Sunday, January 3, 2010

I'd rather be in the kitchen....

Cooking is my passion. It takes me out of my normally overcrowded head and puts me in a place of focus. When I cook I don't think about the paper that I should be writing or the backlog of work that I need to catch up on or the potential relationship that may be spiraling rapidly down the tubes. All I think about is the culinary masterpiece that is coming together in front of me. Yesterday was one of those days. There were a number of things I could have been doing including cleaning my apartment, catching up on a few overdue work projects, piles of laundry....but instead I chose to spend the day in the kitchen. All of these other things can wait just one more day can't they?

It started with a pint of kumquats that had been staring at me from the kitchen counter for the past 48 hours. I don't even know if I've ever had a kumquat - but there they were in the produce aisle of my local Key Food. And since I can barely get ripe bananas and lettuce there I was struck by the exotic potential of these little citrus fruits. "Sweet edible skin with sweet-tart pulp" the package stated. Into my basket they went. When I got home I tasted one of the little buggers - sweet skin and VERY tart pulp. Can't say I enjoyed the experience but it wasn't exactly a negative one either. For two days I researched recipes and finally found one for a chutney that would work well with roasted meats. Quarter and seed the kumquats and boil together with orange juice and zest, a tiny bit of sugar, shallots, cinnamon, star anise, pepper corns and cloves. It's almost like a spicy marmalade and I have a feeling would go well with some strong cheese and crusty bread. I canned the chutney as I wasn't sure when I would actually have a chance to use it. Yes - I said I canned. I sterilized my glass jar and then sealed it once it was filled with the glistening chutney. Ain't I just little Suzie Freakin Homemaker.

Well - that wasn't enough to distract me. So I decided to start the New Year off with a big pot of soup. I picked up some dark meat chicken quarters that I skinned and tossed them in a soup pot with onions, carrots, celery, garlic and zucchini. Then covered it with water and added a porcini mushroom bouillon cube and a large handful of fresh parsley. While that simmered away I looked for my next project.

Baked goods! I needed to bake something. Its the start of a New Year which means that I have to give up the indulgence of the last month and the excuse of "it's the holidays" and get back to some healthy eating. So what could I find that was healthy and would still be delicious. I put together a batch of carrot-ginger muffins that are just subtly sweet with the spice of ginger and the freshness of the grated carrots. They're made with whole wheat flour, only 2 tablespoons of butter and low fat sour cream to keep them moist. They come together pretty quickly (especially if you have a food processor to grate the carrots) and will be a perfect breakfast treat. I think I might toast them lightly and spread a little low fat cream cheese in the middle. A change from my standard breakfast of multi-grain english muffins with peanut butter and banana (although that is mighty tasty).

As I pulled the muffins out of the oven, I felt that familiar ache in my lower legs and back that said I had been in the kitchen too long. My left knee which is still sore and slightly swollen after a recent fall was softly starting to beg for mercy. But I wasn't done just yet. One more project and then I'd give my body the rest it had earned. Earlier that day I had taken out some turkey drumsticks out to defrost that I had picked up for cheap at Stew Leonard's at a post-Thanksgiving sale. (Side note - if you've never been to Stew Leonard's I highly recommend it. It is more than just a great store - its an experience with loads of free samples and fun stuff for the kids!) I was originally just going to roast them for dinner but then was struck with inspiration. I dredged them in flour and browned them in my heavy dutch oven. Then I sauteed up a bit of carrot, onion, celery and garlic and added the drumsticks back in. I covered it with red wine, a mixture of beef and chicken stock and about a cup or so of crushed tomatoes. Some dried herbs of sage, oregano and thyme (I would have preferred fresh but didn't have any on hand) and some grated lemon zest and the whole thing went into a low the oven for about 2.5 hours. Voila! Turkey Leg Osso Bucco!

Granted by the time it got in the oven it was nearly 6 and there was no way I was going to be able to wait until 8:30 for dinner. So while the osso bucco braised away I shredded the chicken from the soup off the bones and cooked up some tubetti pasta - the perfect accompaniment. As I stretched out on the couch with my soup and the latest Harry Potter movie On Demand, I felt an extreme sense of satisfaction wash over me. It had been a long day in kitchen, a hard day at times, but it was worth it. I had successfully managed to avoid doing all the stuff I didn't want to do, and didn't think about the stuff I didn't want to think about, and yet felt fully accomplished at the same time.

Yes my friends, procrastination is truly a dish best served hot!

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