I do love to cook, but not every day. Who does? I get so bored deciding between meatloaf, baked chicken, and tacos. What?! Tacos? Yes, even tacos can get boring. When it comes to the day-to-day, I prefer to make a large batch of something that can serve as either lunch or dinner for a few days. I do like making fussy stuff like potatoes au gratin for special occasions, though. My recipe seems to take HOURS to prepare even before you get to make the roux and put it all in the oven. My other favorite fiddly food to make is jalapeño poppers.
I don’t really have a recipe for jalapeño poppers, I just kind of throw them together with whatever I have on hand. I usually just use an 8 oz block of cream cheese and loosen it a little with some milk. You can add grated cheese, like cheddar, but I don’t always. Usually I’ll wander out to the garden and pick some fresh herbs if the season is right. My choices include thyme, dill, basil and chives – I should really plant some parsley and sage – which I chop and grind together with some garlic, salt, and pepper before mixing with the cheese. I cut each jalapeño in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and ribs, and stuff each with the cream cheese mix. Each jalapeño half is then wrapped with a (half) slice of bacon, secured with a toothpick, and either broiled or grilled until the bacon is crispy. I could just eat that for dinner, and I have many times.
My husband is a very savvy shopper and sometimes he brings home some really spectacular cuts of meat. Once we figured out that we don’t need an actual smoker to smoke meats, it was a whole new world for us (thank you Cook’s Country). I do cheat a little and cook things in the oven a bit since smoking can take all day and you really have to pay attention even if you do have a proper smoker. If I’m making a large cut of meat like a pork butt or brisket, it almost always involves an overnight marinade or dry rub (longer if you have the time) and sometimes a good searing in my cast iron pan before going in the oven, low and slow, for hours before going on the grill set up to smoke.
Other times he brings things home like lamb or steaks, though we mostly dine on chicken and ground beef. We keep it simple and just grill the good cuts with some veggies I skewer and dress with olive oil and salt. When it comes to vegetables in the summertime, we usually cook them this way. I recently discovered that I like squash after years of not believing so because of my childhood tastes. I never knew I liked asparagus until my twenties. I blame that on eating canned asparagus as a child. These days, I like to either grill or broil it with olive oil or wrapped in bacon. Tastes change so I always try new things. Except fish. I don’t do fish.
We live for pickles. We grow cucumbers and some jalapeños specifically for pickling. I’ve made up my own recipe for cucumber pickles using lots of dill. I always have dill in the garden – partly because I love it and partly because I couldn’t stop it from growing unless I really put forth some effort. I planted it about five or six years ago and it keeps reseeding itself. I always use lots of garlic, too, because that’s the way we like it. My husband is an absolute devotee of pickles and I always make them really sour for him. Pickle juice can help to restore your natural salts if you’ve been working or playing hard – just remember to have some water too. Pickle juice also makes an excellent marinade for chicken, especially if you’re looking to make copycat nuggets from that fast food chain that uses cows to advertise for their chicken-based menu.
I’m not the best baker. My bread is always dense and, as my friend says, angry. She has the same problem. I can, however, make cookies and sometimes, if the stars are aligned and the wind is blowing the right direction, cakes and cinnamon rolls. I am perfectly capable of doing the simple math needed to double a recipe, but I lose track of myself and forget things. I made a batch of flat, runny cookies once before I realized that I forgot to double the flour!
In the summer I even “cook” for the chickens. Okay, I do it in winter too. They’re my girls and they deserve nice things to eat to break up the montony of chicken feed. In the heat of summer I will mix fruit, veggies, and mealworms with water and freeze the mix so they have something nice and cold to peck at. In the winter I usually get some small pumpkins, cut them in half (leave the seeds in!) and fill the halves with a mix of cayenne pepper, garlic, olive oil, leftover vegetables, and an egg. Throw that in the oven at 350F until the egg has set and let it cool a bit before serving in their run. I know, an egg? Yes, as long as it’s cooked, it is perfectly safe to feed the chickens eggs. I’ve also fed them chicken, but we’ll keep that between us, okay?