Thursday, April 14, 2011

From My Stomach to Yours

Many of you might not know this, but the day I wanted to start cooking was freshman year winter break at Caroline’s house in Vermont. Let me set the scene: In our delirious states of intoxication, Caroline whipped out a Segway and started riding it rodeo-style. Then we got hungry. Nick quickly proposed a bomb chicken dish of mass proportions, accompanied by bruschetta and a monster salad. Nick jumps on preparing the meat, Meg and the girls start cutting bread for the bruschetta, Karthik leaning over their shoulders asking for tastes and likely making jokes that end in throw-up noises. This is where I come in. I’m cutting the fucking tomatoes and carrots for the salad. Like fuck me. I simply didn’t have the confidence or know how to help in any other way. I told myself then and there that I would learn to cook.

That summer I worked at Union Hospital in Lynn, taught tennis, and lived at home. I watched Ina-Lee like a hawk in the kitchen, mentally noting her every slice, preheat, and sear. Things began to make sense. Start with onions. Garlic can’t go in too early or it will burn. Check. Then veggies. Check. Chicken can pan seared to create a crust to lock moisture and then be finished in the oven. This wasn’t so bad, I realized, and more than that, I was really enjoying the meditative state that cooking provided. The aromas, the hisses from the pans, the multi-tasking, the food! From there I began to dabble with various recipes, making mistakes often and learning the right way to do things, until I developed into the half-decent home chef I am today.

Beyond the tastes, cooking provides me the artistic outlet I crave and it allows me to create something special, however ephemeral the finished product may be. Which leads me to this article. I work 1-830, and Karthik climbs most evenings after work, so having a nice, hot meal when I come home (something very important to me, of course) became difficult. Starting a full meal’s preparation at 9 pm was exciting at first, but soon became tedious and frustrating. Not to mention that, to most people besides Nick, going to bed on a full stomach can be quite uncomfortable. So, I was forced to become a bit creative with my meals, and I would like to share with you the two, hands-down, best ways I’ve managed to beat the system, so to speak: a Crock pot and a pizza stone. There is it. The secrets to a hot meal just minutes after you come home. The crock itself was purchased for $20 at Target and has 4 settings: Low, High, Warm, and Off. What started with simple soups turned into pot roasts, short ribs, chilis, pulled chicken, beef stew (throw the raw rice right in there!), you name it. This thing is money, plain and simple. Throw a huge chunk of spiced meat in there with some moisture, put it on Low, wait 8 hours, and you have no idea the kinds of flavor this thing can generate. Plus, pot roasts are WAY cheaper than the pricier sirloins or ribeyes that are great for pan-searing.

Okay, the pizza stone. Karthik bought it with a gift certificate for $50. It’s very simple. Heat that fucker up in the oven at 450 degrees and while it’s heating, cut up some veggies and get your cheese and dough spread and ready. When the oven is preheated, toss the dough on there and assemble. Twelve to fifteen minutes in the oven and you have a bubbling, crispy, mouth-watering pizza that cost less than $5 in ingredients. Word. Some red pepper, franks, and blue cheese and you’re good to go. I’d say we utilize these gems about once a week, each, and it really does make life easier, while enabling us to live like pimps and eat like kings. If you do not have these items, I would highly recommend getting on that and doing yourself a favor. May your hearts and stomachs always be full.

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