Thursday, January 19, 2012

Cooking for Dummies?

Do you feel lost in the kitchen?  Does cooking a meal, especially a new meal, overwhelm you and give you anxiety?  I have talked to countless women who say they hate to cook, but really what it comes down to is not feeling confident enough.  How does one gain confidence in the kitchen?  By reading the book "Cooking for Dummies"?...possibly.  But I believe you can do it by having a laid back attitude about cooking and just by cooking/experimenting more in the kitchen.  Even the most non-laid back, perfectionst type people (like me), can be laid back in the kitchen.  You just have to tell yourself "it's going to be okay...whatever I make will be eatable"...because really...we know it will be, because it's food, right!??  Even you, yes you, can not screw it up.  The most important thing you can do while cooking, is to follow the heating requirements and timing (boil, simmer, etc) and have as much laid out and measured out before you begin so that you do not feel stressed during the process.  Even if you were not taught by a parent or grandparent, you can learn to be a good cook and feel good about doing it.  Toss those fears in the garbage, and pull out of the cabinet a new attitude towards cooking.  Anyone can do this, especially if I can.  No one taught me how to just takes time and practice just like anything else.

A lot of women, including my past self, get hung up on not having all the right ingredients to make a recipe.  But really, a recipe in my opinion, is just a guide.  You can add or take away whatever you want (in most cases) and make it your own without changing the taste too much.  Don't be afraid of changing things up.  It's just bad can it really be??  Okay, don't answer that, just trust me! 

Let me show you what I did to a recipe I just made this morning.  I am sure that I could never write a cookbook because most of my recipes would have a "use this...or this...or this"....several options to make essentially the same thing.  There are many things you can substitute for something else or just leave out and it really won't change the taste all that much.  Now there are other things you absolutley can not leave out, because it could totally change the texture, taste, etc (like leaving out baking soda from a cookie recipe, speaking from experience).  Whenever I need a substitute, I search online...most of the time you can find something that will work. 

I saw this recipe yesterday on Rachel Ray and it looked so tasty.  I knew I had many of the ingredients but that I would be missing a few things.  Here is what I did with the recipe.

  • 6 tablespoons butter, divided - had this
  • 1/2 cup orzo - I typically would not have this ingredient but I just happened to coupon one of those velveeta skillets dinners and orzo was in there.  I pulled out the other ingredients in that boxed meal and will use those for something else.  You could just use rice though and even couscous would be delicious, and a great source of protein.

  • 1 cup long grain rice - I used a rice a roni long and wild rice mix.

  • 2 quarts chicken stock or broth, divided - I only had 1 quart of chicken stock so my soup was more like a stew which is how I like it...but you could add additional water, make your own stock with boullion cubes, and even use beef or vegtable broth if that is all you had. 

  • 1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped - I used dried parsley found in my spice rack.  You would need to look online to see how to convert fresh herbs into dried herbs (there is a diffence in strength/flavor).

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) - I actually just ran out of this so I used coconut oil which is better for you anyways...but of course you could use vegetable oil, just olive oil, or even more butter.  You would not want to use peanut oil or seasame oil or it would totally change the taste.  Typically I would say coconut oil could change the taste but judging from the other stronger/flavorful ingredients, I knew it would be okay.

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pound button or cremini mushrooms, sliced - I had mini bellas.  You could used canned and then skip the process in the recipe where you cook the mushrooms for 15 minutes to soften them.

  • 4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced - did this

  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme, finely chopped - used dried thyme from my spice rack - need to use conversion online from fresh to dried.

  • 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped - used dried rosemary from spice rack.

  • Salt and pepper - did this

  • 1/2 cup dry sherry or Marsala - Used red cooking wine - probably changed the taste some, but since I didn't try the other version, I don't know what it should have tasted like.

  • 1 large or 2 medium leeks, halved and thinly sliced - I didn't have leeks - but added other veggies

  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into 1/4-inch dice - did this

  • 1 onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice - didn't have onions, can used minced onions from spice rack or skip it. 

  • 2 ribs celery, chopped - I did not have celery but added other veggies (green peppers).  You could throw in just about any type of veggie and it will be good.

  • 1 large bay leaf - did this

  • 1 vine ripe tomatoes, finely chopped - used a can of organic diced tomatos with liquid since I didn't have enough broth

  • 1 pound roast turkey or chicken, diced - used diced chicken from a rotesserie chicken I got a few weeks ago.  I had chopped up all the chicken and put it in the freezer for later use.  It thaws quickly and has already been cooked.  You could use canned chicken or any other chicken diced (breast, thighs, etc)...even lunch meat really.  Or if you find a good deal on meat at the deli, you could just have them cut it thicker.  That is if you plan the recipe in advance, in which then you'd probably have all the right ingredients.

  • As you can see, I didn't use much of what the recipe called for but it tasted delicious to me!  If you don't have any groceries, you really have to be creative in the kitchen sometimes!  It is very rare that I have all the ingredients for a recipe, even if I planned the recipe before going to the store!  I am sure most of you are like that also - you forget to buy something or the ingredient cost too much (not on sale).  So it's really simple to adjust the recipe to what you have at home and what your taste preferences are.  Don't let that recipe or the kitchen get the best of you.  You can conquer the kitchen and meal times! 

    The link and picture of Rachel's originally recipe is here.  Compare her picture to the one below in the skillet...they don't look much different to me.

    Here is a picture of my version of Rachel's recipe:

    The soup mixture...
     The rice and orzo mixture - so yummy on it's own.  Rachel says to keep this separate from the soup mixture or else the liquid in the soup will make it balloon up.  The rice/orzo mixture will absorb all the liquid.  You can tell it did this in my photo with the bowl of the two mixed...I liked it that way though.

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