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Adventures in Cooking

I’ve never been a good cook. I’ll go so far that I’m even working my way up to becoming a decent cook, but good? Not me. Realistically there are about a dozen or so non-crockpot meals that I can make reliably. I’ve come a long way from first grade where, when asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my reply was “chef.” 

Yup. I’m definitely shattering 6 year old me’s dreams.

That being said, I have been cooking more since I started P90X. The program has a nutrition guide and even a meal plan, but I opted to try to stick to the recommended ratios of protein, carbs, veggies, dairy, fruit, snacks, etc. The details would bore you, but suffice it to say, when it came to hitting my allotted proteins for the day, I was in trouble.

Enter breakfast.

Eggs and pork/turkey/meat have protein, as you might imagine. If I get up and cook myself an egg or two and have some bacon or ham or Scrapple then I head to work with 1/3 to 1/2 of my daily protein checked off my list. Lunch is often leftovers or a sammich, though my killer tuna salad (one of my 12 reliable meals) often comes with me too.

Dinner has become its own thing though. Maggie typically makes dinner, but I’ll usually make dinner about once a week. Maggie has been out of town in Colorado doing Figaro with Emerald City Opera and being awesome for the last 3 weeks, so I’m left to fend for myself. As you can imagine, I cycled through my usual meals pretty quickly.

And so I began to try new things. Sometimes I was successful. Sometimes I failed pretty spectacularly. What I feel is important is that I am trying. I made a fantastic chicken fried rice dinner once upon a time and I have yet to replicate that success (it always comes out soggy or slimy). Last week it was again slimy. I tried an omelette and turned it into a pile of scrambled eggs and grilled veggies with hot sauce on top. Recently, however, I have had two decent successes.

Yesterday I made this:

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Grilled Tilapia and Peas over rice

I grilled the tilapia with some dill, garlic salt, and lemon juice alongside sauteed onions, capers, and sundried tomatoes. It came out really good. Maggie and I have done fish a number of different ways, but I’m pretty proud of this one.

Today, however was a trial. I set out to make General Tso’s Chicken since it is one of my favorite Chinese dishes and I have gobs of chicken in the house at the moment. We had the orange sauce in the pantry already, so I needed to pick up a few things for the recipe. No sweat.

There are grilled versions of this dish, but I wanted to be more authentic to the dish, so I opted to fry it. I have almost no experience frying foods, so this was going to be fun. First thing’s first though, I needed to make a marinade for the chicken. Easy, right? One egg white, some soy sauce, a little cornstarch… What could go wrong?

I went through 5 eggs, made the mistake of trying to substitute cornmeal for cornstarch (eventually figured out you can sub flour for it), and stepped on the cat (I was preoccupied and he was underfoot. I apologized and pet his head after I washed off all the chicken-y bits. We’re cool again). Two other mistakes during this process: 1) broke the yolk on one egg when trying to get the white out, and 2) added my wet ingredients to my dry and got mush (yeah, I got a big “told you so” from Alton Brown on that one).

Then came the pans. I put my garlic and ridiculously hot dried red peppers from the Mexican aisle at ShopRite (note to self: hubris is often painful and hot peppers are advertised as hot because they are, in fact, hot) in a pan and promptly burned them up. Take 2, lowered the temp to aerate them and everything was fine. I heated the oil for the now sticky marinated chicken and put them in one by one. I expected the oil to pop. I’m not a complete novice and I have worked in fast food, so I know that heated cooking oil gets a little jumpy. Apparently I had either too much oil or too high heat, because this stuff went crazy. I put the little splash guard thingy on there (and used it as a shield for the rest of the frying) and turned the heat down and it calmed.

From there it was smooth sailing. Dry the chicken, add to the aerated veggies and sauce, mix, put on top of rice and broccoli, and enjoy.

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General Tso’s Chicken

And so, despite my setbacks and failures, I am eating actual food that doesn’t come from a box or a takeout menu. It’s healthier for me and it gets me my protein and veggies so I have enough energy to kick butt at P90X.

I’m looking for more ideas and recipes. Hit me up with links or recipes you enjoy that fall into the “novice to proficient” difficulty range. After all, the more I learn to cook, the less frequently I have to eat pasta and manwich and tuna salad (though, like I said, I make a killer tuna salad).

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