I feel like I’ve hit a real milestone in terms of my cooking. This week I improvised three meals, two of which were pretty good and one of which turned out ok.
I realize that improvising meals is commonplace for many people, but for me it’s a hard-won goal. I didn’t grow up cooking very much, I don’t really know why. Cooking meant making Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Top Ramen or Snow’s Clam Chowder. After I graduated from college my food appreciation grew as I started earning money and was able to go out to restaurants more. I still didn’t cook much, but my standbys extended to Dad’s simple meatloaf and Betty Crocker’s white chili. Interestingly my boyfriends have nearly always been better cooks than I was. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t need to know how to cook because they did it so well.
Another part of my hangup was a streak of perfectionism and fear of getting it wrong. My motto back then was: “It’s better not to try at all than to try and fail.” (Yeah, I know how dumb that sounds now.) Fast-forward through years of therapy and I finally became interested in risking more. That, plus I got a boyfriend (now husband) who chided me for my lack of cooking ability. In 2009(8?) we took a cooking class together, which helped me get more comfortable in the kitchen. After that I was more willing to cook, though I nearly always followed a recipe and panicked if I got any part of it wrong or if I didn’t have all of the ingredients.
Now, as a full-time stay at home mom for 10 months and since then, a part-time stay at home mom, I cook _all the time_. I’m finding I really enjoy cooking now, especially when it means feeding my family yummy, somewhat healthy meals. And to no-one’s surprise, when you practice something for hours and hours and hours, you get better at it. It’s really starting to feel more natural. I’m starting to intuit how to construct meals with certain flavors and outcomes. In no way am I saying that I’m now a gourmet chef, but I am becoming a halfway decent cook. One of the best parts about it is that it’s less stressful. Either I don’t care as much about getting it wrong or I have more confidence about getting it right, but whatever it is, I can relax more when I cook.
Which brings us to this week. I defrosted a couple of pork shoulder blade steaks from our CSA farms Riverdog hogs. I didn’t remember offhand how to cook them so I looked up a couple of recipes on the internet, but from there I winged it (and even more importantly, I didn’t worry too much about how it would turn out.) I found a spicy rub mix that we had laying around in the herb cupboard and rubbed it all over the pork steaks. Then I sliced a half onion I had laying around, a shallot and some garlic cloves and put that on the bottom of the slower cooker. I laid the steaks on top and poured in 1/2-3/4 cup of water and set the slow cooker to high for 4 hours.
By the end of that time the pork was about to fall off the bones– it was nice and tender. I washed some spinach (from the aforementioned Riverdog farm) and served the steak with a simple spinach salad with bottled honey mustard dressing. Nothing fancy but a decent meal and Dan mentioned that the pork and the spinach went well together.The cool part was the next couple days!
The next day I decided to make an Asian-style salad out of the leftover pork steaks. I shredded a portion of the pork, mixed it with the leftover washed spinach and boiled (over-boiled, oops) some asparagus to add to it. I cut up some candied ginger, some cashews and tossed them in there. I dressed it all with some bottled sesame ginger salad dressing we had lying around. It turned out pretty well and I did it all by instinct!
Then on the third day I decided to make tacos with the remaining pork steaks. I shredded the rest of the pork, cut up some cilantro, some black spanish radish (again from the farm), avocado, heated up some tortillas on the stovetop and served it all as make-your-own tacos! (Margaritas courtesy of Dan.) Along with some sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese and a simple salad on the side, it made for a simple and surprisingly satisfying meal.