A woman named Jessica hired me for a one-on-one cooking lesson today. Her goal was to feel excited about cooking and to find inspiration in the kitchen. She wants to feel more comfortable coming up with recipes and improvising with the ingredients she has.
Prior to our session, I assigned her the task of going to the farmer's market to purchase any fruit or vegetables that looked exciting and inspiring! If the goal is to be excited about cooking, the ingredients themselves need to be exciting. It is as simple as that. I was very excited to arrive to her home today, with a cutting board full of beautiful produce! "I have not that about what to do with any of it yet, but here is what I thought looked great at the market." What a perfect student.
So what do we have here:
*purple cauliflower *romanesco (aka green fractal gem of brassica) * cherry tomatoes *carrots *figs *strawberries *pluots *butter lettuce *floral sprout mix *kale & mint from her garden
Jessica also pulled out some pantry items she had to work with:
*walnuts *hazelnuts *rice *barley *chocolate chips *garlic *ginger *spices *oils
What is the first step when looking at a board full of pretty vegetables and wondering what to do with them? Look at some recipes for inspiration. Open a cookbook and see if anything in the recipes have similar ingredients to what you have. Do a random web search for recipes with a particular ingredient you have. Go to a particular social media site like Pinterest or Instagram and search hashtags (aka #summersquash) or visit a trusted food blog -- my top faves right now are: thekitchn naturallyella minimalistbaker. What came up in various searches was summery grain and veggie salads. The website may have said "cous-cous, tomato, and chard with feta" but that was enough to inspire us to alter it to fit our ingredients: Barley Salad w. Cherry Tomatoes, Kale, Toasted Walnuts, Strawberries & Parmesan. Amazing. I helped guide her a little, and perhaps suggested how long to cook this and how much of that to put together, but it was all Jessica, especially on choosing to incorporate the strawberries and parmesan! Why not?
But we wanted to make more for dinner and utilize all the goods from the market. So we went through a similar brainstorming-creation process to fill out the menu with:
Ginger & Garlic Braised Romanesco & Cauliflower -- which we seared in a pan first to get it all crisp and finished it off in the oven (mostly to follow the recipe and try multiple cooking styles out on one dish)
Flowery Salad w. Carrots and Pluot-Chipotle Dressing (more on this dressing in a moment)
Carmelized Figs w. Chocolate Dipping Sauce
As for that dressing: dressings are something we wanted to work on. She was thinking that a delicate dressing would be nice, since the salad was so delicate with the flower petals. But we didn't want it to be too simple, since the Barley was dressed very simply with Olive Oil, Lemon, Salt, & Pepper. So we returned to the inspiration of our now dwindling array of produce from the market. "Can we use the pluots in the dressing?" Jess asked. OF COURSE! There is no right or wrong way to use a fruit or vegetable. If you want to create something magical and delicious but aren't sure how it will work out... just try it anyway. For dressings, it is pretty standard to use some sort of OIL, some sort of ACID (like lemon or vinegar), some salt, and whatever else you want to make the flavor how you like it.
For the dressing we blended up: olive oil, 1 pluots, cider vinegar, chipotle powder, a squirt of honey, salt, & a little water to thin out the dressing! It looked great... but wasn't just right.
What do you do when your experimental recipe doesn't turn out exactly how you had hoped?Simple. Add a little more of whatever you think it needs until it tastes just right! Especially if it's a salad dressing, because it's easy to make more of and re-calibrate amounts. Jess wanted to put in another pluot... so again... WHY NOT? The additional pluot was a great choice, but we wanted to make a little more dressing anyway so we put in a little extra of everything and sprinkled a little extra chipotle and honey. Perfect.
Dinner ended up to be super yum and Jessica was so excited to have made a whole meal, dessert and all! It was really simple and perhaps to her surprise, really fun to make! Mission Accomplished.
And as for a couple "gems" to take-away from our cooking lesson:
- If you struggle to love cooking but want to love it more, use ingredients that feel fun and exciting! Even if you don't know what to do with them, you can do a little research and figure it out!
- Use the "Why Not" approach when experimenting with new recipes & ideas. What's the worst that could happen? You overspice or overcook something? You choose a bad ingredient combo and learn more about what pairs well together? Not so bad.
- Have fun! Calling our lesson a playdate was super helpful. It really was: we scheduled a time to have fun together in the kitchen and do an activity that felt super supporting and nourishing to our lives. That's a playdate. Adults should have them more often!
That's all for now! If you have read this all the way to the bottom, I encourage you to go to the market as soon as you can and try this experiment out on your own! Buy what feels awesome and amazing and beautiful and figure out what to do with it later. Need ideas? Follow me on instagram @midnightpicnic_ or setup a "playdate" with me in person or via skype!