Thursday, September 24, 2009

In the Kitchen with Kate

Bring your fire extinguisher. Haha, just kidding, I haven't set anything on fire since I ignited a microwave trying to pop popcorn as a college student. Ironic, huh? Oh wait, there was the time my brother made it clear I was the only person he knew who could ruin a grilled cheese. And... oh, never mind. I'd like to think I've come a long way since Ramen! In fact, I can boil water for pasta with the pros! :)

Which is what I was thinking about the other night - pasta. YUM. We eat a lot of it around here; it's cheap, easy, healthy, easy, flavorful, easy... are you noting the theme here? The point is that Italian cooking is a dream for the inept chef like myself. Italians have it all right when it comes to food - they emphasize fresh ingredients and then use a few simple ones that come together with the passion of a hot summer night. MMMmmmm.... okay, back to the kitchen.

1) I love my garden. As I mentioned in the last post, I have not exactly been super attentive to my tomato plants this year. I can only worry about so many living things and the two-legged kind have to come first, even if they are more demanding and exhausting. But God is good to me, either that or He has a funny sense of humor because we are overflowing from the bounty of a rich harvest... jungle-style. SO, the FRESH ingredients make the world, or at least the kitchen, a better place. Oh sure, it's a heck of a lot of work cutting up all those ^$*&# Roma tomatoes, but OH the flavor with which they come packin'! We also have fresh Basil, Thyme, Parsley, bell peppers, jalapeno peppers (because you know I like it spicy!) and apparently zucchini. The latter is totally a spite plant, having been planted by my husband late in the season to unprepared soil and I declared I was not going to have anything to do with it. Of course. Anyways, my point is having a few fresh ingredients on hand makes cooking more pleasurable and the result tastier.

2) Prepping those fresh ingredients takes a little time, so I recommend you start now. You will have everything set and ready for a nice home cooked meal right before you send the kids off the college. Planning earlier in the day, during their naps for example, can really help too, but removes the excitement of having toddler hands helping you. Do you know what you're missing if you're not cleaning your hands every 45 seconds to fish something else out of the baby's mouth or redirect the toddler away from the knife?

3) Speaking of kids, I LOVE letting Bella watch me. I pull the step stool over to the counter and let her watch the process. I tell her that next year it will be her job, and she's young enough to like the idea. She's fascinated with the process and we have lots of talking time while I work. Plus, I at least know where she is.

4) Shapes are not just for toddlers. The shape of the pasta is responsible for how well the sauce adheres, and therefore how much goodness you can get in one bite. If there's a particular shape recommended for a dish, it's probably with good reason. Of course, I have my own preferences and I definitely vary depending on what I have on hand, but we stay pretty well-stocked on penne, rotini, and spaghetti/capellini. Also, "rigate" means "with little ridges" which also grabs hold of more sauce. Think similar concepts if you change it up. Kids might love bowtie (farfalle) but it just won't hold that bacon, onion, and tomato sauce. ( Amattriciana)

5) If you've passed first grade, read the whole way through the recipe before you start. Now, this might not be a big deal for the majority of the adult population who have been cooking from recipes since they were old enough to be trusted around a stove, but as I mentioned that happened a lot later for me. After a few times of not starting the pasta water boiling or using all the oil at the beginning and ending up with a slippery mess I figured it out. I might be a slow learner, but I am still hoping to spare another my husband's fate.

6) Oh, another note about the cooking of the pasta - don't add oil to the water! A touch of salt, YES (it's about osmosis and pulling water into the starch) but NO OIL. Stir your pasta to keep it from sticking. If you add oil the pasta will soak it up like sunbathers catching the rays, preventing it from soaking up the good stuff at the end. It can only hold so much, and you want it to marry the sauce over which you are laboring. "And the two shall become one." Definitely God's design, here.

Anything else? Probably. I am a simple cook, who likes a variety of flavors and LOVES simplicity. If anyone is interested I'll even share a few standard recipes we have a lot around here. But trust me, they're worth it. Oh, and take down the smoke detectors, I'm about to brown chicken.