This is how I enjoy cooking. Not for the internet; for people. So that my husband has a dinner that’s not takeout for the night or two that I’m away this weekend (sinncccceeee I ate all the enchilada pie I was planning to leave for him).
I love cooking. I love helping people cook. That’s why I have a food blog. But sometimes the internet just goes and sucks all the fun out of cooking, and the pressure of how many people are reading or pinning my recipes leave me a grumpy, stressed mess doing late night cooking and photography that reflects my crappy mood. I used to think it was a little weird when people said you can taste when a chef is angry, but now I understand. Things start to unravel quickly when I’m in a bad mood: I forget to season, I undercook vegetables, I even miss ingredients entirely.
I almost let things head in that direction as I refined this Italian-inspired artichoke stir fry recipe at 10:30 one night, with about four non-cooking items still waiting on my to-do list. And I could have let it get the best of me, without fully appreciating beautifully crisped artichokes, spicy citrus broccoli, and fluffy, flavorful whipped white beans. Somehow, though, on this particular night, I said enough with the stress–why am I even doing this if I’m going to be a grump about it? It’s not life or death.
Sometimes you need to get dinner on the table fast (nearly life or death), and I get that. Well, I get it to an extent, and I’m sure I’ll appreciate it even more someday when there are three or four mouths at our table, instead of two. Lately, though, I’ve had trouble snapping out of my spell of stressed cooking. I can picture myself at the first condo I lived in when I moved to Stamford, and I always, always had the BEST time in the kitchen. Even when I got off work late and had two hungry roommates, I absolutely loved taking a new recipe I had printed, pouring a glass of wine, and making the food come to life. I even loved it when I was juicing two dozen lemons by hand for cocktails, before I encountered my favorite single-use kitchen gadget.
So what the heck, food blog? Why are you stealing all my joy? Okay, it’s not NCK’s fault. I determined that amidst a new house, a pug, and the now obligation to cook, sometimes on a deadline, a few things are missing from the kitchen, and I’ve resolved to bring them back:
- WINE. Seriously, why did I stop cooking dinner with a glass of wine? Easy fix, especially when I’m making red wine marinara or risotto of some kind. Gotta do somethin’ with the extra!
- Music. Since when was it too time consuming to take 30 seconds and go find a good album on Spotify? That’s right, it’s not. Favorites these days: Miranda (always), Eric Church, Hillsong, and Thompson Square.
- Patience. Maybe that’s the wrong word, but it sounds better than “slowing down and taking it one step at a time.” I’ve gotten way to focused on the end result of a recipe and a pretty picture, losing sight of everything I learn (and smell!) along the way.
- People. Like I said, focusing on the fact that I’m creating a meal to provide taste and nourishment makes cooking so much more meaningful, even when it’s whipping up grilled cheese because I’m almost too tired to cook.
- Joy! When I lived alone and was cooking one or two exciting things a week, mostly on the weekends, I loved it so much and dreamt of the day I could try pretty much any recipe I wanted any time. I am beyond fortunate that that’s basically a reality for me (unless I develop a taste for black truffles and caviar), so now all I need to do is keep cooking therapeutic and fun. The previous four items help with this one, but it also means that at least once a week, I cook a recipe just for me and Steve without a camera or notepad anywhere in sight.
With this plan in action I’m well on my way to more fun, relaxing cooking and, as a pleasant side effect, better food and recipes with less stress. I would love to hear your tricks and tips, though! How do you keep your cool and keep putting dinner on the table and packing lunches, and even manage to make it enjoyable? Leave a note in the comments section below!
Don’t Have a Blender?
If you quickly bypass recipes requiring a blender or food processor–I hear you. But please stay just a little bit longer and maybe you’ll be convinced otherwise. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I finally invested in a decent blender (followed shortly by a much more than decent blender) and a starter food processor. Now, I use one or the other, if not both, EVERY single day. You can make the whipped white beans in either appliance, along with homemade pesto, smoothies, baby food, speedy grated parmesan, and every salad dressing under the sun. Here are my recommendations for both appliances, at both ends of the budget spectrum:
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Gluten free/vegetarian/vegan option. Revive your stir fry routine! Seared artichokes stand in for the usual stir fry protein, surrounded by veggie favorites and tinged with a little heat. Pile the veggies over fluffy, flavorful, whipped white beans which are ready in half the time it takes to make rice.
- 4 1/2 T olive oil
- 1 C finely chopped yellow onion (1/2 onion)
- 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, divided use
- 2 cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (3 cups)
- 2 C water or light colored vegetable stock
- Kosher or sea salt
- Ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 T butter (optional – substitute more olive oil)
- 2 cans artichoke hearts in water, drained and halved lengthwise (12 to 14 hearts)
- 1/4 t dried thyme
- Splash of white wine (or more vegetable stock or water)
- 4 C bite-sized broccoli florets
- 1/8 t red pepper flakes
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced thick
- 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 C pesto, homemade or store bought
- In a medium saucepan, heat a splash of olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, then add half the garlic and cook about 30 seconds more, until fragrant. Add beans and stock and raise heat to bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Cool the beans slightly, then transfer the solids to a blender using a slotted spoon. Add 2 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, a teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of black pepper and blend until nearly smooth. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and blend until smooth. If your purée is thicker than you like, add more of the cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time. Keep in covered blender to stay warm until ready to serve and reserve remaining cooking liquid.
- In a medium to large heavy skillet, heat butter and a tablespoon of olive oil over medium high heat until butter is melted. Add a single layer of artichokes cut side down, and cook undisturbed for a few minutes until cut side is well browned. Sprinkle with thyme and add wine, then cook until liquid is nearly evaporated. Flip artichokes over for a couple minutes to lightly brown the other side, then remove to a bowl.
- To the same skillet, add another tablespoon of oil. When hot, add broccoli and red pepper flakes and cook for a minute, then add red pepper slices and cook until browned in places. Add a couple tablespoons of cooking liquid from the beans and cook until evaporated, a minute or two. Stir in remaining garlic for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat, squeeze in the juice from the lemon half, fold in artichokes, and season to taste.
- Serve stir fried veggies over a big scoop of white bean purée and a dollop of pesto. The recipe keeps well for a few days if the components are stored separately.
Make sure to cut your broccoli into truly bite-sized florets. It will be easier to eat, but will also cook through in the same amount of time as the peppers, making for streamlined cooking. If you buy broccoli pre-cut, you may need to cut it into slightly smaller pieces.
To make the recipe vegan, make sure to use dairy-free pesto.
- Prep Time: 20 mins
- Cook Time: 20 mins
- Category: Main Dish
- Cuisine: Italian
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