Thursday, October 29, 2009

Learning to cook: My New Year's Resolution

I graduated from high school and moved out on my own at 17. I was a responsible teenager, had a full time job, paid my bills, and cooked for myself. I could scramble eggs and make pancakes for a weekend brunch. I ate filling lunches by heating Campbell's soup and grilling a cheese sandwich. When I tired of Kraft Mac N Cheese and Hamburger Helper I moved onto more gourmet meals like Tater Tot Casserole for dinner, and so I survived. After a year or so it occurred to me: I didn't know how to cook, and that I really wasn't comfortable in the kitchen something I'm sure I inherited from my mom.

I don't think my mom is comfortable in her cooking skills. Even now after preparing our family recipe for spaghetti for almost 50 years she still pulls out the recipe card to check measurements and ingredients. We never really cooked together since she discouraged anyone being in the kitchen with her which, in her defense, was a very cramped space. Mostly I learned to cook by following recipes, or cooking with my dad, who never followed a recipe. His specialty (besides getting every pot and pan dirty) was leftover soup where we'd open up the fridge, pull out whatever caught our eye and made soup with it. Since then I've always been jealous of people who can create tasty simple food effortlessly with no thought of a recipe or measuring. Maybe it's just my perception that people can cook that way, although I have seen a few pull a wonderful meal seemingly out of the air. Over the years I've tried that magical style of cooking, and have most often failed (which my longtime friends can unfortunately attest).

My cooking skills have improved dramatically since marrying Paul, and I love to see my old friends shocked looks as they exclaim, "This is good! You made this?" when they've come for dinner. I'm addicted to cooking shows and love to try new recipes but have never reached the level of intuitive cooking I've so longed for, and lately I rarely cook for anyone besides my husband and son. I test things out on them all the time, but despite their reassurances I'm rarely satisfied with the results. On the other hand, I hate to cook for anyone else. I get easily flustered, and still cannot plan a meal where all the components are ready at the same time. So I decided to go to culinary school -- until I saw how much it cost. I mean, come on! It's not like I want to do this for a living (although I still fantasize about owning my own little neighborhood cafe), I just want to cook well, and feel confident in my skills. So I've decided to learn how to cook the old fashioned way. That's right -- I've ordered Julia Child's Mastering French Cooking (the two volume set!). It's my Christmas present to myself, and since Amazon is still in the pre-ordering phase I probably won't see it until Christmas. I know it isn't an original idea, but I'm doing it anyway! I'm not promising to complete Volume One in a year, but I will post pictures and details about the experience!

Thursday, October 15, 2009


I love to use little bowls when I cook. I cut, measure, and put everything in their own little bowl so they're all ready to go. I also like to pretend I'm on a cooking show so you'll usually find me talking to an imaginary camera person as I'm preparing the evening meal. I never said I was normal.

So tonight we're having vegetarian enchiladas. I have a ton of brown rice to use this week, a half of a red pepper and yellow onion -- sounds like enchiladas to me. I used to have a rocking recipe for enchilada sauce, but dang if I could find it so I just threw something together. Wasn't half bad if I say so myself!

Enchiladas Estoy Desperada

Enchilada Filling:

1 15 oz can pinto beans drained
2 cups (approx) cooked brown rice
1/2 small yellow onion diced
1/2 red bell pepper diced
1/2 cup shredded cheddar
1 tbsp vegetable oil
6 flour tortillas

Enchilada Sauce:

2-3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp flour
1 6 oz can tomato paste
3 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp Oregano
1 tsp Cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups vegetable stock (or water)

Saute bell pepper and onion, cool and mix with rice and beans. Set aside.
Heat vegetable oil over medium heat, add flour. Cook for a minute or two stirring constantly.
Add Chili powder, Oregano and Cumin and cook for a minute or two stirring constantly.
Add tomato paste and cook for a minute or two stirring constantly. Add about a 1/2 cup stock/water to keep from burning.
Add remainder of stock/water and salt.
Bring to boil, reduce heat, and cook until thickened, about 10-15 minutes stirring occasionally.
Assemble enchiladas, top with sauce and cheese. Heat in 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.