This week marked my first demonstration of the season for the farmer’s market. As with most of the classes I teach, my employers and I haggled over my “title”. I like monikers such as “food educator” or even “cooking instructor. They tend to like “chef”. And, you see, I’m not really a chef. To me, the word chef is connotative of a commanding personality who can rally a whole brigade in the kitchen (uh, I can’t even get my dog to listen to me), use French cooking terms without having people giggle and create things like a mozzarella “balloon” filled with nitrogen tomato ice cream and freeze-dried basil.
Yes, I did go to culinary school at Johnson & Wales. However, I would not call my time there “illustrious”. Week one, I managed to stick my hand in an industrial mixer while it was still moving and crush three small bones. What were we making?? Oh, you know, the highly complicated chocolate-chip cookie. By week eight, I’d added catching two kitchen towels on fire and dropping a rocket-hot metal weight into melted pork fat causing it to spew liquid oil like a dancing, Disney™ fountain and rain down in torrents all over my hair. Heck, it’s a wonder I *survived* let alone graduated.
If that wasn’t enough evidence for you, I have a few other unchef-like traits. One: I’m so freaking lazy about meal planning. Seriously. Not a good planner am I. My recipes must rely heavily on substitutions or things that are already likely to be in my refrigerator or pantry or, my personal favorite, sheer luck. (“Oh, look at that, it calls for rhubarb and strawberries. I HAVE rhubarb and strawberries. We shall have rhubarb and strawberries for dessert.”) I’m frequently tying my dog up outside a store, so I can run in on a dog walk and purchase a missing ingredient. Dinner parties are planned, more or less, the day they take place. (Along with the cleaning, shopping and laundry. Yes, I live on the edge around here.) You will be lucky to arrive and find enough service ware for the invitees to eat off of (oh, yes, I’ve asked couples to share a plate before), and you will indubitably hear me say, “I’ve never tried this before so I hope it turns out” and “Oops” before the night is over.
Unchef-like trait number two: no patience. Oh, how I’ve longed to be that serene (and preferably dainty…no one’s ever called me dainty) individual who floats along in the kitchen willing to wait for perfection. Not this chick. I want my food fast, and I want it to come fairly easily. When recipes use words like “slowly” or “carefully”, I toss them aside. There’s a reason I wasn’t a baking and pastry major and that reason is called impatience. In the one B&P class I had to take (of hand-breaking fame), I honestly shed tears while trying to stretch dough for a streusel. Some people might call this an area for improvement. I call it an area for avoidance.
Finally, I lack vision. My greatest strength in the kitchen is the fact that I have a semi-photographic mind and a ridiculously freaky memory. I read about cooking a lot. Recipes and techniques get stuck in my brain, and I use this to my advantage. I have never bolted awake in the middle of the night thinking, “Holy crap! If I add tarragon to that pork recipe, it will set the world on fire.” (In fact, I’m much more likely to wake up thinking, “Why did I drink so much wine with dinner last night?”) 99.9% of my ideas start in someone else’s head.
Now that I have completely destroyed my credibility and possibly have caused you to question whether you will ever read this column again, let me get to the point.
I AM a good cook.
Why am I a good cook? Two reasons.
1. I can read. (And if you’ve gotten this far, I’m guessing so can you! YAY! Halfway there.)
2. I buy the freshest seasonal, local produce and make it the star of my cooking.
That’s it. And that’s all you have to do, too. Read recipes. Choose ones you feel comfortable trying. Follow the directions in those recipes. Build confidence. Start combining recipes or using bits and pieces of several in one new recipe. Learn about flavors.
Shop at your local farmer’s market. Fresh, seasonal food (and food that hasn’t traveled miles and miles in a hot truck to get to you) tastes better. You don’t have to do much to make it shine. In fact, the less you cook it, the better it generally tastes. Minimal planning, minimal patience, minimal vision. It’s the lazy (wo)man’s greatest cooking tool.
And just between one unchef and another, those are my dirty, little secrets.
Not gonna lie. Little obsessed with the frittata. It’s so easy- takes about 15 minutes from start to finish- and can utilize all sorts of seasonal and local ingredients. Have it for breakfast with a hearty slice of bread or english muffin or for lunch/dinner with a side salad, a crusty baguette and a nice glass of wine.
As usual, I rolled up to my demonstration lacking a few ingredients (I may have used the cream from our complimentary market coffee in place of milk, eeee!) and having never tried finishing a frittata on the stove instead of in an oven. When the time came to flip the egg dish over I said to my market master, “Ok, everybody pray this works.” It did. And the results were delicious.
8 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
2-4 tablespoons grated cheese (harder cheese work best)
4-6 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (chives, basil, thyme, parsley-all work well)
1/2 lb. fresh asparagus (or other season vegetable), trimmed and chopped
2-3 oz. prosciutto (or other thin ham/bacon), cut into strips
1 tbsp. olive oil
1. Heat olive oil in 8 or 9 inch ovenproof skillet. Add asparagus/vegetables and cook over medium heat until tender. About 4-5 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, beat eggs and milk with a whisk in a large bowl. Add grated cheese and chopped herbs and season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.
3. Add prosciutto (or other meat) to asparagus and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
4. Pour egg mixture over asparagus/ham mixture. Cook for 4-5 minutes until frittata begins to set.
5. To finish, bake for about 10-15 minutes in a 400 degree F oven until golden and fluffy. Or, use a second pan to flip frittata and finish on stovetop.
6. To loosen frittata after baking in oven, place skillet back on stovetop over high heat for 30 seconds to loosen and then cover with a plate and flip out.
Confess! That was easy!