Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Cook of the Year

Or at least Cook of One Moment, One Day, maybe Cook of the Month…

I enjoy cooking. I improvise, to an extent, and have favorite dishes I prepare often. I try new recipes, although if there are too many ingredients my eyes glaze over and I move on, and if there are too many steps or prep time is longer than a TV show I watch while cooking, I move on. I do not bake, except for brownies when the grandkids visit. No baked goods - bakery creations, mine or pre-packaged - anywhere in my house. Too tempting.

I admit I was not a diligent, conscientious, consistent cook when raising my boys. Not that I did not like to cook, but other activities got in the way. My older son took culinary arts in high school and when people inquired, “Why?” his response was, “Otherwise I would starve.”

The situation was not that bad at my house, but you get the idea…

I never realized some people find cooking difficult, or do not like to cook, or are poor cooks, until an incident years ago. I worked on a project making meals for a homeless shelter. One month, rather than prepare the meal in the Temple kitchen, volunteers made pasta casseroles (simple 6-ingredient recipe provided) at home. As people dropped off their creation I was surprised – shocked – amazed – at the wide variety of concoctions. Overcooked noodles, undercooked noodles, pasta swimming in liquid, terrible tasting dishes…

Fast forward to a time when my kids are grown and I am retired. There is time to cook, try new ingredients and recipes and experiment. I can also volunteer to prepare a dish for events.

I made a Panzanella salad (a Tuscan dish made with bread and tomatoes) for 30 people, using a recipe provided by a professional chef. The chef was supposed to make the dish, but had to bow out. So I stepped in.

I never received such accolades for my cooking as showered me over the salad. I don’t know why; I did not think it was anything special. But it did make me feel good!

In the spirit of sharing, the recipe is provided below. If looking for a yummy side dish give it a try.

Panzanella Salad
Cherry tomatoes (tricolor tomatoes make it look a little more festive)
Fresh Basil
Small mozzarella balls
Kalamata olives (drained)
Olive bread or semolina bread (I made a lot of calls and no store or bakery stocked olive bread. I used a semolina baguette).
Olive oil
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Balsamic glaze (I never used this before. Purchased a small bottle at a supermarket. I will definitely use it on other dishes.)

Cut cherry tomatoes in half, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Stack and roll the basil leaves and cut into strips. Mix tomatoes and basil together. Add mozzarella balls, coat well with oil and toss mixture. Add (whole) drained olives.
Cut bread into cubes (crouton size) and sauté in olive oil. Add to salad, then add a little more oil and toss well.
Place salad in serving dish and, immediately before serving, drizzle liberally with balsamic glaze.
Eat and enjoy! 

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