Saturday, November 13, 2010

kitchen experiments: 101

My good intentioned friends have been giving me cookbooks for years. I have a special shelf that they sit on, unopened. I think I'm a pretty good baker, but definitely not a cook. They really are two different mindsets.

Baking is precise, it requires measurement and technique, it's well-planned out and clear in its instructions. You have a recipe, you follow it. If baking is a science, cooking seems to me to be more of an art - a pinch of this and a dab of that; some sort of alchemy. Or, maybe it just seems mysterious to me because I'm so new to it! But I definitely think it's a different world from baking. Why do you think all the pastry chefs on Top Chef: Just Desserts are having meltdowns without their recipes? Ok, maybe that was just the one guy. But still, it's not uncommon for all the chefs on Top Chef to go into a total tizzy when they have to do a dessert. (Ok, yes, I watch a *lot* of Top Chef... :)

In the past year, I've made a big move toward learning how to cook in order to maintain a healthy weight and shift away from processed and convenience foods. For years, my idea of "making dinner" was to pick it up from Whole Foods (still my best back-up plan, used now with moderation) or pick up a phone and order it (slippery slope option). Michael Pollan's first Food Rule: "Eat Food" can be more challenging than it seems if you don't know what you're consuming. I was shocked to see how much stuff (sodium, sugar, carbs, calories, processing) went in to the simplest take-out order that I thought was nearly identical to what could be made at home. (namely my addiction to Jimmy John's sandwiches.) So now I scour blogs and web sites for tasty recipes and do a lot of "kitchen experiments." I've figured out enough now that I'm comfortable feeding these experiments to my boyfriend (and he usually likes them). I consider this immense progress!

A lot of my experimenting so far has come from another Angela and her blog, Oh She Glows. I'm indebted to her site for lots of good foodstuffs and continue to work my way through her recipe list. Besides the Vegan Overnight Oats and the Green Monster, both of which have become breakfast staples for me, these are a few of my favorites...

Peanut Butter, Jam, & Banana Breakfast Pizza
This is to die for. It seems at first like a crazy concoction, but trust me, it is delicious. More of a pastry or pie, in my opinion, than a pizza so this might be more leaning toward baking. :) I think I made the crust a tad too thick, but otherwise it came out great. Turned out to be too rich for the boyfriend, which completely surprised me. No prob, more for me!

Spiced Apple Pie Chips
These became an immediate favorite around here! So easy to make and they turn out so pretty and delicious! Ok, still a bit more like baking, but whatever. I would definitely stick with the Granny Smith apples for this recipe. My friends made this recommendation as well, but the second time I made these, I had to find out for myself... I'm stubborn that way. I tried slicing in a Honeycrisp and a Johnathan. Yeah, they were right... neither were very good. But the Granny Smith... amazing!

Emily’s Butternut Squash and Black Bean Chili in Pumpkin Bowls
Delicious and cool looking. This one is definitely cooking! I even made a small change and still had it turn out great. The chili calls for butternut squash, however, after cutting and scraping two pumpkins, I was not in the mood to tackle a butternut as well. I peeled & cubed 3 smallish sweet potatoes and used them instead - which was awesome. This made a lot of chili, which I happily ate all week, but in the future I'd likely make less or freeze half.