Hello Impulsive Chef readers! Brian, my brother-in-law, was kind enough to allow me a guest spot on his blog. He's cool like that.
I'm glad to have a chance to provide a little bit of contrast for you all - I am not an impulsive chef, almost laughably so. I think I used to be one, but after going through a tough time in life that changed my relationship with food and thus with the kitchen, I am now a planner, a recipe follower (gasp!).
|Yep, that's a book.|
I won't bore you with my life story - all you really need to know is that I almost completely stopped cooking and lost almost all interest in being creative with it. I stuck to the few things I knew how to cook or bake well, like chicken breast, pasta, banana nut bread and really over-microwaved frozen vegetables. Recently, my boyfriend gently complained to me that he was hurt that I hadn't cooked a meal at home in months. I'm lucky enough to have a great boyfriend who enjoys cooking, so I couldn't ignore his plea or worm my way out of picking up some slack, nor did I even want to do so.
|How'd that happen?|
Thus, my attempt at culinary success. After my boyfriend's complaint, I began to try to imagine what I could cook that wasn't the same old thing, that would impress him. A meal plan began to take shape based around portobello mushrooms - so savory, so subtle, so versatile. I'm used to the baby bellas, but I didn't know where to go with those, so I thought about the bigger ones. I decided on stuffed portobellos, but didn't know with what they should be stuffed. I didn't want it to be too complicated as I was afraid of making a terrible meal, so I picked fresh mozzarella and cubed pancetta (an Italian version of bacon, essentially). Following internet recipe advice, after scooping out about a quarter of the underside of the mushrooms, I baked them open-side down with a very light olive oil coating at 350° for ten minutes, then flipped them, laid in a thick slice of the fresh mozzarella and the cubed pancetta, the latter of which I fried separately in a pan on the stove on medium high heat for about seven minutes. The now-stuffed mushrooms went back in the oven for another 7-8 minutes, just enough time to start melting the mozzarella. Two tips: two of my mushrooms ended up collapsing around the rims - it didn't make them any less edible, but if you want to avoid that, I would say to only precook them before the stuffing for five minutes instead of ten. Also, be aware that mushrooms will shrink a bit when baked.
To go with this, I skillet-fried some asparagus in olive oil and freshly-minced garlic, again on medium high heat, just long enough that portions of each stalk had that browned look. You would want to make sure to turn those over once or twice so your cooking evenly on both sides.
I also prepared a white wine pasta sauce to serve on the penne I was making. I was worried that it would be bitter or sour, but it worked beautifully. I looked on the internet at four or five different recipes before picking one that was pretty simple. I combined half a cup of dry white wine (super cheap pinot grigio) and 4-5 Tbsp of butter (actual butter, not margarine) with some freshly-minced garlic and a sprinkling of Italian seasoning sauteed for about 2 minutes in a quarter cup of olive oil (I would recommend a little less oil, personally). As I let this simmer for about 7 minutes, I decided it would be too wet, so I dashed in a teensy bit of flour, probably only about a quarter or half a teaspoon, and it thickened up nicely, but not too much. At the last minute, literally about 2 minutes before everything was ready, I decided to throw in the portobello mushroom meat that I had scooped out earlier.
The white wine sauce ended up being my favorite thing. My boyfriend loved the stuffed mushrooms and was very impressed with the whole meal, which was all I was going for, but I'm happy to say that I impressed myself too.
So, if you're more like me than Brian and cooking seems like a scary world of too many choices, I guess I would say this: take a chance. Think about the food that appeals to you and why. Follow your flavor palette, because if there's a food you just adore, it's likely you've eaten it a number of times and have thought about its ingredients - that you understand what makes it good. Try making a meal you've liked before that someone else cooked or you had in a restaurant. Don't worry about strictly following the recipes you may look at - throwing the mushroom meat in my wine sauce really made the sauce special.
Alright, that's it for me. Shameless plug: I am a licensed massage therapist at the American Institute of Alternative Medicine on Schrock Road in Columbus, near Westerville. I'm really good - book an appointment! www.aiam.edu or 614-825-6255.
I wish you gustatorial delight!