It's no secret that I can't cook. People assume that because I can bake, that I can cook. That's like saying because I can drive a car, that I can also ride a motorcycle and drive an 18-wheeler. Um, no. Actually, I shouldn't say I can't cook. Does being able to boil water for pasta and heating things in the microwave count? Truth is, I've never bothered to learn how to really cook and to become good at it. In today's world of convenience food, I've skated this far in life without learning how to do more than the basics. I don't eat fast food anymore and haven't for years (try reading Fast Food Nation and watching SuperSize Me in the same timeframe and see if you walk into a McDonalds or Burger King ever again) but places like Trader Joe's and Costco were made for cooking simpletons like me and they do all the work. Open package, remove any overtly plastic-y or metal things and put in microwave. Voila, dinner. Don't knock TJ's Chicken Tikka Masala until you've tried it. Even comes with basmati rice.
I also have bland taste buds and am a picky eater so all those ingredients in a recipe, half of which I don't eat most of the time, just don't inspire me to cook. The times when I've attempted it, I left out the ingredients I don't eat and ended up with some strange (and usually tasteless) concoctions. However, we're coming up on a new year and while I shy away from all things to do with "New Year's Resolutions" as seemingly too fleeting to be any good, it's easier to feel motivated to try to hone my cooking skills once again.
Actually, the real crux of the matter is, I don't bake in January. Too many people (plus me) are on a diet or trying to eat healthier and I don't want to sabotage their efforts (or mine). So if I can't bake, I need to do something. Might as well try to learn how to cook....again. I don't aspire to be a Julia Child or even to become a great cook. I just want to be able to put together some decent meals without it being a production. I can whip up almost any baking recipe with just the ingredients in my pantry and refrigerator but for a simple recipe of "real food", I will literally have to write down all the ingredients needed that I don't have (likely all of them), go make a special grocery shopping trip, and in some cases, figure out if I need to buy whatever pan(s) are needed or if I can make do with what I have. I do have pots and pans (more or less) but the only one I really use is my small frying pan since I can make scrambled eggs. Oh, and a pot for boiling water for pasta. All the other stuff I gathered over the years in my previous and aborted attempts to learn how to cook so I have a hodgepodge of cookware, none of which are really top quality since I wasn't going to invest in something I know won't capture my attention for very long.
This time, however, I've learned enough to set realistic goals. I'm only going to make simple dishes that don't require massive amounts of ingredients or lots of chopping and slicing (I suck at that too). Preferably food I can pack into containers and bring to work for lunch so they have to take kindly to being reheated. I can microwave with the best of them.
So, this baking blog will temporarily be hijacked by my cooking attempts - come along for the ride. At best, you can laugh at my efforts :).
Before I inflict that torture on you though, I have another recipe to share from a real cook - my mom. This is for Minced Chicken with Lettuce Leaves or Mushu Chicken as we call it in my family. It's my niece Lauren's favorite dish that my mom makes. Whenever the girls are in town, Lauren asks for Mushu Chicken and my mom makes it for her (c'mon, have to feed the grandchildren and all). I don't know where she got the original recipe so I can't cite the source here. All I've got is a well-used recipe card. Incidentally, this is exactly the type of recipe I'm talking about that's my Waterloo - too many ingredients and too much chopping, slicing and dicing. But it's really tasty - enjoy.
Minced Chicken with Lettuce Leaves
1 head lettuce
6 dried Chinese black mushrooms
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
5 boned, skinned chicken thighs
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup peanut or vegetable oil
2 green onions
One 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, minced
3/4 cup minced water chestnuts
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water
Freshly ground white pepper
1. Separate the lettuce leaves, wash dry, wrap in a cloth and chill for at least 1 hour.
2. Cover the dried mushrooms with warm water and let stand for 2 hours. Drain and squeeze water, discard stems, mince and reserve.
3. Toast sesame seeds until golden.
4. Mince chicken thighs and reserve.
5. In a small bowl, combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, sherry and sugar. Stir well and reserve.
6. Heat wok over high heat, add vegetable oil and quickly swirl surface of pan. Add minced chicken, green onions, and ginger. Stir fry 2 minutes over high heat.
7. Add water chestnuts and mushrooms, stir fry for 2 minutes.
8. Add sesame oil, toasted sesame seeds, oyster sauce mixture and cornstarch mixture. Stir fry until well blended and slightly thickened, 1 or 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.