Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Bitchin' Kitchen.

"Please, sir, can I have some more?"

I am, in my normal double-life, a pretty rockin' cook. Maybe it's the genes that were passed on to me by my foodie father, who's the chef in the family. (My mom is a strictly meat-and-potatoes type of cook, though she does make mean buttered noodles.) Maybe it's the fact that I was raised in a food-centric family for whom Anthony Bourdain is close to God and the brunches of my childhood were spent in places like Tavern on the Green and my father thought nothing of feeding me escargot at the age of 9 or taking his 14 year old daughter to Nobu. Maybe it's the fact I like to eat good food, and this past summer, being on a limited budget, found myself cooking my own meals more often than preparing them from a store-bought option or eating out. Because of this, my body has aligned itself firmly in a newly-healthy capacity: foods with lots of preservatives, chemicals, or high fat content now make me mightily nauseous. I'm used to knowing what I'm putting into my body now, mainly because I'm making my own food. It's good, yes, but it also requires dedication to actually cooking.

I. Love. Food. Hence, I also love going to the gym. You can't have one without the other, unless you are one of those fabulously lucky people for whom your metabolism does all the work. or you're a man. My metabolism decided that body-heat and burning ALL of those calories were superfluous jobs. Mainly, my metabolism sits around on the couch and watches the Food network.

Being a college student on limited income made this fact very apparent early on. It's not unheard of for me to spend over $30 in the specialty cheese section of City Market, stocking up on Vermont's own Lazy Lady Farm's goat milk cheese, fresh baguette, and pate. (Pate, sweetbreads, and foie gras top my favorite foods. If it used to be in an animal-- dear god, I love it.) My father used to say that he was raising me on a diet that I would find out I was not able to afford on my own. So true. The childhood dinners of surf-and-turf, chicken carbonara, fall-off-the-bone spare ribs, chicken cordon bleu and lemon-white wine-and garlic infused scallops may be gone, but I have become a pretty good cook in my own right.

Don Daddy's proud.

I recently finished reading Julie & Julia, and I suggest that you leave your computer this very second and go buy, borrow, or steal-- yes, steal-- a copy of this book. (Actually, finish this post first, please.) Any book that contains the line, "...Reading Mastering the Art of French Cooking was like reading pornographic Bible verses," is sure to be a winner with me. And it was. Julie Powell made me think about food, and blogging, in a way the likes of which I've never seen someone devote such loving, foul-mouthed, laugh-out-loud funny tragedy and triumph to before. I have not seen the movie, but as always seems the case, I can't imagine it can be better than the book. Julie's prose is so witty, poetic, and shocking by turn that I can't ever imagine the movie's script doing it justice. You just can't fake love like that. Pornos have proven this.

Both my recent adventures in the kitchen and Julie & Julia inspired me to compile a list of the best recipes and cooking advice I have for single (slightly broke) college girls. (And men, if you guys cook, too. If you do, let me tell you, your stock with women gets a significant boost. A boost that's right up there with having the body of Paul Walker. None too shabby, fellas.) From the quick, simple, and heart-and-stomach warming, to the dinner to make him propose (marriage, sex, a relationship,) to you, here are my tried-and-true recipes for a life well lived in the kitchen.

Creamy Rice:
This is great for cold or chilly days when you need something that sticks to your stomach and bones (in a non-fatty way,) and will warm you from the inside-out.

(It should be stated right now that I cook by feel, taste, and instinct. (Thank you again, Dad.) I refer to it as "cooking by the seat of my pants." This means that sometimes, I won't include measurements, because honestly, I don't know how much of something I put in. At times like this, I expect you to add the ingredient to YOUR taste-- see what works for you. That's what I do. Cook for your own taste-- not someone else's who just happened to get a cookbook deal or has a few Michelin Stars next to their name.)

Rice-- 1/3 cup is enough for one big serving. (I prefer white jasmine rich because if it's more delicate taste and floral smell.)
Water-- 3/4 cup.
Butter- 1 tablespoon or pat.
Milk or Cream.
Garlic Powder.
1/2 of a Chicken Bouillon Cube, or Chicken Stock.

Bring the water and butter to a boil in a pot. Add rice, cover with a lid, and turn down to a simmer. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the water has evaporated. (Most people will make you swear on your mother's grave to not lift the cover or your rice will DIE. I'm not like that. I am impatient and a visual learner and have a bad habit of burning my rice if I don't occasionally lift the lid to check it or eve-- god forbid-- stir it around a little more. So I'm not perfect. Sue me.) When rice is done, turn off heat and add your milk or cream, garlic powder, pepper, oregano and chicken stock. Stir in until creamy, or, if you use a bouillon cube, until it has thoroughly disintegrated. Enjoy!

Spaghetti and Chicken Parmesan:
This is one of my favorite quick dinners, and gives me a great energy boost before going to the gym without weighting me down and making me feel full. Protein + sugars= short and long energy boosts.

Spaghetti (store-bought is fine-- I like Barilla, or whatever is cheap but still looks like a decent noodle.)
Spaghetti sauce (store-bought, or homemade, either way is good. I don't have time to make my own usually, so I go with Prego. I'm not a fan of chunky sauces, and Prego's not chunky. I even used to make my dad puree his homemade spaghetti sauce for me, but then, I would eat his sister's chunky sauce with no complaints. It made no sense, but she married an Italian and makes one hell of a homemade spaghetti sauce. This marriage is also the reason I can my father "Don Daddy." My Italian uncle died, and if you follow Italian criminal history and family genealogy, you understand why.)
1 egg.
Butter or olive oil.
Garlic powder.
Your favorite type of cheese, shredded, or Parmesan cheese powder. (I like both, because I love my cheese.)

Start by putting water in a pot to boil. While water is reaching boil, crack your egg into a bowl and stir the white and yolk together. Coat your chicken in the egg, then dredge in a mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, oregano, rosemary, basil, and flour. Put that now-breaded chicken into a hot pan with butter or olive oil coating the bottom, routinely flipping it so that all sides cook equally. Add spaghetti sauce to this pan with chicken when the chicken is almost fully cooked (should be the color of your skin in the center if you cut it-- not pink or shiny). Add spaghetti to boiling water-- cook until done. After draining pasta, put on a plate, and arrange the chicken and sauce over the top. Sprinkle on shredded cheese, or Parmesan.

Rotisserie Chicken, or "All The Possibilities":
I love buying a rotisserie chicken at the supermarket occasionally. During middle school and high school, I had to drive 45 minutes one-way to the barn where I kept my horse to take lessons and ride at least 3 nights a week, usually more like 4. (True Life: I Was A Competitive Equestrian. Now, I ride for fun, but there was a time in my teens of A-rated jumper shows and regional championships.) Because of this, dinner had to be on-the-go, and preferably, not always McDonalds. So my mom started buying a rotisserie chicken and bag salads from the grocery store, so I could have a somewhat nutritional meal in the tackroom after my lesson, and so I could eat before 10 PM. Once I hit college, I fully realized the possibilities of this chicken on my meager budget-- you can stretch it for DAYS. A rotisserie chicken usually costs between $5 or $7, which is cheaper than actually buying your own chicken and roasting it yourself. Since there's no cooking involved, here are your options on how to use your bird:

Night One: Rotisserie chicken and a bag Caeser salad, my old favorite stand-by.
Lunch for Day Two: Use some of the leftover chicken to make a chicken salad sandwich. I like adding hard boiled egg, shallots, and salt and pepper to mine on crusty artisan bread.
Dinner for Day Three: Use the rest of your leftover chicken to make the Spaghetti and Chicken Parm recipe above.
Voila! Chicken for 3 days or more on $5! That's what I call "Frugal Fancy."

Wedding-Ring Worthy Steak and Parmesan Oven Fries:
This is like gold, ok? This is like La Perla lingerie or men's Kryptonite. USE IT CAUTIOUSLY. Be kind. Be gentle. It's not fair to cook this for every Tom, Dick, or Hairy Dick. Other girls who don't have this recipe need marriage proposals too, ok?

Are you ready for this? No, you are not ready for this. But you are possibly more ready than the man about to eat it is. You know what's coming. He doesn't. Brace yourself. It's such a simple recipe with such a strong affect.

Steak. Go big. Go Sirloin. If he's going to feel like buying you Tiffany's or Harry Winston, you can afford to give the man some Sirloin.
Potatoes-- I like Yukon Golds.
Parmesan Cheese powder.
Dried Basil.
Curry powder.
Garlic powder.
Olive oil.

Take your steak, and rub in salt, pepper, oregano, basil, rosemary, and garlic powder onto each side. Put in a pan coated with butter or olive oil set to low heat. Cook to preference-- rare, medium rare, well-done, whatever. (I'm a rare or medium-rare girl, myself. I like to see it bleed a little bit. Scary, I know. What do you want from me? The family's from Austria-Hungary/Romania area. I can't help it.)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat a sheet pan with olive oil so your potatoes won't stick to the bottom. Cut your potatoes into quarters length-wise, and then cut them again to about the width of half of your thumb. (I generally get about 5 potato slices per quarter, if that's any indication.) In a large bowl, combine a decent amount (around 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup) of Parmesan cheese with salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, basil, garlic powder, and enough curry powder to give it a little kick. In another large bowl, coat your potato slices with olive oil. Gradually sift in your Parmesan/herb and spice mix until most every potato slice is coated. Arrange your potatoes on your coated pan so that they are touching as little as possible. Bake one side for 10-15 minutes, then flip all the potatoes and bake the other side for 10-15 minutes, or until cooked through.

This looks like a ridiculously easy and simple recipe, I know. This doesn't look lime anything grand. But it is so man-tastic. As soon as you start smelling the steak and potatoes cooking, you'll get it. Believe me. I once had a friend's boyfriend taste just FRY and tell me that if he wasn't already in a relationship, he would have asked me out then and there. And then he proceeded to ask me out. He was kidding...mostly, I think. It's true-- men do think with their stomachs, and they go crazy for this dinner. I say reserve the right to only use this after you're serious about keeping a dude around, after the 5th date or so.

Bitchin' Brownies:
Not so much of a recipe-- more of a guideline. In high school, I was famous as the girl who would make brownies for my guys. (I also baked a new dessert in increasing difficulty for every Thursday AP European History class-- starting with brownies and ending with French puff pastries with a hazelnut creme filling and shaved Colombian chocolate dusted across the glazed tops. There were 7 of us in the class {my favorite teacher, Brownell, and my senior year boy included,} so it wasn't like I was making 24 of these babies. I would have killed myself.) That was my mark of ownership. I made you brownies-- you were my boy. Unsurprisingly, most guys went along willingly with this. The secret to my bitchin' brownies was in the process of making them; from scratch will always be more involved, but it doesn't need to mean better than store-bought. Sometimes a girl just doesn't have the time to do all that work. So, regardless of if you're making it from original ingredients or from a box, here's the rules to follow:
-2 eggs, not 1.
-Stay somewhere between cake-like and fudgey; still thick, but not totally dense.
-Do not bake them to death-- people like warm and slightly gooey brownies more than fully-cooked bricks, err, brownies.
-Icing is over-kill. This is not cake. This is not a decorative cookie. Plus, icing gets messy when you're pushing papers around or trying to flip pages at the same time, like all my boys were.
- A cool and more portable way to make brownies is to fill paper cupcake holders with the brownie mix in a cupcake tray and make brownie cupcakes. (Great for road trips. I like to make them for our Montpelier and Worcester outings.)

Chocolate Chip Cookies:
Men love chocolate chip cookies. Women love chocolate chip cookies. EVERYONE loves chocolate chip cookies, but these little bitches are my Baker's Kryptonite. I can make a homemade terimisu to DIE FOR and the most angelic angel cake, but I can't make a decent batch of C.C.C's from scratch to save my life. If they taste good, they are not cookie-shaped. If they're cookie-shaped, they are over-cooked, and not gooey in the middle like I like them. So, I cheat. I use store-bought batter. I'm a Pillsbury girl. If, like me, you don't like to admit defeat, bury the wrapper in your trash and no one needs every know that the little giggly doughman in white is the real chef behind your stellar, perfect, cookie-shaped and just-gooey-enough masterpieces.

I hope you were able to get some ideas to feed yourself, and your men if you have them. Or, and I'm sure they'd appreciate it, too-- your girls. Enjoy. I'm glad I can maybe help feed more than just your spare time.


1 comment:

  1. awesome recipes!! Too bad I don't eat meat :( They sound delicious though! Especially the brownies. Mmmmmmm.. chocolate.....

    Another trick for college students, when you make cookie dough, roll some into balls and freeze it, then place one in the toaster oven and then you can just have one at a time :)