Saturday, July 05, 2008

    Chicken Lessons

    Last Wednesday, during the daily summer afternoon thunderstorm, I spent about an hour boiling, cooling, and shucking seven ears of corn. I even added a little milk to the water for sweeter kernels. The corn was given to me by a friend who bought extra at one of New Orleans' weekly farmer's markets. She suggested I stick it in the freezer, though I wasn't sure what to do with it from there. During a tipsy conversation with three friendly, funny women at a bar last week, I was instructed to boil and shuck it all, then refreeze and use in various salads and side dishes throughout the summer. Yes, I've gone from trading restaurant recommendations to sharing cooking tips!

    The fresh corn is to the right of the vodka, on the shelf below the container of chicken & rice casserole I made last week.

    Currently, as I like to say, I'm on the dole, so I'm quite able and happy to wile away an hour with corn, Wilco, and sometimes a little vodka lemonade. It's new and different, which makes it fun, and I'm finding that cooking is yet another way to express creativity. It's also practical -- saving money by cooking for Jon and me has become a necessity as I weigh career options. Though he'd be happy to share the cooking, I've become quite territorial in my kitchen, at least until it's time to do the dishes.

    When I started blogging, I realized that in order to become a better food writer, one who can instantly identify an ingredient or technique, I have to be more comfortable in the kitchen. I just needed a larger space, the right tools, more time, and some good instruction to get started.

    When Dana visited from Pittsburgh in May, I asked her to give me a cooking lesson. She's a natural hostess who typically lists 10 dishes when describing her most recent dinner party. In one afternoon, and from memory, she taught me how to prepare baked cod, pan-seared salmon, baked chicken, a five-layer frittata, and a cucumber, yogurt, and cumin salad. I did almost all the work, while she watched and gave easy to understand instructions and encouragement -- as a theater director, she's mastered the art of telling people what to do in a constructive, agreeable manner!

    With her guidance I experimented with spices, cut corners on some recipes, and embellished others. I washed and trimmed two chicken breasts, squirming and squealing the whole time.
    The meal was a success, and making so many things together helped me better understand timing, flavors and textures. It also got me over the hump of the raw fish and chicken ick-factor.

    A week after Dana visited, I made foil-wrapped baked cod.

    When I'm again gainfully employed, the kitchen know-how I've learned the last few months, from putting Panko on everything possible to always keeping frozen fruit, vegetables, fish, and a previously cooked chicken dish in the freezer, will make it easier to balance a job with continuing to save money by eating at home more frequently. Quite a statement coming from a girl who two months ago had never touched raw chicken!

    Click here for the Apricot Chicken Recipe.

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