On finding that kitchen groove, plus easy-ish recipes to try for your next meal
The kitchen and I were never a match made in heaven. Sure, I’ve had my moments, but there were definitely more of the bad, where people have made bald-faced lies that my food was “good” so as to not offend me. I’m a big girl, please tell me when my food isn’t edible, especially when I serve you really oily pasta, burnt-but-still-frozen-inside fried chicken and half-cooked danggit (because I was afraid I’d burn it)—I wouldn’t want people to eat any of my dubious dishes…and die.
But that never stopped me from trying. So how’d my cooking go from terrible to therapeutic? By starting small. As with anything in life, don’t expect to get the more complicated stuff done if you can’t nail the basics, like make perfectly boiled eggs (or in my case, use the microwave because no, you can’t boil an egg in there). From there, practice, practice, practice. You’ll fail, just like I did and still do, but keep at it, over and over again until you find your groove and learn that kitchen finesse my partner (who’s a chef) keeps talking about.
Cooking is an art as it is a science, so take note of the details (…and your mistakes), too. It’s in the way you hold your knife: grip the handle from your middle finger to the pinky, but curl and place the index finger flat against the blade near the handle and position your thumb on the opposite side. It’s in how you layer and build your seasoning as you add more ingredients in the pot or pan. It's in knowing which side to cook first, too, and noting how long it takes to cook a piece of meat with bones or deboned (chicken with bones takes longer to cook apparently, hence my charred but frozen chicken).
And because all that might be a lot to take in, don’t be afraid to ask for help when it starts to get confusing or overwhelming—Google it, ask someone at home or Zoom a friend. Now that you’re ready, here’s what I learned to make in the past month that you can try.
Disclaimer: only the photo for the mini pizza is mine because I forgot to take pictures of the food I made
Image via Shoot The Cook
Prep time: 20 to 30 minutes
1 22g can of chickpeas or garbanzos
1 to 2 cloves of garlic
1 to 2 tbsps of olive oil
1/2 tbsp of lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
Paprika or chili
2 to 4 pieces pita or tortilla bread, depending on your appetite and how much hummus you get in one dipping, or a pack of crackers
Drain the chickpeas—but save the can of water!—and toss it in the blender. Add a clove of garlic, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste and ½ tablespoon of lemon juice. Blend (this part takes a while, so be patient) and add water from the can; 1 to 2 tablespoons or as needed should be okay until you get the desired consistency.
Serve in a bowl, add another tablespoon of olive oil and swirl around the hummus. Garnish with a pinch of paprika for a subtle kick and some color. Enjoy with a side of toasted pita or tortilla bread, or crackers.
Pan-Grilled Spiced Chicken
Image via Food Fidelity (the closest semblance to my spiced chicken that I could find)
Prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes (to 2 hours based on my skill level)
Serves: 2 (to 3 if it’s a toddler)
2 chicken breast fillets, skin-on
Pinch of salt or as needed
Pinch of pepper or as needed
Pinch of cinnamon or as needed
Pinch of cumin or as needed
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tbsps butter
2 tbsps Olive oil
2 tbsps lemon juice
The real attempt was to make something like a Middle Eastern-style chicken…or chicken kebab. But we were short on ingredients. So anyway…
Put chicken fillet in a bowl. Add olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon (yes, the same cinnamon you use for pancakes), cumin, garlic powder (better if you have real garlic, TBH) and lemon juice. Rub into every nook and cranny of the meat and marinate for at least 30 minutes. If you aren’t pressed for time, marinate for 1 to 4 hours.
Heat pan and add butter over high heat. To taste if you've seasoned your chicken well, try to sear one chicken, skin side first for 2 to 3 minutes or until the juice runs clear. Turn and cook the opposite side for about the same time. Take it out of the pan and taste. If you aren’t happy, adjust the seasoning as needed. If you are, go right ahead and cook the rest of your chicken.
Serve and enjoy with plain or herbed rice.
Aglio Olio Pasta
Image via Simple Vegan Blog
Prep time: 30 to 45 minutes
Serves: 2 to 4
60g or a fistful of spaghetti noodles
20 cloves of garlic (for the garlic confit. Don’t worry, more on that later)
3 to 4 sprigs of parsley or any available herb to mince
Basil leaves (really depends on how much you want to put in there, but I put maybe 4 to 6 leaves)
Grated cheese of any kind, optional
2 tbsps of olive oil (for the pasta)
More olive oil (for the garlic confit)
1 tbsp of butter
Pinch of salt
Pinch of pepper
For the garlic confit (which my partner did for me and was inspired by Thomas Keller’s take on the classic dish), heat up the pan over very low heat. Add oil until there’s enough to cover the garlic cloves. Leave to cook for 30 minutes or until soft. Set aside for later use.
Onto the pasta. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil before seasoning with salt. Add the noodles and cook until al dente (spaghetti takes 10 to 12 minutes). While that’s cooking, heat another pan and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and butter. Take some of the garlic confit to the pan and press into a paste. Add a splash of pasta water to build the sauce. Let it simmer while you drain the pasta and then gently add into the pan. Stir noodles to coat it evenly with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, and grated cheese if you prefer. Make sure to stir again before finishing with a generous sprinkling of minced parsley and basil.
Mini Pizzas: Margherita, Shrimp and Garlic, Pepperoni
Prep time: 30 minutes
Serves: 2 to 3
Garlic (from the garlic confit above)
100g fresh or frozen cooked shrimp, sliced in half
100g pepperoni slices
100g tomato slices
200g grated cheese
6 pieces tortilla bread (because that’s what was available)
1 pack Italian-style pizza sauce
1 to 2 tbsps olive oil
Preheat the oven to 230°C. Brush tortilla bread with olive oil on both sides before toasting in the oven until crisp (or for 2 to 3 minutes). Toasting it allows the bread to hold the ingredients. Now bring it back out to assemble the pizza. Spread a spoonful of Italian-style pizza sauce evenly on each bread. Make sure to cover the surface and sprinkle with cheese. Now go put your toppings.
For margherita, add tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
For shrimp and garlic, top with shrimp and chopped garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
For pepperoni, add the pepperoni slices. Feeling extra? Add ground oregano, some thyme or rosemary. Set aside.
Once your pizzas are topped and ready, put it back in the oven and cook for 4 to 6 minutes. Finish the margherita or all your pizzas with basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.
Serve and enjoy!
Occasionally, I still fuck something up in the kitchen and secretly eat my shame (or flush it down the toilet). But the desire to make something for the people I care about, the process itself and moments of sheer wizardry where suddenly I know what I’m doing without Google or my partner’s help are what keep me from doing it all over again.
The outcome, as long as edible, is a really nice bonus.
Art Matthew Fetalver