Skip to content

The Unnatural Cook

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

Tag Archives: Senses

My previous success went to my head; I tried making pesto without a recipe. The problem was not really making pesto without a recipe. I mean how wrong can you go with six ingredients: basil, walnuts, olive oil, garlic, salt & parmesan cheese? The problem was that I got cocky about it and didn’t really pay attention to what I was doing. I just rushed around throwing things in the cuisinart.

One of the things the blog has taught me about my kitchen foibles is that I’m a rusher. In a frenzy to be over with the cooking I don’t pay attention, and food, like small children, requires a lot of attention. And like small children, food wants you to pay attention with all your senses. But in my blithe desire to prove I could go recipe-free I forgot this cardinal rule and payed absolutely no attention whatsoever. Which was why I poured an entire ball jar of walnuts into the cuisinart and pressed pulse without really considering if I wanted to use all the walnuts. They were just there and I poured them. It took copious amounts of parmesan cheese, salt and oil to bring the pesto back, I can tell you.

I guess the difference between the Unnatural Cook who started the blog and the Slightly- More-Natural Cook I’m becoming is that I won’t go back to the recipe next time, I’ll just go slower.

And the salad idea was nice, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes & olives. That was pretty Natural-Cooky of me.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

Last night was another first. It was my first planned, unplanned meal. It was the day I left intentionally blank on the meal plan to be inspired while shopping. I have to admit I didn’t stray too far from what I know but I was in a very specific mood: I wanted to make a pink sauce, like vodka sauce, but with sausage.

It came out exactly the way I wanted it to; I was so pleased. I sauteed onions in olive oil, then removed the skin from five Italian sausages. Four of them I broke up with my fingers into small pieces. I wanted it to be like that great sausage you get on some pizza – not perfect slices of cardboardy tasting meat, but irregularly shaped, heavenly little morsels. The fifth sausage I crumbled, like ground meat, to thicken the sauce. I browned the sausage with the onions and then added vodka, cooked it down, and added more. After the vodka was mostly cooked off, I added one can of crushed tomatoes and some kosher salt. I served the sauce over fusilli with parmesan & hot red pepper flakes.

Lately I’ve been adding spices, not with a measuring spoon, but with my fingers. I’ve been getting a feel for how much I put in. Yesterday, when I wrote about the idea of using my senses when I cook, I left out the sense of touch. I think feeling the ingredients is as important as tasting, seeing and smelling them. Ripping sausage, pinching and sprinkling salt, helps me, somehow, to know instinctively how much to use. I honestly can’t believe how much my cooking practices have changed in two months, just by writing about them. Never has being wrong been so pleasurable.

Tags: , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , ,