Monday, January 17, 2011

Chef Gusteau wasn't foolin'...anyone really CAN cook

I have a newfound love in my life.

Actually, it's really more of an old love....a former flame....a love reignited. 

It is my gas stove....and with it, I have rediscovered my passion for cooking.

There once was a time in my life when cooking was not exactly my forte.  I knew dinner was done when the smoke detector went off.  I even dated a chef in the vain hope that I'd never have to cook again.  Unfortunately, I didn't plan that one through too well.  I mean, think about it; after spending all day in the kitchen, where's the last place YOU'D want to be at the end of the day? 

(Man, did Domino's make a killing off of me during those years.)

But then one day I found this wonderful little thing called The Food Network and it changed my life.  All of a sudden, food was somehow demystified.  My stove top wasn't something to be feared, but embraced (albeit carefully).  Cutlery became useful (and not just for opening the day's mail).  And foods that I had never dared to try -- parsnips, anyone? -- suddenly found a place in my side dishes. 

For a while I was cooking quite a bit.  Any new recipes I could find, I would try.  My kitchen cabinets were stocked with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos.  And although I was no shoe-in for Top Chef; I have to say that the meals I prepared weren't half bad.  At the very least, I never sent anyone to the Emergency Room because of them. 

Now, I don't know if I just stopped having the time, the passion or the energy...but somewhere along the way, I just stopped cooking.  I'd WANT to go cook...but it was just easier to get in the car and drive to a restaurant than to step 2 feet into my own kitchen and make it myself. 

But while flipping channels the other day I found myself back on the Food Channel, and all of a sudden the urge to cook took over once again.  And the best part is...I've remembered how much I not only enjoy putting different ingredients together, but also how therapeutic spending time in the kitchen can be at the end of a long day.

I think there is something absolutely magical about cooking.  It amazes me how you can take tomatoes, some spices, a little garlic, onion, some of this and a bit of that; let it simmer for a while and all of a sudden you have this wonderful marinara sauce.  Throw in some mild Italian sausage and you've just added in a whole new layer of flavor.  Then, layer it between sheets of pasta, add cheese, bake...and POOF!  You have a comfort food that you just want to curl up on the couch and eat while watching your favorite movie.  Food has a magic power...and you control that magic every time you put a pot on the stove top and start cutting, stirring and blending ingredients.  I feel even more lucky that my neighborhood hosts a fabulous farmer's market every Sunday.  For the last several weeks, I've found almost everything I need to make an assortment of wonderful dishes just from wandering from booth to booth -- sampling and experimenting with a variety of vegetables, fruits, herbs, beef and seafood. 

So if you've found yourself running through the drive-thru one too many times this week, have a farmer's market nearby that leaves you stumped, or have a pile of pots and pans in your cabinet that you'd really like to see get some use...drag 'em out...dust 'em off and see what kind of magic YOU can make with 'em. 

Hey...if I can do can do it.

Without having to even change the batteries in your smoke detector.

And to get you started, here's a slight variation from a recipe I pulled from Real Simple magazine. It uses something you probably have in your freezer (chicken), something you can pick up at a farmer's market (zucchini/squash), and maybe a little something you've never used before (prosciutto or olive oil--depending on how adventurous you've ever been in the kitchen).

Chicken, Zucchini and Prosciutto:
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts -- rinsed and chopped into bite sized pieces
Kosher Salt (a pinch or so)
Black Pepper (just a touch)
Olive Oil
1/4 pound (or about 6-8 slices) prosciutto
2 medium sized zucchini (yellow squash also work well) - sliced thinly
1-2 cloves garlic - chopped
Touch of white wine or chicken broth (if desired)

Heat about one to two tablespoons of Olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Add the chicken and season with salt and pepper.  Let the chicken cook through (you'll know it's done when the spoon or tongs you're using to stir the pan with can cruise through a piece easily and you don't see any pink inside).  Remove from the skillet onto a plate.  With the pan still warm, place in the slices of prosciutto and let them crisp up (like you would bacon).  Remove from the pan and place onto the plate with the cooked chicken.  Now add the zucchini and/or squash and garlic, and a touch more salt and pepper.  At this point, you can splash in a touch of white wine* or chicken broth (used to "deglaze the pan") -- and scrape up the bits of chicken and prosciutto that remain in the pan (aka "fond") and cook together with the zucchini/garlic.  After the zucchini mixture is cooked, add the chicken back to the pan, break up the prosciutto into the mixture and toss together.  Let heat through just a few minutes more, remove from stove, plate, and eat.**

*If you use wine, the alcohol in it will cook off -- but what you do with the remainder of the bottle is up to you. 

**Meanwhile, although I have used this recipe often and vouch for it's tastiness, I can't be held responsible in the event your smoke detector does go off, your house burns down or any other mishaps occur during the process of cooking and/or eating this meal.  But I have the utmost faith that you will do a fabulous job!!