I’ve developed an unexpected affinity for cooking lately. When I was in college, I hated to cook and so would fill my belly with the likes of fast food and pizza and frozen entrees. Even my first year out of college, I only did it every once in a while and that would only be because I’d randomly get struck with a waft of endorphins (had to be) that could only put me in a good enough mood to put forth any more effort than running water through the coffee pot before letting it cook a styrofoam cup of ramen noodles. Screw the ones that came in the packets. You had to actually boil water for that.
Around the last stretch of 2013–and when I say last stretch, I mean December–I started this thing where I would come home with several armfuls of groceries, tune my phone to Frank Sinatra radio, and proceed to cook while dancing around the kitchen during baking or boiling intervals. I’d venture to say it was around the same time I started debating my word for 2014, which seemed to be a pretty happening time for my brain as that was when my new outlook on life began to permeate my mind.
Brushing my teeth last night, the phrase “taking time” crossed me, and I realized that seemed to be exactly what I was doing, or trying to do, in my life lately. I’m trying to take my time. Instead of settling for a dinner that only took me five minutes to prepare, I search for things that will take longer–not even by conscious choice. It just happens, without my even realizing it, that I look for recipes that will take me an hour or longer to prepare. Cooking has become more than just annoying foreplay to the eating experience: it’s become an integral part of the eating experience. And the longer it takes for me to prepare, the more I appreciate my efforts, and the more I enjoy the meal.
On Thursday, I decided I was going to make Blood Orange Roasted Chicken with roasted brussels sprouts and seasoned red potatoes. As I had decided this meal literally five minutes before I was set to leave work, I didn’t get home in time to marinate the chicken for four hours like the directions instructed, so I had to do with an hour and a half. I was surprised when the chicken came out incredibly flavorful and tender. I will definitely be making this marinade again in the future. (Also, I had to buy an entire bag of blood oranges because the store wasn’t selling them individually, so sangrias.)
The easiest and less tedious preparation was the red potatoes. I’d been looking for a bag mix in the store that my mom used when I was in high school, but of course they didn’t have it. Instead, I used McCormick’s Gourmet Herbes de Provence Roasted Chicken & Potatoes seasoning mix. It actually tasted very similar to the potatoes my mom cooked, but stronger because I used the entire packet which ended up being too much. I also took the potatoes out a little too early, though because of it I discovered I liked the crunchy, undercooked texture of it. Something about the crisp feel of my teeth breaking through slightly raw potatoes gave them a cleaner, less starchy feeling.
The brussels sprouts were by far the most time consuming, because I had to wash them, peel them, then cut off the ends, and I’d bought two cartons of sprouts so it took me almost the entire time the potatoes were in the oven to get them ready. I liked the mindless and repetitive labor of it, though. I would even say it was therapeutic and meditative. When I was done, I poured them into a glass dish, drizzled on strawberry balsamic dressing, and topped them off with ground pepper.
It was a delicious meal in spite of the firm potatoes and under-marinated chicken. When I first started cooking, I remember being really precious about directions and measurements, but for these recipes I was much less tolerant of them. From this, I’m learning more about cooking instincts and intuition, something my cousin told me I needed to trust in more if I was going to really learn anything about food preparation.
It was also fun taking pictures of my food and figuring out how to put them in the best, most appealing light possible. Food photography is perhaps the most difficult for me so far, in terms of styling. The pictures came out clear, if nothing else. I struggled with whether or not I should put them through filters before inserting them into the post, but I thought there was something simple and rustic in leaving them as they were.
*Music: Bistro Fada by Stephane Wrembel from Midnight in Paris soundtrack*