I had an epiphany the other night.
It was while I was cooking a rather elaborate Mexican feast for myself and my husband. The TV was off. No music, no Internet, no nothing. Peace and quiet. I live in a very quiet part of Queens and in a very quiet building, which suits myself and my husband. We like a quiet home.
It was me in the kitchen. Andy was still teaching and I had the night to myself. I could feel a rather vile head cold coming on, but I refused to let it drag me under. I wanted to cook.
Since late November of last year I've had very little interest in this blog or this project. I felt I had been through the ringer.
4 years, countless producers, investors, TV executives and endless reams of writing had produced not one viable bite on this project DESPITE the fact everyone told me it was a good idea DESPITE the fact I was told COUNTLESS TIMES I'm meant to be on TV DESPITE the fact I know tons of people IN cable TV who could have made it happened IF they were a bit nicer or kinder or giving.
It never happened. I got sick in late November. I hardly got out of bed in December. My husband wanted me to take anti-depressants. I said, Fuck that - give me a Broadway show and I'll be fine.
Add onto that the endless discussions I've had with people about the cooking show and non-stop litany of people telling me why cooking at home is a foolish idea.
Here are the top ten reasons people tell me they don't cook at home:
"It's messy. Like you."
"Too expensive. I'd rather save my money for things that matter, like a new round of Botox or a hot hooker."
"So time consuming. Wouldn't you rather be shopping for clothes? Or watching TV? Or anything else besides cooking? Shopping and planning and reading the recipes...please. What kind of a gay man are you anyway?"
"I can't be bothered. All of that chopping and mixing? And carrying groceries? No thank YOU."
"Who has the friggin' time? I sure as hell don't. You try to balance a career, husband and two needy teenagers. I'm a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Put a knife in my hand and violent things are bound to happen."
"Food? Please. I eat pills. I don't eat food."
"I eat to live, not live to eat. There is a difference. Which is why I only eat bagged lettuce and pre-cooked chicken with low-fat dressing and NO CARBS. Ever. Ruin this waistline? Get a grip."
"Lean Cuisine. Mix two of those up, zap them and dinner is on the table in 8 minutes and only 500 calories. Throw it away...no mess, no fuss and you're done."
"It takes patience and skill to learn to cook, neither of which I am interested in."
"I'm too busy. No one cooks at home anymore. Only bored housewives in South Dakota have the time. There is a reason God created take-out. Hello?!"
I have no interest anymore in trying to convince people who don't like to cook why cooking at home is such a fun, enjoyable and loving thing to do.
Let them have the same thing every day, let them eat take-out every night, let them be either too skinny or too fat - I am no longer carrying the flag to increase awareness for those who find endless reasons not to cook.
It feels good to write that!
I realized there was a problem in December when I became resentful of people approaching me and suddenly, without any provocation, talking to me about food.
It happens all the time.
I'll be in the supermarket and women will come up to me and ask me to help them pick produce or how to cook a meal...soon we'll get to talking and I'll have a whole bevvy or cooking broads chatting up food and recipes. It's a gas!
I became angry in December because I was hurt at being dismissed so often about The Food Therapist cooking show. I felt bad it never became a reality so I divorced myself from cooking. I found myself listening and actually agreeing with the people who said those classic I Hate Cooking lines above.
So a new, much more realistic day is dawning with my cooking. I am a good cook. I gravitate to food, I know how to cook and I am meant to eat. It is a strong part of who I am.
THUS...this blog and all of my food-related stuff will be directed only to those who love to cook. While I respect all of those who uttered and continue to utter those lines above, suffice to say on food and cooking we will never bond unless they come to their sense because I, for one, LIVE for my senses.
For the REST of you lovely home cooks out there...
I've resisted making chopped salads at home for years. I am not a salad fan. My husband loves salads because they are so healthy, but for me, they never, ever taste very GOOD or are very interesting.
I'm not sure if this is big in other parts of the country, but in New York City people are really, really, REALLY into chopped salads. I never understood the thing with chopped salads.
Well! I've certainly changed my mind.
For years now I've made salad by tearing up lettuce, chopping some chicken breast, serving with a healthy dressing and a bit of bread on the side and each time I come away - YUCK.
I watched a recent chef make a chopped salad and realized that he did exactly as the name implies - chopped all of the ingredients to DEATH and then mixed them all together. Now, to be fair, he did have a giant commercial chopping device that looked like this:
You don't need this at home. What this does in a commercial setting is chop the hell out of anything laid in front of it. And I realized that is what lies at the heart of why chopped salads are so good. There is a seamless mix of textures and tastes here that make these very tasty salads.
BUT...and this is a big but (which could result you getting a big 'butt') you still need to watch what you put into these salads. It's very easy to hide fat and calories in this dish. So watch your intake.
I made one the other night and this is what I did.
I got 4 large bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts. If you have an aversion to bone-in, skin-on, get over it. Roasting these breasts results in extremely tender chicken that chops beautifully and tastes great in a salad.
Heat your oven to 450 degrees. Line a jelly-roll pain with heavy duty aluminum foil. Wash and pat dry your breasts. Ha...'it rubs the lotion on it's skin or it gets the hose again!'. Sorry...I digressed.
Rub a tiny bit of olive oil on the breasts and salt and pepper them.
I think now is a great time for a little Martha giggle:
Back to the food...
Bake the breasts until the juices run clear and the skin is lightly browned, 35 to 40 minutes. Take out of oven, let cool. Carefully shred the meat from the skin and bones (checking thoroughly for bones or skin).
You can make this up to 2-3 days in advance of assembling the salad.
Cut the chicken into tiny dice, set aside.
For the lettuce, I like Romaine for a chopped salad, but Boston lettuce is a nice change of pace (a rather meaty lettuce) or Iceberg (which I find reliable but a tad dull).
Chop the the lettuce very fine and put in a large bowl. Lightly salt and pepper.
Put in the chopped chicken and toss.
I like the chop very fine and add the following:
- Bunch of fresh radishes
- 2 bunches of scallion, washed thoroughly; chop green and white portions
- 2 large carrots, skins removed, cut length wise and into small matchsticks
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 large yellow pepper
- 1 large hothouse cucumber (seedless), sliced lengthwise and dice small
For cheese, I like to add maximum flavor with minimum calories. For me, I like to add either Authentic Stilton Crumbly Blue Cheese or Aged Parmesan Reggiano cheese. Both require very little but impart a very strong flavor. 1/4 cup of Blue Cheese or 4 tablespoons of the Parmesan Reggiano.
For dressings, I forgo the usual bottled dressings. They are filled with sodium and making your own at home is ridiculously simple. All you need do is mix 1/4 cup olive oil with a teaspoon or two of lemon juice and perhaps a teaspoon of creamy or grainy Dijon mustard and 2 cloves minced garlic. You can also add fresh herbs, such as basil or thyme or sage. Mix up and put on a bowl on the side so guests can pour over at their leisure.
I always serve this with a French baguette. To not do so would be a crime. Stop by any local boulangerie or, if you must, get one at the supermarket.
The trick is to enjoy making the salad and make sure it tastes good to you. As those who cook now, the joy you can have in the kitchen is endless...not matter what the food haters or the world say. Celebrate the Wonder Woman in all of you!