Monday, November 16, 2009

I want to teach you how to cook...

I'm not a professional by any means, but for whatever reason I have always had a knack for cooking. It may be because I started at a very young age, so if you figure I began cooking and baking regularly at the age of 12, I've been doing it for over 12 years, thats a long time to develop a hobby and skill, which means, anyone can do it, given the time and practice. The fact that I LOVE to be in the kitchen may also have something to do with it.

I am asked on a regular basis for recipes of mine and I always feel bad because, I don't normally use recipes. So when I try and write it out, and someone uses that exact recipe, it most likely will not turn out the way I intended. When I cook I taste, feel, smell, and look to see what's going on and how things are turning out, as opposed to reading and measuring and more reading. This habit may have developed from the bad habit of mine to not enjoy reading, but regardless, it's just how I do things now. If you can learn to be flexible in the kitchen, your ability to prepare meals with ease will definitely shine through, and that's what I would love to teach you.

Learning how to substitute is key. When I'm making dinner or dessert or anything in the kitchen, I survey what I have first. Now sometimes you may have something exact in mind, like a pumpkin cheesecake for example (which has been on my mind for a few weeks now, I love fall so much) and so you will need to go to the store and buy the exact ingredients for what you are making, but it is still good to take note of what you have.

The other night I went into the kitchen to make some dinner and this is what happened. I'm going to share a step by step of how this dinner came to be, and really this is how I do most of my cooking. So the sooner you can become comfortable in your own kitchen, the sooner you'll enjoy, if not love, cooking. Keep in mind things don't always end up the way I planned. I don't usually botch a dinner, only because I generally use slight variations from previous dinners I've made, but I do make mistakes, no one is perfect.
  • I made a big luncheon the other day for a church activity so I had some leftover ingredients that I had wanted to use. The plan was to recreate the chicken alfredo I had made the previous day, but I was going to make a much smaller portion (for Martin, my dad, and myself).
  • I knew I had about a half a box of fettuccine left, a container of mushrooms, cream, shredded parmesan, ricotta, and a half a head of garlic, and a few extra chicken breasts.
  • A little trick to know about pasta... Almost all pasta cooks at the same speed, and it is really hard to mess up plain pasta. In a boiling pan of water, throw in whatever pasta you're cooking, and add some salt. Make sure to stir right at first, so the salt dissolves. Most boxes of pasta say to cook from 8-12 minutes, depending on how firm you like it. I prefer my pasta soft, so not al dente, which is what the instructions are for. But with this tid bit of information, you now know you can mix and match whatever pasta you want. There have been many times when I go to make a favorite pasta salad and we have about a half cup of 3-4 different pasta boxes, and so I'll just throw in all of them, it always cooks up fine. Also, you can try and buy the same brand of pasta, so you have some kind of consistency in your kitchen, which makes it easy to create new things. We like barilla :) Then you can store it like this, in canisters, and it becomes even easier to cook with pasta.

  • I started cooking the fettuccine, it probably took about 15 minutes. By the way you can use any kind of pasta for this dish. My mom uses the bow tie pasta to do her chicken alfredo, so be creative.
  • For the chicken, I used the george foreman grill. This little grill is so amazing, if you don't have one, you should go now and get yourself one. They make it in a few sizes (I have a 2 serving size, but my family has the family size, which fits about 4 servings). You can put a frozen chicken breast right in there and in about 15 minutes it will be done, it's awesome. I like to defrost any meat before putting it on the grill, so you get a more even temperature all the way through, but that's only when I'm being picky. With a little olive oil, salt and pepper, just about anything will cook up wonderfully, and with little cleanup. with a pasta dish I usually plan on 1/2 - 3/4 a chicken breast per person. So with 3 people, 2 chicken breasts will be more than enough.
  • While the pasta and chicken are cooking away (stir the pasta once in a while) I started on my sauce and vegetables. In a medium frying pan, over medium heat I start to saute my garlic (that I chopped as fine as I could get it). If you don't have garlic, use garlic salt or garlic powder, if you don't like garlic, use a fresher herb flavor like basil or thyme, or just salt and pepper, whatever you prefer. Add a few tablespoons of olive oil, and add the chopped mushrooms, and zucchini (which my dad had just brought home so I decided to throw it in as well) and salt and pepper. Add a few more tablespoons of olive oil, and either stir or flip the pan every minute or so. Once the zucchini start to show some transparency, they're done (about 5-8 minutes). Put on a serving platter and set aside. You can use any vegetable, or no vegetables, you can be extremely flexable with this meal. Throw in some onions and bell peppers if you wanna be spicy, or even some chopped tomatoes (which only need a few minutes to cook, they get mushy if they cook too long).
  • The pasta should be about done (u can cut off a small piece, let cool off and taste to see if it feels cooked through to preference). If done, pull of heat, and drain, then pour onto serving platter with veges, and toss.
  • In the same frying pan over medium heat, add about a cup of cream. (I figure about 1/4-1/3 cup per serving). While stirring, let it come to a boil. I decided not to use the ricotta, since it had made the alfredo for the luncheon a little chunky, which I did not like, but I still used the shredded parmesan (about 1/2 c.). Salt and pepper to taste and as soon as the cheese has melted, you're done! To thicken the sauce, if you would like it thicker, you can add a little more cheese and/or just cook it longer, making sure to stir the bottom of the pan very well. Pour the sauce of pasta and vegetables and toss.
  • When the chicken is done (cut through the center of a breast to make sure there is no pink) transfer to a plate, slice, and place on top of the pasta platter. Garnish with parmesan cheese, and basil (if you have it, I didn't want to run to the store, so we didn't have any).
  • So this meal could've been made with a million variations, and I hope that you see, and recipe can be changed, either to fit your preference, or just to fit what you have in your kitchen, to keep you running to the store.

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