I've been pretty proud of myself in the kitchen lately. Not because I've been crafting from-scratch artisan meals in my kitchen hearth. I don't have a hearth. I have a space heater. It doesn't make anything edible. I guess I could make beef jerky with it.
No, I'm proud because I've been resourceful. I've been tired lately, mentally and physically. I've been getting home later than usual. I have a lot on my mind. At times, I have sinned: I've bought "food" that comes in a box, because it's quick and easy. You add water, and sometimes some variety of meat, and cook it in a skillet. You can do it with your eyes closed. Which is handy for me because of the whole tired thing. But that stuff ain't good for ya. Just ask my belly jelly.
But lately, instead of falling for the idea that dinner has to be either an elaborate recipe or, the other extreme, straight from a box, I've been combining the two concepts to meet somewhere in the middle. (Not like this is a new idea. Her name is Sandra Lee. Her show is called Semi-Homemade Cooking. And she is rich. And thin. And blonde. Ugh.) The longer you've cooked, the more recipes you've tried, the more techniques you've mastered, and the better you get at coming up with stuff on your own and adapting things your remember.
Here's an dinner example of this philosophy from our kitchen from the night before last:
1. Italian Chicken breast: I had thawed 2 chicken breasts, the kind that come frozen in a big bag. I simply seasoned them and cooked 'em in my FABULOUS non-stick Calphalon non-stick pans (thank you, Nevues). For seasoning, I used a bread-dipping seasoning we received in an Italian-themed Christmas gift basket (thank you, Berrys). It comes in a tin, and you're supposed to mix it with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and dip your bread in it. It'a yumyums that way, but it was awesome as a seasoning too. It has all kinds of crushed herbs and dried garlic and onions. I heated the skillet to high to get a nice golden sear on the chicken and a crust of sorts from the herb rub, then cooked in on low with the lid on.
2. Fake Risotto: This was left over from the weekend, but it is another great semi-homemade concoction. My mom simply cooked regular white rice in chicken broth with chopped onion (and maybe garlic? Mom?). Then she topped it with flakes of fresh parmesan. You could also add toasted pine nuts or almonds if you wanted to. Or whatever nut you have on hand. The idea is for you NOT to run to the store for special ingredients.
3. Artichoke Gratin: I had half a can of artichoke hearts left over from a fish dish from the other night. So, I pulled out my handy Better Homes and Garden Cookbook and looked up 'artichokes' in the index. There was a gratin recipe that I didn't quite have all the ingredients for, so I improvised. I sauteed some canned mushrooms (I love fresh, but ALWAYS keep canned on hand because the're so handy) and turkey bacon, and made a white sauce with butter, flour, and milk in the pan. I put the chopped artichokes in a mini casserole dish, poured the sauce over top, and topped the whole thing with breadcrumbs and cheese. Then, I baked it.
The whole dinner only took about a half an hour to make, and was so much better than box food. And while it wasn't nuts and granola, I felt it was healthy. I also felt proud, cuz I made it up allll my by self. I've come along way since the beginning.