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The Unnatural Cook

a chronicle of weekly meal plans from someone who can't just throw a meal together

Tag Archives: mother-in-law

I thought there’d be more leftover meatloaf to make this shepherd’s pie but we ate so much last Tuesday night that I actually had to buy beef to add to it which felt sort of silly. It reminds me of my mother-in-law who used to throw a fabulous open house after Christmas called “The Leftover Party.” But over the years the guest list became so large that she began to have to cook extra turkeys and hams for the “leftovers!”

Anyway, I did use up the extra meatloaf and I added mushrooms to the shepherd’s pie for the first time so that was a nice twist on the recipe.

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I cooked Chicken Indienne using the recipe in a  different way than I usually do. Usually, I take plastic sleeve with the recipe out of my recipe notebook, (see: Meal Plan 101) prop it up on the toaster and follow it, line by line, while I’m cooking.

This time, I read the recipe before I cooked it and closed the notebook. My intention was to learn how to make it without having to refer to the recipe. It’s a recipe of my mother-in-law’s and I really like certain things about it. For instance, she gives nice proportions for flour, salt & pepper when dredging and browning the chicken. Reading it to memorize it made me read the recipe differently. It allowed me to make a mental note of the order in which she does the obvious stuff (brown chicken, saute onions, add spices, chicken stock & cream), and to focus on memorizing the few measurements I wanted to get right: salt, pepper, curry, candied ginger. I’m pretty sure I could make the whole recipe next time without looking.

By all accounts this was my best batch ever of Chicken Indienne. I don’t think it was a coincidence. I think I have finally learned to pay attention while cooking in a way that takes advantage of all my senses and does not rely solely on sight: ie, my ability to see a recipe.

Now the pilaf recipe, on the other hand, came out of the notebook while I was cooking. This is a Cooks Illustrated Rice Pilaf recipe that is so delicious and so absolutely reliable that I wasn’t going to do any guessing. However, I think I could memorize it too and I did, at least, perform the multi-step process with more ease than is customary.

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Something strange is happening to me; I enjoyed cooking dinner last night.

I marinated the steak in white wine, garlic, salt, pepper & oregano without finding a recipe for “marinating steak.” I sliced the mushrooms quickly and evenly using my bread slicing technique. Then I cooked the mushrooms in butter and oil and threw in some thyme because I know my mother-in-law pairs thyme with mushrooms in an appetizer she makes. I happily sliced onions to saute, cheese to melt, and bread to grill. I even let my husband teach me how to use the grill.

I have always liked to eat but I have never liked to cook. This is the first time I can ever recall feeling that cooking was a pleasurable activity. A miracle. Having been forced by the blog to pay attention to what I’m doing in the kitchen has inadvertently taught me some cooking skills. Those skills mean less following instructions, more trusting my senses.

The  way I used to hew to a recipe kept me from engaging my senses. If the recipe said cook for one hour, I cooked for one hour. I forgot to taste the food, watch it, smell it. Now I find myself sampling the mushrooms and the spinach as they cook, seeing how the flavor changes the longer the vegetables are in the pan. It’s no wonder I never associated cooking with pleasure before! Pleasure depends on the senses – if you leave them out of the affair, cooking is bound to be a chore.

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Week 2! It is very difficult for me to control the impulse to philosophize – it is, after all, my one week anniversary as the Unnatural Cook. Does that give me the right to look back and draw grand conclusions? If I were to indulge the impulse I’d say this: It’s hard to stay on top of all the cooking and cleaning that is necessary to keep a family running. I think what makes the blog such an exciting prospect is that it turns something that must be done, into an art form. After just one week of photographing and writing about my meal plan I am noticing the colors of the meals. When I look back over Week 1 there’s a lot of white. Where’s the green? We had salad and spinach and string beans but they’re not the featured items. Will taking these photos inspire me to make more vegetables? To think more about the colors on the plate? These are things real cooks think about, I know this. Will the blog turn me from an unnatural cook into a natural one? We’ll see….

Tonight’s dinner was Chicken Indienne. A great chicken curry recipe from my mother-in-law, Suzy Roach. It’s another meal from the freezer because on meal plan/shopping day I never want to cook. We always serve Indienne with a basmati rice pilaf recipe from Cooks Illustrated, one of the magazines we used to subscribe to before we had children and we had time for such things as cooking magazines. Maybe we will again when they go to college? Will there still be printed magazines? I hope so. Usually I make roasted cauliflower too but we just had cauliflower last week so I opted for frozen peas to get an easy vegetable in there. It wasn’t the best match, but it was green.

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My mother-in-law loves to say that she once heard my husband announce to a group of his friends, “My mother doesn’t cook, she defrosts!” He left out that she was defrosting meals she’d spent the weekend preparing so she could come home from work and serve a homemade dinner every night.

Defrosting is my favorite way to cook! I love food that I can make in large batches and freeze: meatballs and spaghetti, chili, soup and mole are some of our staples. The great thing about having the main course from the freezer is that if I want to, I can spend some extra time on a side dish.

Tonight I didn’t fuss. Bachelor’s Stew is a simple Moroccan lamb stew with onions that I got from Cooking at the Kasbah by Kitty Morse. All I did was roast a head of cauliflower and make some buttered noodles to go with it.

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