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Friday, August 28, 2009

Following a Recipe Doesn’t Make you a Cook

[NOTE: Here's the second installment from guest blogger Kevin Ireton:]

The idea of me writing a blog about cooking is truly laughable, though friends who have been to my house will claim otherwise. “Kevin’s a good cook,” they’ll say. But this much, at least, I have learned about cooking: It is not the same thing as being able to follow a recipe. I can follow a recipe, but I’m a long way from knowing how to cook.

At heart, I am a carpenter. I have worked at the trade, first for money and then for pleasure, for the past 30 years. Give me sufficient tools and materials, ask me to build something—a cabinet, say, or a house—and I will figure out a way. I understand plumb, level, and square.  I understand 2x4s and plywood. I know lots of different ways to cut, shape, and assemble them. So it is with cooking.

True cooks understand tools, techniques, and ingredients such that they can take what’s on hand and make something tasty. If I live long enough, I may get to the point where I can do that consistently enough to call myself a cook. But even now, I am occasionally forced by circumstances to take what’s on hand and assemble a meal, however humble, without a recipe. That’s what happened last night.

Like a lot of people, I tend to use food as a reward for myself, and last night I wanted something tasty. But all I had in house was a bunch of damned vegetables (our share of CSA box that we split with Tim and Ruth). What to do? I started with oven-roasted potatoes. They’re not quite as good as French fries, but close, and still a ready vehicle for ketchup.

Preheat the oven to 450.
Roughly cube the potatoes.
Coat with olive oil and salt.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, turning once halfway through.

While the potatoes were roasting, I turned my attention to the main dish. The box contained fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, onions, and a banana pepper. I actually tried to find a recipe that included all of these things, but couldn’t, so I forged ahead, figuring “How bad can it be?”

I probably didn’t have to, but I boiled the corn first, and then trimmed it off the cob. After frying the chopped onions and diced pepper in a little olive oil for 10 minutes or so, I threw in the corn and some diced tomatoes just long enough to heat them up.

My Midwestern farmboy of a father would have said, “Where’s the beef?” But I sat down to a reasonably healthy, very satisfying meal that tasted good enough for me to feel rewarded. 

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