Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Pig Plus Pig Equals Pig

Posted: April 12, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 4 Comments »

The pig has been experiencing a resurgence of late, with all manner of celebrity chefs, and not-so-celebrity chefs, giving it love. Bacon, Charcuterie, Snout-to-Tail eating, Scrapple, all these things are coming around again, and in some cases getting a bit more attention than I personally think is sane (bacon flavored ice cream? I just…..can’t). However, as much as I wonder about the merits of putting bacon in baked goods, and wrapping everything possible in pig, there are some beautiful things out there, that only get better with more pig products.

Case in point: Pork Chops Saltimbocca. This is a recipe I got out of my “Make this” list from a Gourmet magazine. It was in their quick-and-easy section, and boy howdy, is it. While you have to dedicate some time to cutting a pocket in your pork chops, once you’ve got that on lock, the rest is easy-peasy.
Pork Chops Saltimbocca
Gourmet August 2009

1. Preheat the oven to 450. Take a pork chop per person, and cut a wide, deep pocket into it. The best way to do this is to stand the pork chop up on the bone (which is weird). Stick your knife in opposite the bone, and jab as far down as you can in one go. Wiggle the knife around, to the left and right, using it to scrape the meat apart. Don’t jab again, because you risk going through the outside of the pork chop. Just cut a nice, deep pocket in the meat of the pork chop, opposite the bone. Season inside and out with salt and pepper.

2. Stuff a piece of prosciutto and a slice of fontina into the pocket in each chop. I didn’t use sage, because I didn’t have any.
3. Heat up a tablespoon of olive oil in an oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then put the chops in and cook until they get nice and brown on one side, about 2 minutes. Then, flip and brown for another 2 minutes, and stick the pan in the oven until the chops are done through — about 5-10 minutes.
4. Take the chops out, and pour some chicken stock or wine into the skillet and stir, to loosen up all the lovely brown bits that will be stuck to the bottom of the pan – this becomes your pan sauce!

I served these with cheesy polenta (1 cup water boiled, 1/4 cup polenta whisked in, and butter, salt and parmesan added to taste), and braised kale, which will someday get its own post.
Pork-stuffed-Pork is really delicious – the chops are juicy, and the combination of creamy cheese, and salty prosciutto are a match made in heaven. This all comes together in under half an hour even if you’re NOT the next Rachael Ray, and the sauteed spinach that is included on Epicurious is just as awesome as the braised kale and cheesy polenta I served it all with. It’s still a pretty tame variation on the big bacon craze, but for now, it’s a perfect way to get my feet wet.

Try this – and don’t worry, I won’t be posting a bacon ice cream recipe any time soon. :)

Ceci Friti: Take a healthy thing, and fry it!

Posted: April 5, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 5 Comments »

One of the dangers of being me is my susceptibility to suggestion. This afternoon, while watching “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” on Food Network, I encountered Alton Brown’s mention of fried black-eyed peas. The idea began to roll around in my head, and before long I was wondering if I had enough time before the store closed to run next door and get supplies.
I happen to love chickpeas, and since I was unsure how this first try was going to go, I decided to go with a legume that I knew I would eat and enjoy either way. A cursory internet search gave me a method, so I went for it this afternoon, so Jesse and I could have a snack before we ate dinner while watching the Red Sox home opener! Yay, Baseball’s Back!!!

Ceci Friti
Fried Chickpeas

1. Take either 1 huge family-sized can of chickpeas or 2 smaller jars, and rinse them under cold water. Spread them out on a dishtowel, and rub them lightly. This serves to both dry them off a little, and rub off some of the chickpea skins. Heat 2 inches of oil in a saucepan over medium heat to a temperature of 375.

2. If you don’t want to really strive to peel all the skins off the chickpeas, you will suffer no ill effects. Skip straight to step 3. If not: Put your chickpeas back in the strainer, rinse again, and repeat the drying/rubbing step. I’ll let you know, though, that I spent longer picking skins off my chickpeas than I did making the fried chickpeas. So decide whether you want to waste your time on that or not – the skins get nice and crispy when fried.
3. Put roughly half your chickpeas into the oil, and fry for 5-7 minutes. Drain on paper towels and repeat with the rest of the chickpeas.

You’re looking for a nice golden brown. The chickpeas should be crispy, and you can decide whether you want them to be crispy all the way through (7 minutes), crispy only on the outside (5ish minutes), or somewhere in between. Taste and check.
4. While the chickpeas are frying, figure out how you want to season your chickpeas. I chose to go really basic, using salt, Old Bay, and lemon juice. This is partly because I love the taste of that combination, and partly because I wasn’t sure what a fried chickpea would taste like, so I wanted to go simple. I mixed together a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of OldBay – if you’re not into Old Bay, you can totally use paprika, garlic powder, cumin, anything else you’re looking for. Either way, when the chickpeas have drained for a couple minutes, but while they’re still hot, toss them with the seasoning blend in a bowl. I squeezed some lemon juice over the bowl after I finished mixing, and that worked really well – I highly recommend it.
Jesse and I ate this whole bowl. It’s absolutely more chickpeas than Jesse has eaten in non-falafel, non-hummus form in the entire time we’ve been together. The chickpeas come out incredibly crispy, and have just the right level of spice and salt. The lemon really freshens everything up, and as long as you remind yourself that the frying isn’t really that bad for you when you’re not battering whatever you’re frying…. you can totally consider these a healthy snack. Or at least, a healthy alternative to chips and salsa while you’re watching a game on tv!

Gourmet, Unbound: April

Posted: March 31, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

I’m not typically good with cakes. My cakes taste fine, of course. But they never look quite right. My layer cakes stick, or I end up trying to patch them together with frosting. My everyday cakes are nice enough, but they never come out quite light enough for me. In general, my cakes are competent, but not complete.

This cake….. is different. This cake is light. Airy. Full of lemon flavor. This cake didn’t stick to the pan. It didn’t fall apart, it wasn’t overly sweet. This cake has no baking powder in it. It has some negative comments, where people say that the cake is too savory, too olive-oily, too eggy. Some commenters mention their cakes falling, or slumping, their guests being confused, or finding it unpleasant.

They are all wrong. Incorrect. Fully, totally entirely wrong.

Gourmet April 2006′s Lemon Olive-Oil Cake is light. Lemony. Moist. It’s one of those situations where you mix together seemingly innocent ingredients — lemon zest and juice, flour, salt, sugar, egg yolks. I added some chopped thyme, because lemon and thyme are a match made in heaven. Egg whites are whipped to soft peaks, combined with more sugar, and folded in. The whole cake is baked in an oiled springform pan, which means that the sides don’t stick. It also means that even if you don’t have any parchment paper in your house, as long as you oil the bottom of your springform, the cake’s high olive oil content means it won’t stick. In fact, the egg whites make it the lightest cake I’ve ever made.

I topped this cake with a quick glaze made of lemon juice and powdered sugar, and if I had to make the cake again, I would absolutely use the juice of a full half of the lemon, to punch it up a little. Otherwise, the glaze makes it just citrusy enough, so I would suggest making a lot of it.

This cake may have changed my cake fate. At the very least, it has encouraged me to try adding beaten egg whites to all the cakes that I make from now on. So thanks again, Gourmet, for giving me a little more faith in my cake-baking skills.

The Other Days

Posted: March 29, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 4 Comments »

Some days, we all look in the refrigerator, or the cabinets, or wherever, and know exactly what we’re going to make. Ingredients and ideas jump out at us, and it seems like there’s not enough time to make everything from what you see. There are other days, however, when we all look in the fridge, or the cupboard or whatever, and say “Man, I wish I’d gone shopping 2 days ago”. Or we say, “How many more ways can I make pasta with butter??” Or…. most eloquently, sometimes we just say, “Shit”.
For those days, the days when all you can say is “shit”…. I present, Baked Eggs:

Sure, it may not look like much, but when you’re staring into your refrigerator wondering what the heck to make out of what’s in there (and still good), this dish is a life-saver. Do you like omelets? Or hash? Or heck, things getting covered in cheese sauce and having egg yolk dribbled in around them?
I promise, you will like baked eggs.

The place to start is deciding what you would like UNDER your eggs. Upon searching my fridge and freezer, I realized that I had the leftovers of a bunch of green kale (and if you’ve been noting my nightly chronicling of what I eat for dinner, that shouldn’t shock you), half a small red onion, and a package of sliced honey turkey breast that I’d largely forgotten about in the freezer. So! I defrosted the turkey, tore up the kale and diced the onion. I ALSO preheated the oven to 375.
I sauteed the onion in a teaspoon or so of butter, and then added the kale along with a splash of olive oil. Kale loves salt, so make sure to add plenty of salt and pepper, and some garlic powder if you’d like. Also, this could be made with spinach, or broccoli, or tomatoes or whatever vegetables you have lying around. Think of it as an omelet you don’t have to flip, and go to town! Potatoes would be nice, or peppers and onions, and it certainly doesn’t have to contain meat, but if you’re looking for some extra protein, lunchmeat is always nice here, as is leftover roast chicken.

Once the kale was starting to soften, I added in a couple pieces of sliced turkey, which I had rolled into a cigar shape and cut into pieces. I also added several splashes of hot sauce, because the turkey is sweet, the kale is bitter, and the hot sauce makes it all taste perfect together.
While the kale and turkey were cooking together, I put together a quick bechamel as well — and I do mean quick. 1 teaspoon of butter, 1 teaspoon of flour, cooked together for a minute at most, and a half-cup of whole milk stirred in. When it thickened (2-3 minutes on medium) I added salt, pepper, and Old Bay seasoning, and grated in about 1/4 cup of parmesan cheese.

To assemble the dish, I took 2 ramekins, and layered the bottom with the kale and turkey mixture, and a small portion of the bechamel. I made 2 small divots in the kale, where I cracked the eggs. I topped the whites with more bechamel, and put the ramekins on a cookie sheet and into the oven.

The eggs baked for 10 minutes, and the yolks and whites were still runny, so I put them under the broiler for 2 minutes. If you like your egg yolks runny, and boy do I, I would suggest 1 minute under the broiler, instead of 2. If you happen to be like the Triple Threat, and like a much more set fried egg, I would go with 2-3 minutes, just to make sure that the white and yolk are to your liking. Definitely keep checking throughout the time, so that they come out the way you like them.

Baked eggs feel a little nicer than eating plain old fried eggs and toast for dinner. And they feel more “dinnery” than an omelet. And sometimes 4 eggs do not make a big enough omelet for 2 people, but they make 2 perfect servings of baked eggs. And when you need to clean out the fridge, or you’re not sure there’s actually anything in there worth eating, as long as you have eggs, butter, milk, cheese, and one other item to use as a base, you’re all set.

We All Scream for…… Peanut Butter?

Posted: March 23, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 5 Comments »

I rarely post recipes that require specific equipment. I’m much more of a “throw it together” kind of a gal, using my own two hands as much as possible. But there are some times when there is only one thing that will do. One of those times is when it’s 3am and your friend suggests you try to make peanut butter ice cream. Trust me. When you’re walking home from a housewarming party at 3am, peanut butter ice cream sounds like the best idea in the entire world. Because it is. In fact, it’s the best idea in the world at any time.
And luckily, I have an ice cream maker, which makes it all the better. I think mine was on sale for $25 at Crate and Barrel, or something like that, and I have DEFINITELY gotten my money’s worth from it. I highly recommend you get one, especially after you read this recipe.
Peanut Butter Ice Cream

1 Cup Peanut Butter – I used Skippy Super Chunk and thought it was great. Go with your favorite, test out several if you like.
3/4 Cup Sugar – I used straight up white granulated sugar for this, although I’m interested in the effects of turbinado sugar on ice cream making.
1 Cup Whole Milk
2 Cups Heavy Cream
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract – I definitely didn’t measure this. I just dashed some in because I was preoccupied.

1. Combine the Peanut Butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a big bowl, and beat either with the stand mixer or a hand mixer, or heck, with a whisk if you need to do your tricep workout for the day, until well blended and smooth.
2. Add the milk, and beat again until combined.
3. Add the cream and vanilla, and beat for a few seconds, until things are combined, but not so much that you run the risk of making whipped cream.
4. Pour the prepared base into your ice cream maker, and run it to the manufacturer’s specifications. I ran mine for 20 minutes, and think that next time I will scale that back to between 15 and 18. Once the time is up, scoop the semi-frozen base into a container, and put it in the freezer until it is set to the consistency you like.

This ice cream is great on its own, but as a noodler, a tweaker, a tinkerer and someone who never really has her shit together despite her every attempt, I couldn’t leave Peanut Butter Ice Cream well enough alone. I had to meddle. So I turned it into a sundae. Lacking a microwave (thank goodness), I had to put the Nutella jar in a pot of hot water to soften and heat up, while chopping up some salted peanuts.
Let’s just say that the combination of salty peanutty goodness, smushy warm Nutella, and peanut butter ice cream, which is both sweet AND salty, is a match made in heaven. Next time, I think I might even add some chopped up salted peanuts to the mix while the ice cream maker is running, to get a little more of the salty-sweet contrast. Please make this ice cream if you have an ice cream maker. If you don’t have an ice cream maker, go buy one, and THEN make this ice cream.
Also, if anyone can come up with the right liquor to combine with peanut butter to make an “adult” milkshake with this, please let me know in the comments! I’m thinking framboise, or something in the berry flavored variety, to mimic a PBJ. Any other thoughts?

Erin’s Eats: Chicken Rollups

Posted: March 18, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , | 1 Comment »

My lovely friend Erin recently moved to Brooklyn. As someone who had a lot to learn about cooking for one, and cooking things I’d want to eat, when I first moved here, I offered to give her some recipes. So I’m adding a new tag, full of recipes I’m testing and trying out for Erin’s eventual recipe file. I’ll need to work quickly, since obviously we don’t want homegirl to starve in the meantime. For now, here’s installment 1.

One of the first things I had to learn when I moved to Brooklyn was how to make things that would freeze well, reheat well, and could be varied. I didn’t want to get bored while working my way through an entire package of chicken breasts, and one of the things I came up with was a recipe for chicken rollups. Essentially they’re a variation on chicken kiev – chicken breasts pounded flat, filled with something delicious, rolled up, and cooked. In the case of chicken kiev, that something delicious is an herby compound butter and some cheese. The rollups are then dipped in melted butter, dredged in herb-and-cheese breadcrumbs, and baked.

This iteration of chicken rollups is a bit simpler, and involves far less butter, which is of course a good thing for all of us health-conscious people. It’s also much quicker, since instead of baking the rolls for 45 minutes, you brown them on all sides in a hot pan, and then stick them in the oven for a mere 5 minutes, followed by a splash chicken broth, and another 10 minutes in the oven.

And in the end, you get something that looks like this, and really, there’s nothing better than that. I promise.
Chicken Rollups
For this variation, I used a filling of roasted red pepper and spinach, sauteed with garlic and onion, and a tablespoon of ricotta. Other iterations can include spinach and blue cheese, swiss cheese, goat cheese and sun dried tomato, caramelized onions and goat cheese, or basically any other combination of vegetables and cheese you can think of.

1. Make the filling.
Dice 1/2 an onion and 2 cloves of garlic, and saute in a teaspoon or so of butter or olive oil until they’re translucent and letting out their juice. Season with salt. Chop a handful of spinach, and add it to the pan. Stir, season, and let the spinach wilt. Chop up a roasted red pepper (either homemade or jarred is fine) and add it to the pan as well. When everything is heated through, taste and check for seasoning. Put on a plate to cool.
2. Prepare the chicken.
Take your package of chicken breasts, and pound each breast out to about 1/4 inch thick. Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper on both sides, and set aside.

3. Get your sauteed veggies and ricotta cheese together, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
4. Spread a teaspoon of ricotta onto each chicken breast, and a teaspoon of the filling. You will probably have extra vegetables, but they can be used for other things. Roll up the chicken breasts over the filling, and secure with toothpicks.
5. When you have all your rollups set, film the bottom of a skillet that can go in the oven with olive oil. Put the rollups into the skillet, and brown on all sides. When all of the sides are brown, put the skillet in the oven for 5 minutes. Pour in a quarter-cup of chicken stock (or wine or water) and put the skillet back in the oven for 10 minutes.
If you want to freeze the left-overs, all you’d need to do is cool them to room temperature after you’ve cooked them, put them in a ziplock bag, and freeze them. To reheat, you could either microwave them (which scares me), or defrost them in the fridge overnight and then reheat in the oven with a little more chicken broth (about 375 or 400) for 15-20 minutes.

I’ll be testing more recipes for Erin as we go along, but for now, what are some of YOUR favorite no-fail recipes? Things with high flavor output that can either be scaled down for 1 or 2, or freeze well in case of leftovers? Let me know in the comments!!

Something Fishy

Posted: March 15, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , | 4 Comments »

So hey, I feel like this got passed by during the past few busy crazy weeks of my life, and I need to bring this to light.
Recently, I decided to try cooking an entire fish. Whole.

That’s right. Whole. As in, eyes still in, tail still on, bones and spine and gills and whatnot. Cleaned, gutted and scaled thankfully, but still. A whole entire branzino.
I didn’t go in blind, of course. I did some research before I set out to cook this thing (although after I’d ordered it from Fresh Direct, because hey, I love a challenge AND a bargain!) and I came across a pretty sensible sounding recipe on – Roasted Branzino with Caper Butter. I love compound butters, and compound butters go great with fish, so this was right up my alley. The preparation is pretty basic, and not at all frightening, so I went into this with a lot less terror than one would expect.
Roasted Branzino with Caper Butter
adapted from Food and Wine

1. Rinse your fish, and preheat the oven to 425. Combine 2 tablespoons of butter, a teaspoon of chopped capers (or y’know, as many as you want because this is for your tastes), and a teaspoon or so (a small squeeze) of lemon juice. Put the compound butter in the fridge.
2. Slice a lemon thinly, and put 3-4 slices into the fish cavity — as many as will fit, basically.¬† Also put in a sprig or two of rosemary.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a nonstick pan big enough to hold your fish (lop off the tail if, like me, your biggest pan is NOT big enough to hold your whole fish) and when it’s shimmering, place the fish in the pan. Cook for 3 minutes over high heat, then flip and cook for 3 more minutes.
4. Transfer the fish to a baking sheet, and put in the oven for 10 or so minutes. When the fish is just done, remove and cut up. You’ll need to remove the head, and cut two fillets off the backbone. There will be pinbones in your fillets, so take care when eating or remove the bones before you serve.
Dollop on the caper butter, and enjoy.
It takes some bravery and gumption to cook a whole fish, but once you do it, you’ll see it’s not that hard at all. It seemed a lot more sturdy than most fillets that I have worked with, and the crispy skin was definitely a bonus. Plus, how many times can you say that you’ve cooked a real animal, with its head still on?! I think this summer I’m going to try doing this fish on the grill, if I can get a really firm one. It would make an impressive party dish, as long as you don’t intend to serve a big party. And frankly, branzino itself is delicious — very light and flaky, and excellent with caper butter and lemon juice. Some sauteed spinach and a light white wine would probably have made me believe it really was summer….. even though of course it wasn’t.

A bit behind

Posted: March 8, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | 3 Comments »

February 23 was National Pancake day. I realize that, it being fully March now, I’m a bit behind, so I hope you weren’t waiting for me to alert you to the occurrence of National Pancake day.
However, since I’m not exactly the most reverent when it comes to traditions, I decided to take a few liberties, and made cheddar jalapeno corncakes for dinner that Tuesday. The more I’ve been thinking about this recipe, the more I’ve been wanting to blog about it, although originally I was going to let it slide. These corncakes are savory, cheesy, and a little bit spicy. I think I prefer the texture of cornmeal pancakes to regular pancakes, unless, of course, chocolate and peanut butter are involved. They’re good the morning after you cook them, they reheat well, and they aren’t delicate or fussy. They will hold up under any strain you give them, and they can take some serious seasoning – cumin, cayenne, garlic powder, basically anything will taste good here when combined with jalapenos, cornmeal and cheese.

Cheddar Jalapeno Corncakes
1. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter, not counting what you will use to grease the cooking surface – let it cool a little while you do the rest of the work.
2. Combine 2 eggs and 3/4 cup of milk in a big bowl.
3. Add the following dry ingredients:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (heaped)
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin

4. Once the ingredients are combined, stir in the melted butter, 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, and 2-3 chopped pickled jalapenos. Stir to ensure that all the ingredients are mixed together properly, and prepare your griddle.

Cook these exactly as you would normal pancakes, waiting for the crust to form before flipping. These can benefit from a little extra cooking time, especially if you’re using bacon grease as the fat for your griddle. Then again, that could just be my preference, because I love bacon flavor and love when it soaks into my pancakes. Especially corncakes. :)

Try these, before next year’s National Pancake day. You can wait till next year to thank me for them, but please don’t wait until next February to make them. Trust me.

Gourmet, Unbound: March

Posted: March 1, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Gourmet Unbound, Johanna | Tags: , , | 4 Comments »

February and I never got along very well. In fact, most years, I spend the entire month crossing out days on my mental calendar, and willing myself through: Only 26 more days…. Only 18 more days… 12 Days left, that’s less than two weeks, we’ve almost made it! It is, of course, about that time I start realizing I am slowly slipping into madness. BUT, I’m not alone — a huge majority of the people I know also hate February, although of course there was that one adorable and pink little bright spot last week. However, for many years the month was divided into the days leading up to my friend Erin’s birthday (the 14th), and the days following it. Not very promising, I tell you.

But for all the years I’ve spent hoping that February would just be over faster, that it would just end painlessly, or best yet, that it would be cancelled due to lack of interest, this year was a rarity. Packed with runs, races, birthday parties, and a cake undertaking, not to mention mailing cookies all over creation and accidently getting quite drunk a few times, February flew by! And all of a sudden, on Thursday evening, I realized with a start that February was almost over, and I hadn’t ¬†even THOUGHT about what I was planning to make for Gourmet Unbound!
It appears that Gourmet didn’t much like writing in February, since the majority of the recipes I found on Epicurious appeared to be variations on things I’ve done recently, or involve seafood (which is risky-at-best when purchasing it at my neighborhood grocery store). The one recipe that caught my attention in a big way was a Cheddar Jalapeno Bread from the March 2007 issue. After taking a mental inventory of the contents of my cupboards and fridge, I decided I could throw this together after the USA-Canada Gold Medal hockey game, and have bread for Monday’s dinner.

Turns out, I had far fewer canned pickled jalapenos left than I thought. LUCKILY, I save leftovers of everything , so when I made cranberry-chipotle relish back in November, I saved the last 2 chipotles and their adobo in a tupperware in the fridge. So when I realized I only had 1 pickled jalapeno left, I did what a resourceful cook does, and I diced up 2 chipotles and added them to the dough along with a teaspoon or so of the adobo.
I also used pre-shredded cheese. I hang my head in shame. But it was tasty and easy.
I did my best to follow this recipe exactly, despite all the urges I as a bread baker had to add more flour when I saw how wet the dough was. It’s apparently supposed to be very wet. The bread comes out of the pan after baking with a nice, somewhat airy crumb, no huge air holes but not dense like a brick, either. It’s pleasantly spicy, not overly cheesy, and quite tasty when sliced, broiled and smeared with butter.

Not, ahem, that I’d know anything about that….
In summation, this is a good recipe, although I think that some tinkering could definitely be done with it. I’ll probably mess with it more in later posts, trying to find my own perfect iteration of Cheesy-Jalapeno bread. But for now? This was a great way to end February and say What up to March.

Why I Do

Posted: February 24, 2010 | Author: Johanna | Filed under: Johanna | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

A lot of people have been talking lately about why we cook. Michael Ruhlman posted on his blog recently about why he cooks, and prompted his readers to respond in the comments, with why THEY cook. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. The simple answer, I guess, is because I love it.
The clearer, more honest answer, is because I love. I don’t mean necessarily because I’m in love; more because I love people. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that in large part, I will never be able to tell the people I love how much I love them in words. I try. But I live with someone who is completely open about his feelings with me. I end up stumbling, or feeling like I can’t come up with the words. I cook because I can express love clearly, concisely, succinctly. If I invite you over for dinner, or offer you brownies or cookies on your birthday, I am saying to you, as clearly as I know how, that I care about you and want to show you, because lord knows I’ll never be able to tell you.

I cook because sometimes life gets a little too much. Because sometimes the rituals and steps and processes of the kitchen take my mind off whatever might be going on in my life. I’ve mentioned before that my stove is my therapist, and that when things go awry, I spend 30 minutes or 45 minutes in the kitchen, and when I come out, my head is clear and my issues don’t seem so big anymore. Even the stack of dishes that I always manage to build up doesn’t seem like such a big deal.

Sometimes, I cook because I’m worried. Because I’m afraid and I’m worried about bad news. I cook at those times somewhat selfishly, taking comfort in the smell of melting butter, refuge in the feel of flour and salt, egg whites slipping through my fingers. I hide in my kitchen, and I cushion myself from the fear and the uncertainty in my life with things like baking cookies or roasting a chicken or making soup.

And sometimes….. sometimes you get wonderful news. Sometimes things are better than you could imagine, and whatever fear drove me to my butter and sugar, whatever concern lead me to crushing Heath bars or toasting walnuts has reversed itself, and everything is better than ok.

Welcome to the world, Natalie Claire Harper. I will always remember this batch of chocolate chip cookies, which I was in the middle of baking for your parents (among others) when I heard about your birth. I am so glad you’re here. I’m so glad you and your lovely mama are ok. I cannot wait to meet you.

Why do you cook? Who do you cook for? When do you cook and when do you not cook? What are you saying when you cook?

Johanna: The Improviser

Never quite follows the recipe. Doesn't really measure. Tastes with her fingers. Somehow, it always works.

Alyssa: The Triple Threat

Can do it all. And modest to boot.

Bakezilla: We Use Mixers Too

She likes to bake. Actually, baking is the only thing she does. It's a passion.

Rita: The Kosher Chick

Restrictions have nothing on her.