Look, Honey. I baked!

So, to start things off, let me just say that I am not known for my prowess in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong, people associate me with food. I love to eat. If a new restaurant is opening the in Twin Cities, I am one of the first to be there because I love the new and the novel. This may be precisely why I do not cook much at home. It could also be because my family was the kind that rarely ate anything that wasn’t microwaved, didn’t fall lumpily out of a box, or wasn’t reheated to within an inch of it’s original state. I know that eating out or making quick, processed foods are not the best, but it always worked for me, especially when I was single and only cooking for one. Honestly, a meal of cheese and crackers at the countertop while binging Project Runway episodes was was my idea of a perfect evening.  I am happy to say, however, I am evolving a bit in the food department.

With my past in mind, you probably have an apt mental picture of what my pantry looks like. It’s stocked with numerous “quick” foods – canned soup, boxed macaroni, cereal – but also aspirational items, like pine nuts and premium pink baking salt, that disclose to the observer that I desperately want to know my way around a kitchen, if not for my own benefit, at least for my husbands. Ben is the kind of guy who can throw together a delicious meal from whatever is in our house, and I always feel guilty that I cannot return the favor when it is my turn to cook. I attribute his confidence and aptitude to being raised by a mother who believed that eating dinner out was akin to neglect, so he grew-up accustomed to meals prepared from scratch and was privy to the work that went into them.

I tried making two different recipes – one an entree and one a dessert – and I chose them because they could be made with what I had in my pantry. I struggled to have all the ingredients for even these relatively basic recipes, however. The brown sugar for the cookies had to be beaten out of the bag with a hammer, as it had hardened ages ago, to my surprise. The pasta dish involved spaghetti instead of linguine, and there was no fresh basil chiffonade because I am not yet the kind of person who would happen to have fresh basil. Having said all this, it was a lot of fun to cook, and I really did feel a certain sense of pride in what I made.

Recipe #1 Pesto Pasta with Roasted Tomatoes

Here is the recipe, if you would like to see it: http://www.popsugar.com/food/Pasta-Pesto-Roasted-Tomatoes-Recipe-9110458

What was special about this recipe is that it required me to both 1.) roast tomatoes and 2.) toast breadcrumbs. While I realize this is not that fancy, I would normally never do either of these things if I was making pasta. Generally, I am so hungry by the time I start cooking it is just a race to get some sauce onto a starch of some kind so I can get on with it. Roasting tomatoes gave them a lovely flavor and added a panache to my dish, but 20-25 minutes of roasting (once my oven is warmed up) seemed like soooo long to wait! I think I would do this again, though – it was worth it and meant I was at least eating a vegetable with my pasta. The breadcrumbs, however, seemed a little superfluous. They looked nice and added a textural interest, but they were very sweet and kind of felt out of place when I was eating the dish. I did feel very accomplished, however, toasting them and adding them to the pasta, and it felt like a nice gesture, like I was telling myself, “You’re good enough for toasted breadcrumbs. You deserve the chance to feel a little classy on a weeknight. In your sweatpants.”

Recipe #2 Chewy “Cafe Style” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Recipe: http://hostthetoast.com/best-chewy-cafe-style-chocolate-chip-cookies/

As a middle-schooler, I made chocolate chip cookies more often than I played Super Nintendo – which is A LOT. I would make a batch at least once a week, often to the delight of my family and the expansion of my pubescent waistline. I even won a “bake off” in my 6th grade Home Economics class with the recipe (which I took from the back of a Hershey’s Chocolate Chip bag but pretended was my own.) Now,  I know what you are thinking, “He said he never cooked!”. Cookies were the exception. You just had to follow the recipe, use lots of sugar, and eat a healthy portion of the dough (until that raw egg scare in the late 90’s). Cookies were always something I felt confident about, so I thought they would be a good option for my first homework assignment.

These particular cookies are “cafe style” because they are supposed to be larger than the average cookie and look “good enough for a display case”. The secret, according to the blogger who posted the recipe, is corn starch, melted butter, and the method of rolling and placing the dough. The recipe itself is pretty straightforward, though I felt tricked when I got to one of the later steps and realized you need to refrigerate the dough for an hour before baking (my husband nearly lost his mind when I told him it would be a wait- his cookie lust is legend.) The cookies themselves did come out pretty tasty, though, and I would do this recipe again. The only real confusion I had is when the recipe told me to make balls “roughly 1/4 of a cup in size”. I never understand this. To me, liquids and powders are measurable in cups, but dough is not. I see 2 sizes of cookie – “Cookie”, and “Big A** Cookie”, so telling me to use a cup as a reference point for how much dough to use is not helpful. Hopefully I will get better at this as I continue to grow in my cooking skills.

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