ole' blog. I could give you a whole list of reasons, but here are the most prominent:

1. I'm taking a grad class right now that's on children and young adult literature. I have to read a novel a week (they aren't that long..but still) and write papers on each of them. I also have to read the textbook and take notes on that because there's going to be a midterm and a final. I haven't taken a written test since I was an undergrad...so I feel compelled to be prepared. Hence, I've spending a lot of my time reading and writing for this class.

2. My husband was studying for this big test he had to take for his graduate program. He needed the computer pretty much every night to study, so I didn't get on very much. His test was a month ago, so that's not even a good reason anymore.

3. I've been trying to simplify my life a bit and not feel so busy. I have grossly failed at this attempt, but I'm still trying! Instead of pressuring myself to blog or do other things on my to-do list, I've been trying to spend a little of each day doing something relaxing like reading or watching youtube videos of baby animals like puppies and pandas.

4. I've only been cooking on and off because of my schedule. Some weeks, I can cook almost every night. Other weeks I can barely cook one night because I have things to do every day after school. (For my individual definition of cooking, please continue reading below)

Even when I haven't been able to cook new and interesting recipes, I've coerced my husband to put food together for us. He doesn't cook, but he can do simple things like make pasta or saute shrimp. Sometimes I'll have him pick up a $6 dinner from Wegman's for each of us, or he'll get one of their ready-to-bake pizzas.

Let's talk about that for a moment, shall we? We moved to this area three years ago and have yet to find a pizza delivery place that has pizza we really love. Especially since we are obsessed with Wegman's ready-to-bake pizzas that they sell near their pizza shop. We always buy a plain cheese one and then add toppings. It ends up being cheaper than delivery and twice as delicious.

One of our favorite topping combinations is broccoli and mushrooms. I just toss fresh broccoli florets and fresh mushrooms with some olive oil and then scatter them on top of a plain cheese pizza. It comes out looking like this:


Doesn't that look delicious?

For me, there is a difference between "cooking" and "making dinner". I do not intend this to sound snobby in any way...I realize that these terms are the same for most people. However, cooking is my most treasured hobby. To me, "cooking" means to create something special or new, to experiment with ingredients, or to try new techniques. The purpose of cooking isn't just to feed myself or my husband, it also enriches my life and allows me to practice my skills in the kitchen. When I try out a new recipe or technique, I think of that as "cooking". When I brown some ground turkey and add a taco seasoning pouch to it, I think of that as "making dinner". When I am in the kitchen and my only goal is getting food into our exhausted bodies in the quickest and simplest way possible, I don't feel the same exhilarating feeling as when I am in the kitchen creating something new and/or unique.

So even though I haven't been able to "cook" as often as I'd like, I've still been able to feed us and prevent a nightly outing for fast food (although, I don't object to the occasional trip to Wendy's because their new fries are completely awesome...even though I feel guilty afterward)

While we're on the topic of french fries, I'd love to share a special eating ability I have. I don't consider myself a person who has a huge appetite. I certainly eat an average amount of food, but I tend not to eat a ton in one sitting. I'm not one for seconds or thirds.

However...

I have, what must be, a genetic ability to eat massive amounts of french fries when given the opportunity. I could argue that I have that same ability when it comes to cookies n' cream ice cream, but it's not as extreme. French fries are kind of my nemesis when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight, and kind of my best friend when it comes to my taste buds. I cannot remember a time in my life where the prospect of eating french fries hasn't completely thrilled me. I feel similarly about mashed potatoes, but french fries hold a special place in my heart.

I don't ever seem to get full while eating them, either. It's kind of a phenomenon since I get easily full eating almost everything else. I can eat way more ice cream than I should...but I definitely reach a limit where I can go no further (especially since I have a love/hate relationship with dairy products. They always seem like such a wonderful idea at the time of consumption, but the happiness fades about an hour later...) It's almost as if I have some sort of super natural ability to eat french fries continuously, but I know I can't and shouldn't. Is anyone else like me or is this truly a special ability of which I'm to be proud (in a kind of embarrassed way)?

Too bad I don't have this issue with a healthier food, but I didn't design my DNA so it cannot be helped. It would be a lot better if I was more like this girl:

Instead I'm more like this girl:

Now, if you are still reading this incredibly long and somewhat pointless post, I will reward you with a recipe that definitely qualifies as "cooking" in my book. It was fairly simple and completely delicious.

Chicken Fried Rice with Leeks and Cranberries
~A great way to use left over rice~

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 1/2 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3 cups thinly sliced leek (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 1/2 cups cooked, chilled long-grain brown rice
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine

1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to pan, swirling to coat. Sprinkle 1/8 teaspoon salt over chicken.

2. Add chicken to pan, and sauté for 3 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally. Remove the chicken from pan.

3. Add leek, black pepper, and remaining 5/8 teaspoon salt to pan; sauté for 4 minutes or until leek is tender and golden. Add leek mixture to chicken.

4. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to pan, swirling to coat. Add rice, stirring well to coat rice with oil; cook, without stirring, 2 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Stir rice mixture; cook, without stirring, 2 minutes or until edges begin to brown. Stir in chicken mixture, cranberries, and sage. Add wine; cook for 2 minutes or until mixture is dry, stirring constantly.

Note: I used a rotisserie chicken instead of chicken thighs. I also used left over rice from the night before. If you don't have leftovers, make sure you chill the rice for 4 hours or more.

This recipe came from the January/February issue of Cooking Light Magazine.

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