Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Notes From The Pregnant Kitchen, Round Two

Back during the energetic days of my second trimester, first pregnancy, I got into a bit of a culinary kick. I made things like paella and carrot ginger soup. And with all that free time, why wouldn't I?

Then in life with baby, the kitchen all but closed for business. Nightly, I threw together whatever sodium-laden prepared foods I could. I regularly made spaghetti and lost energy before I could get around to making a salad. I had to launch an initiative to force myself to make better meals. And that was a near failure.

I think I had a few things working against me at that point. For one, I was in the habit of getting home from work, wrestling Oscar to bed, and collapsing on the couch with a glass of wine. Then, it was very very difficult to get motivated.

And also... actually, no wait. That's the only thing that stopped me.

But guess what. I can't drink now so that, combined with weird pregnancy focus, has launched me back into my culinary explorations. Here's some of what I've been cooking up.

Spaghetti Squash

My foray into gardening wasn't a total flop. I did manage to grow a few squash...squashes? Is that how it's pluralized? However you say it, I was sort of drowning in them after a while. Serving them with butter, salt and pepper got tired, so I found a new recipe.

Cut squash in half, remove seeds, roast face down in the oven for 30-40 mins at 375. Scrape with a fork to turn into "spaghetti." Meanwhile, dice some tomatoes, onion and garlic and sauté together in a pan until tender, but not mushy. Throw this in a bowl with the squash, as well as olive oil, whole black olives, fresh basil and feta cheese crumbles.

Delicious! But look, it doesn't taste like a substitute for spaghetti. Anyone who tries to pass this off as pasta is really misguided. Just let it be what it is: you know, squash.

Crock Potting

I've always been drawn to the crock pot's allure of retro modern convenience. To prepare dinner for your family, all you need to do is open cans of things, throw them in a pot, and leave the concoction to stew, unassisted, for 8 hours while you're out at work.

In theory, great. In practice, well, I'd love to know which job lets you leave and return home within an 8 hour timespan. What's that? There are lots of jobs where that's possible? Oh well, I never claimed to be succeeding at life.

So, for me, crock potting needs to take place on a weekend so that nothing gets overcooked. Finally one Sunday, I decided to make chicken 'n dumplings. I have absolutely no idea what possessed me to choose this recipe as I don't tend to gravitate toward anything that ends with "'n dumplings." Maybe because it was a balmy 96 degrees outside with one cloud.

The recipe (after I halved it) called for:
2 chicken breasts
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 chopped onion
1 can of refrigerated biscuit dough, like Pillsbury

To prepare, you throw the chicken breasts, soup and onion together in the pot, then add "enough water to cover." There was something about drowning the whole thing in water that seemed unappealing to me, so I instead used chicken broth. Not that that made the conglomerate any more appealing.

I put the cover on my pot of salmonella and left it alone for 4 hours. Then, it was time to add the biscuits to make the 'n dumplings. The recipe I was working from didn't explain this step other than "put them on top" and while I understood what was being asked of me, I couldn't foresee how this would result in anything other than raw chicken with raw dough. Then I remembered the cardinal rule of crock pottery: "Have faith and walk away." So I sliced the biscuits in half, arranged them on top of the chicken slop, and left them alone for an hour.
Upon my return, the biscuits had somehow cooked. They weren't golden and crisp, but they weren't raw either. They were, I guess, 'n dumplings.

Served up, the dish looked only somewhat more appetizing.
But I thought it was quite tasty, reminiscent of chicken pot pie. Devin ate it obediently and without comment, so I guess I wouldn't call it a crowd pleaser. I only made it again one other time, weeks later, as a late night easy dinner to serve my in laws after picking them up from the airport. I'm not sure what I did differently but this time the chicken was really dry and the flavor was just too... chickeny.

Some time after that, I tried to make crock pot veggie chili by assembling before work and setting for 10 hours while I was away. I got back after 11 hours (sigh) to find the pot completely cold and the onions inside still raw and crisp. I'm not entirely sure how or at what point the pot turned off, but I was basically turned off of crock potting for the time being.


Because Italian cuisine doesn't really do much for me (it's delicious, it's just... eh), I was always a bit indecisive when I found myself at an Italian restaurant. Which shaped pasta with which sauce did I want? Then, I found the "risotto" section of the menu and solved my problems forever. I know, it's just rice, but it's amazing.

I hadn't ever tried making it at home, though, until recently. It turns out, it's actually pretty simple; it just requires so. much. stirring.

The first batch I ever made was a wild mushroom risotto. Though it wasn't supposed to, the whole project took me an hour, start to finish. The result was yummy, but also exactly like the mushroom risotto from the frozen food section at Trader Joe's. So, I guess kudos to TJ's for offering something that tastes just like the freshly prepared from scratch version.

Then, late one night, at a loss for what to make I decided to cook myself another batch of risotto. This time, I didn't follow a recipe and also didn't really have anything to put in it except for lots of parmesan. It only took me 25 minutes and was far superior to my first batch.

A few other random success stories from this culinary explosion include grilled vegetables, prepared by Devin.
Chicken picatta, which is, happily quick and simple to prepare. (Served with leftover risotto!)

And Chinese noodles with pan seared sesame tofu.

In more recent weeks I've eaten a lot of cereal for dinner because I'm starting to lose steam. With about 5 weeks to go before my due date, I should probably capitalize on this time before I fall into the "I have a newborn" dining habits of chips with hummus, thai takeout, or "fuck it let's just go to bed."

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