Mary Cooks: Week 1

This week, I managed to produce three fairly decent evening meals.They were all very different, so even though they were all chicken, they all had their own distinct flavor. And no one got food poisoning. Which is progress for me.


Butter Chicken

Indian Butter Chicken

This was really the strongest meal of the week. This one also had the most pre-planning. We started discussing this on the previous Friday. I looked at maybe a dozen different recipes before I found the one I wanted to use. And I followed the recipe fairly closely. And even though I had never cooked Indian food before, the result was a well-cooked meal that even tasted fairly authentic. Thinking about a meal for three days before you sit down to cook is not going to get you dinner every night. However, a bit of planning is a definite success factor in the kitchen. It's best to be familiar with what you are cooking - whether through comparing various recipes or talking it over with a friend - so that when it comes time to start cooking, you have an approach.

Dubious Cashew Chicken


Cashew Chicken

This was the disaster of the week. It was random and haphazard. Even though we talked about this one over the weekend, I never really got a concept in my brain for this dish until I found the Peanut Chili Chicken recipe I based it on. With no solid approach, I made several mistakes which resulted in undercooked chicken and a serious lack of veg. Like everything else in life, in the kitchen failure to prepare is preparation for failure. While the cashew coconut chili sauce was rich and flavorful, the other shortcomings of the meal made it mediocre at best.

Wednesday: Bad Meal Resuscitation

All that being said, the Cashew Chicken really wasn't too far off and only had a couple of things that needed correction.

First, to completely cook the chicken, we cut it off the bone and into bite-sized pieces. This is almost always a winning plan for meat for the novice cook. It will cook quickly and completely, and provides maximum visibility into the cooking progress.

Second, we cut up five times the amount of vegetables I used the previous night. We used cabbage and some additional onion, which was cooked in a separate pan and added to the chicken at the end

Third, we had to salvage the sauce. Overnight, the oil in the cashew butter separated from everything else. Once the chicken had been pulled out for remedial action, the sauce was reheated over moderate heat to pull it back together. My counterpart took the lead as I was at a loss. He added some cream to help keep it together. The additional dairy muted the impact of the three Thai chilis, so he added some Tabasco and a generous does of Korean garlic chili sauce. He also made sure it got hot enough to bubble. After sitting overnight in the same container as undercooked chicken, this is necessary to ensure any harmful bacteria from the raw meat are sufficiently dealt with.

These three simple steps moved the dish into the successful area. Even though I was frustrated and disappointed with the whole Cashew Chicken experience, the work I did on Tuesday wasn't too far off. A little more planning and a little more prep work would have made all the difference.


Spanish Style Chicken with Saffron

Spanish Style Chicken with Saffron, Take 1

Here's where I stepped outside my typical working zone in the kitchen. I found this recipe on Thursday morning and didn't give it a second thought - I knew this was dinner. I read it several times and thought about how the dish should feel and taste and be presented, moving from the basic mechanics of assembling ingredients based on a recipe to considering the overall intent of that recipe. While I still had some missteps - the recipe called for peas, which turned out to be not quite right - I really liked the end result. The sauce itself makes this worth a second try. I'll be preparing this again next week with a slightly different approach. And more veg. American recipes never have enough veg.

Friday: Prep Night

On Fridays, we typically hit the grocery store to buy the following week's supplies, and to discuss the meal plan. I'll be taking the lead again next week, so there will be more chicken. I'll be boning and skinning the chicken today, and making stock from the skin and bones. I'll pack up my meat into separate packages that contain enough for dinner plus leftovers for lunch. I know my raw veg content should be about five times the volume of my raw meat, which means about 20 minutes of prep work before I even start to cook. And I know how and when to deglaze a pan. Which is considerable progress.