I woke up yesterday in a particularly foul mood. No reason that I can discern, other than I had watched the morning news before I fell back asleep. Unfortunately, my impromptu morning doze didn’t help my mood, as I had forgotten to thaw some protein for our dinner. Well, hell. Knowing just how effective our freezer is, I set out some bone-in chicken breasts in hope that perhaps my sink is in a parallel universe, therefore the laws of water convection are somehow accelerated and would thaw my chicken just in time. No dice. Besides my obvious foul mood (no pun intended), I knew I just didn’t want to cook dinner.

So, how blasphemous of me!! “You don’t want to cook?! But you want to be a chef! That must mean you always want to cook.” Not exactly. I’ve recently discovered there are many facets to my culinary self. The one who want to cook to for the sake of creativity, the one who cooks for necessity, the one who found an amazing new recipe, the one who wants to tweak and recipe, and the one who would rather not set foot in a kitchen today, thank you. I feel there is a massive difference when you are cooking for your career. You are serving it to the masses (hopefully…instead of your wait-staff) and it is your income. That doesn’t make cooking for nutrition (sometimes) any less important. But let’s be honest, cooking 7 days a week gets old around day 4. I don’t have the restaurant budget to make things like venison ragu or prime rib that I want to make. I’m learning how to make everyday cuts and try to make it something 1)edible-most important 2)tasty-still important 3)memorable-hopefully for the right reasons. Recent sample: sweet tea ribs. I found this recipe in my Food Network magazine and thought it fit some of my recipe criteria: new, creative, different & innovative. And having made them, I already have ideas for the next go round. Learning to cook with less than stellar cuts of meat is a bitch of a learning curve, but I hope to find that in the end I have a higher appreciation for the proteins I long to cook. Plus, I’d rather fuck up a tri-tip than an Elk loin. And someday, god willing, I’ll prepare fresh(out of the water) seafood! (There is truly no such thing as “fresh seafood” in Colorado. Seriously….it does not exist.)

We used to cook because…because that’s just what you do. It wasn’t fun and hardly ever tasted great. I’ve learned that cooking, just like to pretty much everything else, turns out better with training, knowledge and some care. The last part: care, is what scares me on a daily basis. There are some days I truly just don’t care. I feel exhausted, indifferent and just don’t care. That sounds terrible! How can I not care? I’m hoping it’s because I want something more than what I have developed in my self-taught “culinary arsenal”. And honestly, we all need a break sometime. A chance to not be in the kitchen all afternoon in pursuit of the perfect roast, and rather watch the inconsistencies of the footage talking place in Colorado Springs on Dog the Bounty Hunter-all the while pointing out landmarks and how shameless the self-promotion is. A catharsis, a break…I just needed a break.

I am unemployed and looking for employment on a daily basis. I had never been laid off before and that was a crushing blow, especially after being hired 3 weeks earlier. The one thing that got me out of the tunnel-vision of finding employment and wallowing in self-pity was cooking. It was something I could do for my husband; a means of showing him  I may not be able to find work, but I’ll take good care of him. It replaced my self-worth, because I was contributing to our household with something. My husband has been amazing about it, never making me feel awful about not being able to find a job and supporting the days I have a melt-down (usually related to a certain Aunt Flo coming for a visit), by cooking. It has been funny as well, because he asked me not to cook so often because now he misses cooking! Oops. I have been known to be overzealous, full of zeal…vehement. Thank god he’s here to step in and tell me to have a glass of wine.

So, I have some semi-thawed chicken breast in the sink and am thinking how to propose an evening of leftovers (aka help me eat this to make cleaning the fridge easier) or making our own personal meals.  I took a seat to read my latest Food Network Magazine and see if something, anything would jump out at me. (TANGENT: I am a huge fan of Food Network and the magazine. I limit my programming to shows that teach the how and why more than just combining ingredients the host selects. I don’t learn how to cook that way, I learn how to make a dish. Not much of that translates to technique for me. Good Eats has to be the best program for learning the how, and why and has provided many “OH!” moments for me. Not only does he provide the recipe, he provides the chemistry behind every ingredient and what it contributes to the overall success of the recipe. What that has provided me are the tools to understand the difference between baking soda and baking powder, when you melt butter and when you don’t and how I can apply those concepts to other recipes. As for the magazine, I enjoy the massive amount of recipes! Other cooking magazines seem to have more advertisements than legitimate culinary direction, which is not worth it to me. Also, every Food Network mag has this awesome little booklet in every issue that I love. They take something basic: cookie dough, mashed potatoes or this month:eggs, and they give you 50 different ways to prepare them! Which bring me nicely out of my tangent to a gorgeous segway! {I feel the need to thank fivehundy & anitamartini for teaching me the art of the segway and tangent.}) As I’m reading my magazine, I notice the booklet “50 Egg Dishes”. After a mental inventory of the fridge, I feel confident that I can proceed with an egg dish. One thing I have learned is to keep eggs and bacon/sausage in the fridge for days that breakfast sounds good for dinner. (And now for a RECIPE DIGRESSION: the best breakfast recipe I fell upon while watching Man V Food was bacon waffles. Cook your bacon so it still has some toothiness/not too crispy and drain on paper towels. Prepare your waffle batter and heat and grease your waffle iron. As a point of experience/education, set your waffle iron to its highest setting. You’ll get a crispy outside, fluffy inside and the waffles come off the iron much easier and usually intact. I have what is called a restaurant-quality Belgian waffle maker which flips over after I pour the batter and close it. It makes amazing waffles, but isn’t necessary for this. Pour your batter and add a few strips of your cooked bacon. I usually snip my bacon in half and put one half in every quarter of the waffle. Close, let cook, remove and enjoy!) I have eggs and begin reading some recipe options. Scotch eggs: no, Nest Egg: not enough eggs, Fried Eggs: boring…Hash-Brown Eggs-PERFECT! A hash! Why did this not occur to me earlier!? A hash is so simple, uses fresh and leftover ingredients and takes one pan. One of the pitfalls of trying to learn culinary arts is I have the tendency to look “upwards”, as it were, towards the better, more complex things I want to cook. I often forget the simple and very satisfying dishes like a hash. The beauty of a hash, is it can be anything you want it to be. Hash-a dish of diced or chopped meat and often vegetables, as of leftover corned beef or veal and potatoes, sautéed in a frying pan. Brilliant. Now the spark of creation has been relit.

I shred a russet potato and soak them in some water to remove the extra starch. I look into my crisper drawer to find a bell pepper and Pasilla pepper. After chopping half an onion, and both peppers I can start to put everything together. I drain  the potatoes and fry them in my cast iron skillet (I do them first to get them crispy), add the rest of the vegetable until it starts to smell wonderful. All the while, I’m cooking some bacon in the oven. (Yes, the oven. I use a deep pan so I can cook more bacon at one time, it stays flat and it’s easier to pour the bacon grease into a jar for later use.) Once I’m happy with my stove-top hash, I make 3 small indentations in the potato-veg mix and crack 1 egg in each indentation. I then cover it with some shredded cheddar cheese and place it in the oven. Now, my mistake was putting cheese over the eggs. The melting cheese on top of the eggs made it visually difficult to determine the done-ness of the eggs. Mental note for next time. I pulled it from the oven, drizzled some green chili sauce and served it with bacon…and I called it dinner. It had protein (eggs & bacon), vegetables (bell & Pasilla peppers) and starch (potato). I had wished the yolks would be a little more runny, to get that great sauce-like component, but otherwise it was good.

After finishing dinner, I couldn’t help but feel a little lackadaisical with my efforts. Then again, it didn’t cost mt anything extra at the store or Chinese take-out and it was an idea that I now have for my arsenal for when the bitchy-monster wakes me up again. I was reminded that cooking isn’t that hard with the right motivation, a simple recipe doesn’t mean it will necessarily have a simple taste, and the sense of accomplishment is always something that goes great with a full “breadbasket”…or “hash-basket”, so to speak.

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