I first started cooking frequently when I had my first apartment in college. I had a limited meal plan at the cafeteria--a conscious choice as the food selection was either bland or extra salty--and a fairly well stocked kitchen, courtesy of Mama Rose
who sent me off to college packed with every pot, pan and kitchen appliance I could imagine having at the time (today I know that there is an endless supply of kitchen stuff and in my kitchen fantasies I want them all--I savor the day I have my own set of LeCreuset
pots or a Cuisnart ice cream maker
At the time, my friend and new roommate, Mel
had just come back from a year of studying abroad in Bologna. She returned to the US with some Italian dishes she had often cooked during the past year. From her I learned how to make basic sauces like tomato with tuna and zucchini (not necessarily together) and simple chicken dishes.
Looking back, it seems silly that I was so intimidated and anxious at the prospect of cooking by myself. I suppose it's because I did not have Mama Rose
looking over my shoulder and directing me how to cook what, etc. She is a terrific cook and several of her dishes are famous amongst my family and friends. In future posts I will attempt to create them myself--we'll see if I'm successful.
I think Mel's
casualness toward cooking calmed my own internal fears of it. After a few months I was compelled to cook more than just pasta sauces and chicken, but the fear of royally screwing up the food I cooked stuck in the back of my mind. After consulting a few friends about acquiring good basic cookbooks, I settled on two: The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition)
and The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook
. The recipes in both books seemed free of complexity and easy enough to build upon.
Through the rest of my years in college up to the present, I used these cookbooks whenever I cooked...usually creating the dishes exactly as written. Again, that little fear of ruining the food I cook stopped me from applying any creativity in the kitchen. Maybe it's because Mama Rose
is practically a genius at invention en la cocina
--it seems like she just pulls out a bunch of ingredients from the fridge at random and voila, an instantly delicious dish!
Recently, I've been trying to find inspiration in both selecting the ingredients I buy and what I end up creating with them. I'm trying to wean myself from relying so heavily on cookbooks and allow myself to be a bit more inventive.
Well, I'm trying
A trip to the Union Square Greenmarket
last week was rather fruitful (note: no actual fruit was bought) and I found a few items I normally don't buy. I've passed DiPaolo's turkey stand many times (they setup in several open air markets around NYC). I always tried their free tastings of grilled ground turkey breast and found it very fresh, but for whatever the reason I never bought any.
Well, I decided, "today I will buy a pound and find something to create." As I turned the corner of the market and walked along the north side of Union Square Park I saw bags of fresh spinach looking green and perky--with a quick change of a few dollars I had my veggies. Across the way I saw the mushroom man (sorry, don't know which farm he represents) and he had some pretty looking portabellas. I took a moment to pick the one I liked most (actually they all seemed fine, but I always hesitate)--my spinach now had a companion.
Of course, when I returned home I took a second look at the container of ground turkey breast and just sighed because I knew, Fannie
was going to have help me with this one...again. But at least I knew that the veggie dish would be my own.
Baby steps, Rose
, baby steps.Ground Turkey Patties and Spinach with Portabellas
Ground Turkey Patties:
--from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition)
1 lb. ground turkey breast
1 cup grated zucchini
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tbsp vegetable oil
In a large bowl put the turkey, zucchini, onion, bread crumbs, salt, poultry seasoning, and pepper, and lightly toss with a fork until well mixed. Form the turkey mixture into 4 or 6 patties. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the patties about 3-4 minutes on each side, or until done and the meat in the center has turned opaque and is no longer pink. Do not overcook or they will be dry.
A few things I learned or changed after cooking this dish:
- I substituted shallots for the onions because I find the latter overpowering
- limit the bread crumbs to less than a cup as the patty can dry out quickly while grilling
- the first patty was too thick and I quickly realized this when it became easily burnt on the exterior but obviously not cooked throughSpinach with Portabellas
--a simple Rose creation (very simple!)
1 bag fresh spinach (washed and cut to 2 inch pieces, including stems)
2 small minced cloves garlic
2 large portabella mushrooms (1/2 inch slices)
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 tbsp olive oil
Heat olive oil in a 10 inch skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and salt and let cook for 20-30 seconds. Add mushrooms, and let cook for another 30+ seconds. Finally, add spinach and stir the greens with the garlic and mushrooms. Cook for about 1-3 minutes. Remove from heat.
So, basically I'm still relying on the recipe books and not being as inventive as I'd hoped...but this is a start.
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