I don’t know about you, but this Coronavirus has certainly stretched my creativity when it comes to home cooking. I suddenly have no reservations about putting together a bunch of ingredients that normally wouldn’t share the same meal, let alone the same pan. But you know what? If there is a time to experiment in the kitchen, that time is now. You will make not just a meal, but some memories in the process.
Tonight’s dinner was a hodgepodge of random foods. We were lucky to have gotten some produce delivered yesterday, so we had fresh kiwi and cucumber slices on the side. But the main course – that was all kinds of crazy.
I wasn’t really in the mood to cook tonight, so I decided to make the boys macaroni and cheese for dinner. I basically have that on repeat once per week right now in our meal plan; the boys love it, it’s easy to make, and I don’t have to think too hard about it. The macaroni and cheese is the boxed kind with the cheese all ready to go in a pouch. Maybe not my first choice under normal circumstances, but for a day like today, it’s perfect.
For my own meal, I decided to use up some frozen shrimp I’ve had in the freezer for a while. I bought it from Sam’s Club a while back, envisioning many varieties of shrimp dishes. But then reality set in when I realized that no one else in my family likes shrimp except me. So it’s been hanging out ever since.
I whipped together a lazy shrimp pasta by defrosting the shrimp, heating it in a pan with some olive oil and crushed garlic, and then adding in some leftover pasta sauce. The pasta sauce was another Sam’s Club acquisition. I don’t usually buy sauce by the bucket-full, but I bought it because I know that we will use it during our time at home. I cooked up some pasta we’d had in the pantry for a while – a veggie penne that we bought with good intentions but that our son didn’t like.
When I was done assembling my meal, I jokingly asked my husband if he wanted to use the leftover pasta to make “fried pasta” (the pasta equivalent of fried rice). My husband makes himself fried rice to use up leftovers about once per week, so it’s a common thing for him to prepare. To my surprise, he decided to give it a go. (To be fair, I am guilty of making him fried rice with leftover corned beef brisket once, so I really can’t judge.)
Instead of making an Italian riff on this typically Asian dish, he made it basically the same way he usually does, minus the peas and carrots. This involved lots of garlic and onion powder, various other mysterious seasonings, which I think include turmeric, and some pre-cooked chicken. And you know what? It actually didn’t taste so bad.
. . . And Memories
This got me to thinking, so I asked my husband, “what’s the worst thing you’ve ever made?” He recounted a time when he inadvertently poured juice into his cereal as a kid, but then tried to correct the mistake by removing the juice and pouring milk on top – yuck! But in spite of that grossness, I’d never heard this story before, so it made me find my husband just a little more endearing.
For me, the worst thing I’ve ever cooked is one of the first things I ever made. I was fortunate enough to study abroad in Italy the summer before my senior year of college. When I came home, I wanted to cook up some authentic Italian, though I had no training. I bought an Italian cookbook and made some minestrone soup. (My house mother in Italy made the absolute best minestrone I’ve ever had.) It was an epic disaster.
The recipe made such a large portion that I was able to freeze a lot of it, which I did before realizing how bad it tasted. It was so bad, in fact, that it was still in my brother’s freezer when he moved out a year later. And it was a running joke for years in my family that I couldn’t cook because that soup was terrible.
I did, through many years of trial and error and some cooking training during school, finally learn how to cook. Until recently, I always used a recipe. I just didn’t feel comfortable that things would turn out well otherwise. But after making many different dishes over the years, I’ve learned what more-or-less goes together. So I can improvise, and still have my food taste reasonably good.
All of this is to bring me to my point, which is this: regardless of where you are in your cooking-at-home journey, don’t be afraid to experiment. Use a recipe or don’t use a recipe. Play around with the ingredients that have taken up residence in your fridge, freezer, and pantry. You might surprise yourself with how things turn out. And even if the food is epically bad, well, at least that will give you something to talk about and to remember this time by.
What’s the weirdest hodgepodge recipe you’ve ever cooked? Share it in the comments below.
Yours in good health,
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