When I decided to quit being on Facebook and write my own site (I mean, if the whole world is going to see everything any way, what does it matter?) more than one friend asked “are you going to keep posting food pictures there?”
You see, my two main passions in life (besides my family) are watching sports and food. On Friday nights in the fall, I’m watching high school football. On Friday nights in the summer, I’m watching the Washington Nationals. In between those two times, on Friday night I’m watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.
I like to eat, but I also like to cook. As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that many of the really good meals you’re going to get are the ones you make yourself. I’m also Italian, and food means tradition, and if done right, it means “home.” The ultimate compliment I can get is when my daughter comes to visit, I’ve been cooking for a few hours, and she observes “it smells like home.” It’s really garlic and onions being sautéed in olive oil, but don’t tell her.
But also as I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed people don’t seem to like to cook any more. Somewhere along the last 30 or so years it’s been branded as a servant-like chore. I’ve talked to many women, from my wife, to my daughter to many who are in-between the two in age, who think wanting to cook is kind of sexist, as if you’re being a submissive doormat if you decide to cook meals in the house.
I’ve also talked to a number of guys – particularly the younger ones – who don’t think cooking is something they need to worry about. They’ll eat in restaurants, their mom will cook for them, or somebody will do it.
Well guys, somebody won’t one day. So figure it out now.
Cooking can be tiring. But it’s creative. You make sure what you’re eating is the good stuff. You can make it taste the way YOU want it. Or more importantly the way a child, spouse of loved one wants it. And there are other benefits; I cut a deal with my wife (and later my daughter) that I’d do the cooking if they cleaned up. Getting a “you don’t have to do the dishes” card for the rest of your life does have its benefits. You’ll also save significant amounts of money over your lifetime while still eating restaurant quality food. And I’m not talking about having to go to culinary school either.
So from time to time, every time I make something at home, I’m going to post a picture or two of the food and explain how to do it. Today, for example I made chicken salad. For the week. Now before you shrug your shoulders and say “big deal. You can buy a tub of it in the grocery store.” Well. not like this.
I make it whenever Giant puts its boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.99 a pound, which is about every second or third week. I buy four pounds for under $8, wash them, and put them in a pan. I chop up an onion and lay it on the base of the pan, throw in some garlic cloves and lay the breasts on the onions and garlic so they’re not touching the bottom of the pan. I put in a couple of red cups of water (you don’t HAVE to drink beer out of them) and add salt and pepper. I cover the pan in plastic wrap (to keep the steam in) and cover the plastic wrap with aluminum foil (to keep the plastic wrap from melting). Put them in the oven at 325 degrees for 90 minutes, then pull them out to cool.
I put them on a rack (which you see in the picture at right) to cool and drain of any liquid. Once cool, I chop them into cubes and stick them in a food processor. Pulse the button (push it down for a half second at a time) to lightly chop it up further. If you mash the button and let it go for 10 seconds, you’re going to have chicken sawdust, something you do NOT want.
Once all the chicken is done, peel an apple, core it, and chop up the apple into small bits. Do the same with about half an onion. Do the same again with some sweet pickles. If you buy the big gherkins, I use about 6. These three foods add crunch to your chicken salad, but different levels of sweetness. Make it all onion, or apple, or pickle (which a lot of homemade recipes do) and it’s too much. Breaking it into apple, onion and pickle hits a good balance.
Put it all in a bowl, and if you need a bicep workout, get out the big wooden spoon and start mixing as you add mayonnaise for your appropriate taste. I’ve started use a Kitchen Aid mixer, as the paddle gives a more consistent mix. Plus I can sit back and sip coffee while the real work is being done.
When you THINK you’re done, taste it. I have found it always needs just a little more salt and pepper. Chicken breast white meat can also tend to be slightly dry and will pull out moisture from your mayo or dressing. So if it’s a little dry now, it will be even worse after it’s been in the fridge four hours. Make appropriate adjustments.
Yeah, it’s a little work. But you get to have a sandwich like the one above. And for $8 worth of chicken, there’s enough to make them thick, pile them high, and have them all week long.