So the theme that seems to be emerging around here this January is: “Things I Need To Do More Of”. Perhaps that is normal for a woman on the cusp of thirty, or for the new year beginning, or for being trapped inside during the cold winter. Whatever the reason, that is what I seem to be drawn to writing/talking/thinking about.
On this list, mentally circled and highlighted and underlined at least three times, is to cook and learn more about cooking so that I can regain my confidence in this area. I don’t mean popping a Newman’s Own pizza into the oven and tossing some romaine and cucumbers together on the side. There is a place and a time for that sort of thing, probably on nights after music class. I am talking about the use of actual ingredients, combining them mindfully, paying attention to flavor and nutrition, and developing a repertoire of culinary knowledge to draw from and share with my family. Real cooking. Or, at least, real making.
Once upon a time, Jeramy and I had cable television. We also both worked full-time. I would arrive home from my job first, sometimes after stopping at the grocery on the way, immediately turn on Rachel Ray, and start prepping the evening’s dinner. Jeramy would come in the door and jump in to help cook and set the table. We adored Alton Brown, and allowed him to convince us to attempt methods and tastes we would have passed on before. We would root for our favorite chefs on Iron Chef America, sometimes stopping in the middle of the show to make sugar cookies from scratch, or shave some dark chocolate onto a scoop of raspberry sorbet. And sometimes, if I was really lucky, I would be awake on the weekends just in time to catch Nigella make something as simple as pea soup sound naughty and indulgent.
Then we moved, had a child, stopped watching TV, and lost all of our cooking abilities. Poof! Gone. Just like that. Instead of finding culinary inspiration around every turn, we would wander the grocery aisles like lobotomized drones. Words like sous-vide and chiffonade dropped from our vocabulary, and we forgot about things like fresh garlic and perfectly caramelized onions. We stopped cooking together just for the fun of it…in fact, we couldn’t really remember how, thanks to the tiny person who robbed us of sleep and loaded us with worries we never knew existed before he came.
Well, now the tiny person is (just a tad) older, some of our mental clarity has returned, and I work outside the home very little. My old love of cooking is something I am sorely missing, and Jeramy has said that he is missing his too; which brings me to tonight.
I received a Thai Food cookbook for Christmas, and decided to put it to use. I scanned through for a recipe that looked simple and delicious, and that was somewhat familiar to me and yet would still push my boundaries a bit. I deliberately went to the store by myself, so that I could take my time perusing and selecting ingredients without a toddler in the cart shouting “What’s Dat!!??” every three seconds.
Despite the fact that Simon was making a terrific mess in the middle of my kitchen floor (while he changed Ernie’s diaper and tried out his new crayons), and the fact that I had to buy the super thin rice noodles because they were all out of the regular size, and even despite allowing a bit too much liquid to simmer away for a proper amount of sauce…I did alright. The meal hit the table more than half an hour late, but I pulled it off and both Jeramy and I enjoyed it. In fact, not only would I make it again, but I really did regain some of my confidence somewhere between mincing and slicing aromatics and sprinkling on the garnish.
Here is the recipe if you’d like to try it out. I made just a couple of changes. I used pre-shredded carrots in a bag, because I already had them on hand and they needed eating up. I also added one extra clove of garlic, because we are a garlic loving household. (To be honest, next time I would even add another clove more…but that is my taste.) Also, as for measuring, I eyeballed the amounts of peanut oil and soy sauce, and didn’t bother being specific about the weight of the rice noodles and just threw in what I felt we needed (since extra leftover noodles are never a hard thing to make use of).
GINGER CHICKEN WITH NOODLES
from Best Ever Thai, Terry Jeavons & Company
2 tbsp. peanut oil
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2- inch piece of fresh ginger, sliced thinly
2 carrots, sliced thinly
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
1 1/4 cups chicken stock
4 tbsp. soy sauce
an 8 oz. can of bamboo shoots, drained
2 3/4 oz. rice noodles
4 chopped scallions for garnish
Heat oil in a wok (or a non-stick skillet) and stir-fry the onion, garlic, ginger and carrots until softened. Add the chicken and stir-fry until it is cooked through and browned. Pour in the stock and soy sauce, and add bamboo shoots. Allow to come to a gentle boil, and then simmer for 2-3 minutes. In a separate pot, boil rice noodles and drain well.
Serve in bowls and garnish with scallions.
Note: Simon gave it a really decent try, slurping up several noodles and munching a few carrots. In the end though, he was not enthused and ended up working on his yogurt beard styling instead. You win some, you lose some.