Sunday, June 13, 2010

Evolution of a Food Snob

Even uncooked, the spatchcocked chicken with lemon, thyme, onion and potatoes looks delicious.

An artful toddler plate.

This is what Stella does when she likes her food.

A pleased Brooklyn Baby Daddy.

The Brooklyn Baby Momma's plate.




It all started with Rachael Ray. Yes, Rachael Ray.

If my slightly flawed memory serves, it was my sister who told me to watch her, claiming that she was annoying yet irresistible, like pop music.

And I tuned in, making fun of her voice, of her abbreviations (EVOO), her cutesy vocabulary (sammy night), her rambling stories about herself and her handsome musician husband.

But, simultaneously, I also started cooking. I mean, her meals were easy enough, prepared in 30 minutes, and certainly better than the Amy's frozen pizzas and rice and beans Dave and I were accustomed to.

I considered myself a baker, a master of alchemy who could follow a recipe to a T and turn out fluffy, moist, rich, special-occasion food. I didn't cook. Cooking was too risky, too improvisational, too prone to disaster.

But Rachael Ray gave me confidence. She taught me how to chop vegetables quickly and accurately (while keeping most of my digits). She taught me how easy it is to make homemade dressing. She taught me how to bring a steak to room temperature before grilling it and how to correctly boil an egg.

Once I got comfortable, I became a bit more adventurous. I started watching another Food Network show, the Barefoot Contessa, and began accumulating exotic and expensive ingredients and spending hours to make complicated and delicious food indigenous to East Hampton: whole roast chicken with fennel and carrots; pancetta and fontina quiche; cheddar dill scones.

I made Alton Brown's famous turkey for Thanksgiving and soaked up the praises. I prepared a decadent Swiss shard manicotti from Giada Delaurentis and fluffed up with pride.

But my efforts at cooking were still pretty occasional and special. I enjoyed making things that were difficult and intense. I liked shopping for rare ingredients and following long recipes to the letter. I was still a baker at heart.

And then I had Stella. During those first sleepless, insane months, I barely cooked a thing. We ate a lot of frozen dishes from Trader Joe's and bowls of cereal.

But then Stella got started on finger food, and I knew that I wanted her to eat wholesome food, and to see her father and her mother doing the same.

A friend turned me onto a mom/foodie blogger whose recipes are easy, seasonal, delicious, and geared toward early eaters.

I had never really considered seasonality in my cooking before. I just bought whatever the recipe called for. But now I started perusing the farmer's markets, searching for the beets or kale or new potatoes that One Hungry Mama was raving about.

And then I became hooked. Hooked on eating what was in season, hooked on eating local foods, hooked on eating stuff I made myself, stuff that doesn't come from a box or a can, stuff that is whole and real and filled with vitamins and nutrients.

And it just took off from there. Once I started making all my own dressings, I couldn't stand the stuff from a bottle anymore. Once I made pancakes from scratch, it seemed like such a waste to buy the mix.

And, in all honesty, I was seduced by the taste. Real food, even if it's healthy mixtures of vegetables and lean proteins, tastes worlds better than anything pre-prepared.

And the more I made, the easier it got. And now, I cook dinner almost every night. And I love it.

We go to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning and buy what looks good. Then I peruse my recipes and come with a menu for the coming week. We make a list of what else we need to get, do a little more shopping and then we're set. It's good for our wallets (no impulse buys, no food going bad), good for the environment (local foods travel less), good for the economy (I love people who choose to farm), and good for our bellies.

Look, I'm not trying to toot my own horn. I am lucky in that cooking/baking is my hobby, so I derive a lot of pleasure out of this endeavor. But I do wish, much like the adorably British Jamie Oliver, that people would realize how easy and cost effective it is to cook for yourself in the hopes that we can help our country's obesity problem, environmental problems, and economical problems.

So, in addition to my shout-outs to One Hungry Mama and Jamie Oliver, I must recommend my other source for culinary inspiration: Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. Anybody who's seeking easy, simple, seasonal, healthy dishes should subscribe to this delightful magazine. It arrives every month, and I excitedly clip out my favorites. Everything I've made has made the masses cheer, and is honestly as easy as can be. Oh, and as an added bonus, almost all the recipes use ingredients you've heard of that are easy to find.

Here's our current favorite, spatchcocked chicken, from Everyday Food. It's a way to make a whole chicken in 3o minutes. Seriously. And it includes three variations, although the first - lemon/thyme with new potatoes and onions is our favorite. Enjoy!

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