I love food! I love eating it. I love cooking it (especially for friends and family). I love trying new food and learning new recipes. Cooking has always been a form of relaxation for me – whenever I need to recharge or center myself, I cook. It’s one of the reasons I love throwing dinner parties – not pretentious ones, just a group of friends over with some good food, conversation & wine (or beer). It’s always more fun to cook for other people!
But sometimes I forget how much I like food and cooking. Life gets busy and I don’t make the time to indulge in a day of just trying out new ideas. So over the past few years, I tried to make a conscious effort to take a day or a weekend every couple of weeks and just enjoy cooking. It’s such a fabulous way of recharging myself.
So what do I do?
Friday after work I went to my local No Frills and just wandered around with a basket. Whenever something struck my fancy, I stuck it in my basket. I had no real menu or agenda – other than wanting apples to snack on and chicken to make homemade chicken soup for the next time I get sick – and ended up with some interesting ingredients. I did the same thing on Saturday. One of the downfalls of not owning a car, having to grocery shop in small batches – I can only carry so much!
So what did I end up making. Taco rice (I love taco seasoning but find tacos a silly dish for one person), French toast (Sunday brunch), spicy ginger chicken broth (with lots of white meat), spicy orange & garlic chicken and bok choy stir-fry, and cranberry muffins. The taco rice and the chicken stir-fry were the only dishes that were really interesting as the others were fairly standard. I almost never follow recipes, although I will sometimes use them for guidelines, except when I bake. But some dishes like French toast are pretty standard – there is little room for variation in the dish although, what you put on top can vary considerably. But French toast is comfort food for me. Plus I have a whole whack of maple syrup to use!
But the dishes that I love making are those that I just make up. Oh, I may start with an idea of what I want to make but often I just look in my fridge and come up with something from the ingredients available. If you’ve ever seen my kitchen, you’ll know that I keep quite a few staples, spices, condiments, sauces and loads of other food on hand. My brother and I were also taught to cook at a young age and my mother encouraged experimentation. We’re both pretty damn good cooks if I do say so myself! 🙂 Perhaps it helps that not only did my mom train to be a chef but was also taught how to do all the old-fashioned canning and pickling. So I make my own salsa, tomato/pasta sauce, jam & jellies, and hot pickles every year. Plus I know how to can my own peaches, plums and pears but since I always get those for a birthday present… But I digress…
Needless to say, I think cooking is fun and I’ve taken cooking classes in different countries to expand my repertoire. But I hadn’t just cooked in ages! So after buying whatever veggies struck my fancy, some chicken breast and ground beef; I just started to cook. I ended up with a new soup base/broth – more gingery than normal with a bit of a kick; a dish that I’m calling taco rice; and a chicken stir-fry. Nothing ground-breaking or terribly exotic but all were yummy and nutritious.
The soup base will appeal to most people, as I was trying for a slightly Asian flavour to my traditional chicken soup. And there is more meat than normal. It’s now sitting in my freezer waiting for me to need comfort food! One of the things my family always has on hand is homemade chicken (or turkey) soup or broth. Oh yeah, it’s just the base (broth plus meat) at the moment as I like to add rice or noodles and veggies the day I eat it. Nothing is worse than over-cooked veggies!
The taco rice is called that because I cheated on Saturday and used taco seasoning. I only had two hours before the hockey game so wanted something fairly quick but also something that would make for a good lunch during the week. So ground beef got fried up with lots of taco seasoning, refried beans, corn and rice – along with a few other things. Basically it’s tacos without the mess. Plus I can’t combine dairy & meat together at work so I substituted the beans for cheese (and added extra seasoning). Yummy but a little uninspired.
Don’t worry; the stir-fry more than made up for the boring but yummy taco rice. Okay, the actual ingredients of the stir-fry aren’t that inspired – mostly veggies and chicken breast – but the sauce was. I wanted something to compliment the mandarin oranges but also had a strong kick. So I started with minced garlic, frozen orange juice, red pepper flakes, Asian chili, Maya’s salted herbs, Wicked Gourmet’s Spicy Orange sauce and then adjusted the portions until it tasted right – lots of flavour and spice. I let the cooked chicken marinate in it for an hour while I got all the veggies ready. Oh, the veggies for this dish were bok choy (I love baby bok choy in stir-fries); red & yellow peppers, asparagus, and snow peas. And then a quick stir-fry with everything in the sauce before dishing it out over a fresh bed of rice. The only thing better would have been someone to share it with!
Nothing terribly fancy to tell the truth, just lots of time spent in the kitchen, feeling recharged and some yummy food to eat. And that’s what cooking is all about for me! Want to come for dinner? I’m always looking for new people to experiment on… I mean, cook for!