Tuesday, October 20, 2009

My own Top Chef challenge

I've been catching up with re-runs of the American cooking show (on Season 3 now) on SKY Uno.

It's very motivating. One of my big goals (along with getting my Italian up to speed) is to be more of an instinctive cook. I use recipes a lot. Sometimes I will change them.

My mom is a very good cook. If she was trying something new she would use a recipe but otherwise most of the food she made was from her head. Baking is another story. There were some recipes from "back home" that were not written down but for certain cakes, cookies, etc. she had a few favorites.

I learned to cook from watching my mom, 7th grade Home-Ec and the Brownies. For a long time I was "too busy" to cook. A few years ago I stopped doing takeout and started cooking more. When I moved into my L.A. apartment I didn't own a microwave so no more Lean Cuisines. They took so long to cook in a regular oven, I thought might as well cook something from scratch. I don't own one here and have no plans to buy one.

My kitchen is tiny so I can't have a well stocked pantry. However, I always have pasta, canned tomatoes, garlic, white beans and tuna, so if push comes to shove I can make something for dinner. I live within walking distance of three excellent farmer markets open 6 days a week and the supermarkets near me have excellent produce as well. At last count there are five butchers within a few blocks, and a cheese co-op near by. I really have no excuse not to experiment more.

In L.A. I would decide what I wanted to make, wrote a list then went to the supermarket. Here I go to the market and see what's in season.

My "challenge" is to go to one of the butchers or fish mongers, see what looks good, buy it, make something with it. I have gone to the butcher's for polpette/meatballs but that's it. I find the fish places intimidating because I'm not sure what to look for and I fumble speaking Italian when I don't know what I'm doing, which makes the experience more frustrating.

Thanks to Megan, at least now I know some of the fish names in Italian. I'm ready for this challenge (kind of).


Simone said...

I love your plan! I keep basics - flour, sugar, spices, pasta, oats, etc,- and like youI am re-learning (didn't most of our families do this back in the day??) to buy what looks good, what's available and what I can afford LOL! - I am also trying to keep the ingredients I use for every day meals down to 4 - it keeps it fast and the quality/taste of the ingredients still sing (Love Just 4 Things -Linda Doeser)

Anonymous said...

And no microwaves! Love that you don't have one. In this economy (month 8 of job-search, eek!) I do a lot of cooking at home, and indulge my sweet tooth with all the baking I do - I now realize how awful the food we eat out in restaurants can be - oversalted and too much butter (hey, I get it, salt and butter will disguise the cheapest ingredients and make anything taste good) but I need to take a page out of your book and be a bit more instinctual and cook with what I have (or what's available in the supermarket - unfortunately, I can't afford to shop in farmer's markets here (in the US) - they're waaaay to pricy and have turned into the domain of the rich)

GigiSxm said...

cool! be sure to post updates and let us know how you do.

Re recipes not being written down, i have that same problem with Johnny cakes and dumplings. I try to wing it (like our elders) and it's just not the same. *Sigh* i will not give up.

For new stuff i start with a recipe but by the second time I'm already doing my own thing adding twists and such.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

simone - that is a great tip, trying to keep every day cooking simple. I can go crazy on the weekends when I have more time.

anon - my parents never had one either. Of course when I was in high school I thought it was bananas. I mean how were we supposed to pop popcorn without a microwave?! I still don't understand why the Farmer's markets near me in the States were so expensive even for just basic locally grown things like strawberries. Regarding eating out, one of my friends in L.A. said I was a snob because I told her I was no longer going to eat at Grand Lux Cafe or Cheesecake Factory. Sorry, the desserts rock but the food is not great. That said, I love CPK and Houstons.

gigisxm - I hear you. I have tried to make Johnny cakes and my mom's kick butt biscuits. Disaster. I really want to get her coconut tart recipe town. You know folks on the island don't play when it comes to tart.

glamah16 said...

I an always happy to see us get back into the kitchen. Its so relaxing and economical too! Cant wait to see all your creations.

gibber said...

I made 1/2 a coconut tart. By that i mean, i grated, cooked, seasoned the coconut, but used a pre-made pie crust. i had success with the filling, but now i have to try and tackle the crust. When i asked mom to explain to me how to make it in august, lets just say it didn't go well. "Well, HOW MUCH MILK MOM? WHAT DO YOU MEAN TO TASTE!"

Kim B. said...

ah, all those recipes that moms and grandmas have "in their heads" that they can't explain!

we have the same issue with the chocolate pies that my grandmothers on both sides of the family made. No one can re-create them now that they're gone!

Like you, I wish I could be a more instinctual cook. I am completely lost without a recipe. : (

Good luck on your quest!

Los Angelista said...

You all are SO lucky to have farmer's markets open that many days a week - and you don't have to drive all over the city to get to them!

Monie said...

@nyc/caribbean ragazza

"I live within walking distance of three excellent farmer markets ..."

I'm so jealous!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

glamah16 - it is relaxing, especially with a glass of wine. ha

gibber - that crust is the bomb! how does she make it? It's similar to the crostata crusts here. Next time I talk to her, I'm going to ask her to please write it down and mail it to me.

kimb - grazie. we'll see how it goes.

los angelista - I used to drive all the way to Santa Monica on Saturdays for that Farmers Market. Excellent market but hoping on The 10 not fun.

monie - the great markets almost (key word, almost) make up for the jacked up postal system. :)

Tracie B. said...

one of my favorite things to get on the fly in italy was a 'fettina di carne.' you know, those thin slices, but not like a scaloppina. the ones just a little thicker and very lean. always so good with peperoni! throw that in the pan for a minute on each side...yum.

they don't have fettine di carne here, just HUGE THICK steaks.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

tracie b - thanks for the tip. I will look for them next time I go to the butchers.