Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Ahead of the game...

While getting ahead of school work hardly ever happens, I do try to keep the rest of my life somewhat organized. ... Or not - depends on who you ask really. Say I'm organized to my wonderful roommate and lovely mother and their faces get red as they start gasping for air after laughing really hard. So, to be more specific, I'll say that I like to be organized with my food.

As much of a hassle as it may be, the cooking process and the glorious results ease my anxieties and worries. I don't like to describe it as "therapeutic" (the word seems to sterile and impersonal to me), but rather, the whole cycle of creating something delicious with a bit of effort and then tasting and enjoying what's been created is simply lovely.

I am active as I cook - from tossing the pasta with a spatula to chopping an onion to release its pungent aroma. I am aware as I cook - from changing the dial of the stove to checking the tenderness of a steamed stalk of broccoli. I am creative as I cook - from adding just a little bit more soy sauce to a peanut curry dish to making a new dish with last night's leftovers. For me, these qualities of cooking makes me feel fulfilled. This fulfillment makes me feel happy. And thus, cooking is happiness for me.

The happiness that accompanies my cooking is something I'm realizing is important to integrate more within my daily life. I usually try to fight against it, rationalizing and quelling the urge by reminding myself of the dish washing and multiple journeys that take place when cooking in a dorm setting. And most of the times, I do succumb to my feelings and end up buying something or eating snacks in place of a meal. But, in my gut, I know that the flavor of these purchases or munchies lose a bit of the soul. They are devoid of me and my influences and preferences. This food isn't for me - it's for someone who doesn't want to take the time to be me.

To be fair, I enjoy eating out on special nights and I do enjoy snacking (70% dark chocolate anyone?). :)

But, food, in its most basic form, is a source of nourishment. This nourishing comprises of the physical (the body), the emotional, and the spiritual. If either one of these components are missing in the food that I eat, I'm not really nourishing my whole self.

Thus, to lead back to the premise of this post, I want to be able to nourish myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually through my food more often. Though I know that some nights in my future have cookies for dinner or a microwaved day old bagel, I figure that I owe it to myself to at least do the best that I can. Thus, I'm beginning the process of organizing my food which essentially means early preparation.

Like the rest of America (it seems...) I like chicken. It's a reasonably healthy protein and a very versatile ingredient for multiple dishes (like salads, pastas, sandwiches, quesadillas, etc.)

However: raw poultry i+ a mini fridge = pretty much lots of bad things can happen

Over the weekend, I went to the grocery store and picked up some chicken tenders. When I got back, I opened up the package of tenders, put them in a plastic bag with some dijon mustard, salt, and pepper. After marinating them for a bit, I cooked them, but only till they were 75% fully cooked. I wrapped a proper portion of chicken with cling wrap and then aluminum foil. Afterwards, once they were lukewarm (around 10 min), I placed them into the freezer.

Simple tasty chicken (ahead of time)

1 package of chicken (tenders, breasts, thighs- whatever you like)
1/2 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp salt (per 4 oz of chicken)
1/2 tsp pepper (per 4 oz of chicken)
1/2 tbsp olive oil (per 4 oz of chicken)

Equipment: sautee pan, stove, plastic bag (preferably 1 liter sized bag), measuring spoons, tongs or spatula

In the plastic bag, mix half of the olive oil, all the mustard and spices together by sealing the bag and massaging the ingredients so that they are well mixed.

Add the chicken to the bag, seal the bag, and massage so that chicken is well covered. Let this marinade rest in a fridge for 30 min or on a counter top for 10 min max. If you place it in the fridge, give the chicken around 5-10 min to get the chill off. The fridge marinating method may be longer, but the marinade intensifies the longer it is in contact with the chicken, so I'd recommend the slow marinating method for more flavor.

Setting the stove to a medium heat, add the other half of the olive oil to the sautee pan and let it heat.

When the pan is hot (but not burning hot), place the chicken on the pan and let cook for 2-3 min per side (so that the chicken's surface gets nice browning but it isn't entirely cooked).

Remove the pan from heat and let the chicken rest until it is lukewarm.

Package the chicken in appropriate portion sizes with plastic or cling wrap. Then wrap the bundles with a layer of aluminum foil. Place these portions into the freezer.
-The aluminum foil adds extra barrier of protection to prevent the dreaded freezer burn
-Don't forget to date the food (by date, not the literal going out and sharing a glass of wine, though chicken does taste good with a delicious wine sauce. Date as in put the month, day, and year on the wrap with a permanent marker)

When you do get hungry:

Remove the foil from a portion of chicken. Either let the chicken rest in the fridge overnight (place the chicken in a sandwich plastic bag in case juices spill while defrosting). Or defrost in the microwave by placing it in the appropriate microwave setting.

Place the chicken on a dish and cook it for 2 min (for tenders) or until fully cooked (the original cooking should have cooked the chicken mostly, so it shouldn't take more than 5 min to fully cook in a microwave once the chicken is defrosted).

So, vooila! I've got chicken that will beckon at my call for the rest of the week!

How so? Well, pretty much a portion of chicken can be defrosted in the fridge and microwaved for eating (which only takes 2 min.)

So why not fully cook the chicken. In past experience, fully cooked protein that's been freezed and then re-heated has had something funky going on in the taste department. Yet, when I fully cook it (in the microwave after defrosting), I get the original flavor sans funkiness. But if you feel iffy about that, cooking it all the way is also fine if that's what you prefer.

This method of prep has really been effective for me. I find myself more excited about eating and most of the preparation is done since I don't have to worry about handling raw meat and then cleaning and cooking on a stovetop.

I'm slowly understanding how food, cooking, and eating affect my life... It's pretty cool, right?

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