Archive for the ‘Stephen’ Category

Off and Running


The story so far:  My friend Stephen has decided to learn to cook.  To that end I got him a cookbook, Great Food Fast (Martha Stewart Living, Everyday Food, Clarkson Potter, 2007), we’ve cooked one meal together, and now he’s been racing on ahead alone.  Here are the e-mails we sent back and forth about one of his recent triumphs.


I tried a very simple recipe, the Chicken Chilaquiles.  It turned out quite well but I will say I was a little frustrated when I went to the store to buy the ingredients.

The recipe called for a can of Chipotle peppers in Adobe sauce.  I assumed that this would be a product one could find fairly easily, but when I went to the Safeway, which has its own little Hispanic food section, I couldn’t find it.  I poked around and wasn’t even able to locate Chipotle peppers.  Taking your lead, I improvised and grabbed a jar of Adobe sauce and randomly pulled another type of Mexican pepper out of the produce section.

Well when all was said and done, it tasted great.

I also used the extra sour cream, Queso Fresca and cilantro to put a Mexican spin on the potato salad we made the other night.  Yum.  My cooking adventure begins and so far so good. 



> a can of Chipotle peppers in Adobe sauce …

Golly, even my white-bread QFC has them.  Did you look in the “ethnic foods” section?  Did you ask somebody at a check-out stand or customer service window?

> a jar of Adobe sauce and randomly pulled another type of Mexican pepper out of the produce section …

Wow!  You’re a natural, Stephen.  That potato salad sounds divine; I will have to make it myself some time soon.  Already you’re thinking through what kind of effect you want to achieve, what goes with what, Plan B if Plan A doesn’t work out.  I’m amazed.  I’m delighted.



Had some of the left overs today and it was even better after an evening in the fridge.

I think I will eat the potato salad heated.  I loved it when I ate it right out of the pot but after it cooled I realized that I am really not a big fan of cold potato salad.  I tested a little bit last night and it heats up just fine.  And I can add some fresh sour cream on top to make it even better.  The cilantro was a delicious addition. 

I finished up the rest of the potato salad last night (heated up…so not really potato salad.  More like a broken up baked potato.) With a little cool sour cream and Mexican cheese it was the furthest thing from a low fat meal.  And delicious, if perhaps not the most well rounded dinner.  Well, one step at a time.  I have the rest of the Mexican chicken here for lunch today (one serving went to my roommate and the other two have saved very nicely for lunches).  I am hoping to fire up the grill this and try the flank steak with green sauce this weekend!


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The Stephen Project



Yet another project!  My dear friend Stephen has decided to learn to cook, we’ve settled on a cookbook for him to use, and we’ve had our first evening of cooking together.

First the cookbook. 

Everyday Food:
Great Food Fast

Martha Stewart Living
Clarkson Potter, 2007

It’s a good fit, but not perfect.

On the plus side, the food in Great Food Fast is normal American food, which is what Stephen wants to cook and eat.  The recipes are reasonably well written.  Together they make a good introduction to a wide variety of culinary skills.  Every main course recipe, along with recipes for recommended sides, fits on a single page, with a full-page photo on the opposite page.

On the minus side, the methods are not explained for an absolute beginner, and the book assumes the reader has equipment that Stephen doesn’t have and may not want to acquire.  The book is divided by season, but the seasons don’t correspond to where we live.  The authors exhibit a tiresome low-fat bias.  And every recipe makes at least four servings; at this moment, Stephen lives alone.  (Selfishly, since I am working on chapter 2, how to make a recipe bigger or smaller, I’m happy to have a guinea pig.)

For our first recipe to do together, Stephen chose buttermilk baked chicken.  I made a potato salad from the book and a lemon cake for dessert.

I was nervous half to death.  It’s one thing to write about how I bang haphazardly around the kitchen, another thing to have somebody there beside me.  But we soldiered on bravely; by the time we sat down to eat I felt relaxed and happy, and the supper was delicious.

Here are some general principles I should have enunciated, although I’m pretty sure I didn’t say them all out loud.

Think or buy your way out of missing equipment and ingredients.  Stephen doesn’t have a food processor, so instead of whizzing bread into breadcrumbs we used mashed-up herbal stuffing mix.

Translate measurements into actions.  Instead of a teaspoon of ground pepper, think of it as six grindings of the pepper mill.

Use one book and explore it thoroughly.  One of the worst things a new cook can do is get a mountain of conflicting ideas from various cookbooks or, worse yet, the Web.  Ideally, the book would be by a single author, but a book from a single periodical with a strong editorial personality — like Everyday Food — is second best.

Start with 2-3 recipes you like and work on them till you’re satisfied or bored.  Then move on to another 2-3.

Develop strategies for dealing with too many servings.  (Here’s where chapter 2 comes in.)

Make a plan and write it down.  Mark and Stephen will be confused about the spinach salad pictured on the plate beside the chicken and the potato salad.  I forgot the spinach until the next morning, eating leftovers for breakfast.

Relax, it’s only supper.

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