Posted by: Hil | May 12, 2013

Finding a Groove

Lately, I’ve started going back to one of my favorite hip hop dance classes.  I love the class because it is fun, positive, designed to be accessible to beginners and drop-ins, but actually teaches you some fun choreography.  The steps aren’t hard, but the pace is quick.  You have to be able to wrap your head around the choreography quickly without getting bogged down.  And even more than that, you have to learn to avoid overthinking things and trust that the movement will make sense in your body if you just go with it.  Whenever I’m away from the class for awhile, it takes me a few classes to get my head back in the right space to absorb the steps and just dance.  I think cooking can be much the same way:  if you know how to chop, saute, grill and roast, then cooking isn’t hard—it just takes some practice and momentum to be able to figure out what to make without overthinking it and stressing yourself out.  Lately, I’ve been trying to make time to cook at home more.  It’s a work in progress, but I’m gradually finding my way back to the place where putting thing together feels more natural and automatic.  Relatively speaking at least.

As we were cleaning up from last weekend’s Cinco de Mayo dinner, an alarm bell went off in my head:  what am I bringing for lunches this week?  Fruit and string cheese were well stocked in the fridge.  I quickly threw together a weeks worth of pistachio-raisin mix.  For a main dish, beans are always a good default option.  Per my formula, I decided on that pepper that needed using for my red veggie (sauteed to make it sweeter) and arugula for a green veggie.  Feta needed using up, so in that went.  I still had lots of leftover Meyer lemon juice, so that was the basis of my vinaigrette.

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I didn’t make ahead a big batch of soup or curry this week as I normally do, so this week needed to be full of quick improvised dinners.  Monday night was easy—leftover tacos.  Tuesday night, the Lemonator thawed some frozen chicken tenders to sauté and blanched some green beans.  (I did make my weekly farmers market and grocery runs, which helps with improv nights.  And green beans last  a while in the fridge).  To our dismay, the chicken started sticking and drying out in the pan when we went to cook it.  Dried out, unevenly browned chicken tenders are not an appetizing dinner.  Pan sauce to the rescue.  I deglazed the pan with sherry (I always have sherry on hand for emergencies of this type), added a handful of fresh thyme, a generous jolt of dijon mustard, a pat of butter, a splash of half and half, and my secret ingredient: finely diced Serrano chile peppers leftover from Cinco de Mayo. I gave everything a stir to combine the ingredients and coat the chicken, then let the chicken cook the rest of the way through. 

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I love making pan sauces and this one was really yummy.  Sherry and mustard add great depth of flavor quickly and go with almost any protein.  Thyme is my all-time favorite herb.  But the real surprise was the Serrano pepper.  It married really well with the mustard.  You could taste the pepper from the first bite, but the heat came through later at the back of your throat as you chewed.

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Wednesday night, the Lemonator started cooking up whole wheat spaghetti and bacon for spaghetti carbonara before forgetting that we were all out of parmesan cheese—and we make our carabonara with plenty of parmesan cheese!  Trying to think of another way to incorporate bacon and pasta, I decided to play with the flavors of a club sandwich.  I sliced up deli turkey and added it to the pan of bacon towards the end of cooking.  (I’m sure shredded turkey or chicken would be even better, but I went with what I had on hand.)  When the pasta was cooked, I tossed it with lemon juice, olive oil, crushed garlic, mustard and (don’t tell the Lemonator) a tiny bit of mayo.  Finally, I heated the pasta and meats together in a pan, seasoned with salt and pepper, and added a big handful of arugula to wilt down at the very last minute.  The Lemonator laughed when he tasted it.  It really tasted like a club sandwich!

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No creativity left in my brain on Thursday night.  For me, rice bowls are a great healthy-but-comforting way to raid the pantry when I’m tired.  Normally I make them with brown rice, but we were all out so we used white.  Toppings are frozen peas and diced carrot (cooked in the microwave), canned tuna, soy sauce, sesame oil and lots of sambal oelek chile paste, which makes everything taste better.

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Saturday brunch was baked eggs.   The base is diced tomatoes sautéed with with minced garlic, diced serrano peppers, and a spoonful of canned corn.  Then, I put the tomato mixture into two ovenproof ramekins.  The idea is to make depressions in the veggie mixture into which you can crack the eggs.   Then you bake at 350 for about 15 minutes or until the eggs are set to your liking.

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Next time, I would make these in bigger shallower dishes so that the eggs stayed in their discrete pockets and did not spill all over the top in a messy and not terribly pretty fashion.  But they tasted great!  I recommend serving with toast so that you can scoop the egg-tomato mixture onto it.

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Sunday night dinner…

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Lentil soup with lemon juice and thyme.  You can’t be creative all the time.

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Last but not least, happy Mother’s Day to Blueberry Mom.  Thank for teaching me to love food and make a mean pot of lentil soup.  This blog would not exist without you.

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Responses

  1. You mentioned overthinking cooking in your post and it reminded me that cooking should be a fun and enjoyable experience rather than another thing to stress out about. I love cooking and sometimes its nice to be reminded how relaxing it can be when you just ‘go with the flow’.
    By the way, your rice bowl looks delicious. So colourful!

  2. Em–I definitely agree that cooking should be fun and relaxing. Nigella Lawson’s book How to Eat has a great chapter about cooking for yourself (as opposed to for a group of people) that touches on that theme. She writes:

    “One of the greatest hindrances to enjoying cooking is that tense-necked desire to impress others…when you are cooking for yourself, the stakes simply aren’t as high. You don’t mind as much. Consequently, it’s much less likely to go wrong. And the process is more enjoyable in itself.”

    While I love cooking for other people, I find that very true!

    I think it is funny that you mentioned the rice bowls, because that it the item that I felt the silliest including in this post. They are so basic…but also so good. I love the colors in them, too. In general, if I make sure that my food has colors that make me happy, the dish turns out tasting good, too.


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