Confessions of a Laissez Chef

I’m the chef of the household.  Because I have much more cooking experience than Susie, there was no debate about this aspect of our life.

She lived with her mom for many years and her mom cooked.  When Susie finally did move to Tallahassee so she‘d not have a 100-mile roundtrip commute, she rented a room from an elderly single woman and didn’t do much cooking then either.

I, on the other hand, have been cooking for myself since I graduated college, where we had a “buffet” meal plan included in the tuition and so I never cooked in college.  Since we had servants in Manila, and they did the cooking, I sure didn’t get any experience there either.  My cooking style therefore reflects a “no nonsense” approach favoring simplicity and a “one pot/pan” method with minimal preparation time.  Still, I’ve managed to develop an adequate repertoire over 35 years.

Another approach I take is not to cook every day.  Usually, I cook on Sunday and that will last us through Thursday.  Sometimes, I’ll cook a second time on Tuesday.  I can do this since there’s just the two of us.

Some folks can’t believe we eat the same thing five days in a row but last I heard the main function of food is to keep you alive so what does it matter? And if tastes good….

I eat ice cream almost every day and think nothing of it!  Life is too short to waste on spending lots of time on cooking.  (I have the same attitude about cleaning, yard work, etc. but those are Susie’s bailiwicks.)

So, what’s on the anarchist menu?  Enquiring minds want to know….

Depends on the season.  In spring and fall, when the weather’s good, I often grill.  Now that’s pretty basic.  Slap some meat on the grill and we’re eating in a few minutes.  Plus, cooking on a gas grill is cheaper than cooking on a stove.

But in winter, indoor cooking is usually the practice.  In that case, a crock pot is often prominent in the kitchen.  I can prepare a meal early Sunday afternoon and let the crock pot do it’s thing all afternoon while I’m surfing the Internet.

One of my favorite crock pot meals is chicken cacciatore, using thighs.  I’ll put a layer of thighs browned in olive oil in the bottom of the crock pot, followed by a layer of mushrooms, onions and sliced tomatoes.  Then cover that with a sauce that includes crushed tomatoes (thicker than puree) blended with prepared spaghetti sauce (I like Classico’s Spicy Tomato and Basil) to which I’ve added my own herbs and spices.  Then, another layer of thighs followed by a layer of that sauce.  A few hours later, Susie’s eating mighty fine!

That crock pot is also used for all sorts of pork and sometimes beef roasts.  These are typically accompanied by mushrooms, onions and whatever frozen veggies are on sale, such as garlic cauliflower or broccolli.  In winter, the crock pot often switches to spaghetti sauce and chili.

With spaghetti sauce, I favor Italian sausage for meat and also seafood.  In the past, it was either clams or shrimp but then I stumbled upon a frozen “seafood mix” which includes octopus, cuttlefish, squid, shrimp and clams or mussels and I like that for “something different.”  I’ll sautee that seafood mix in butter, olive oil and garlic and then add in to the crock pot after the sauce has been simmering a few hours.  As we say in Manila – “masarap.”(Delicious!)

With chili, I like it hot.  Fortunately, I have all sorts of hot sauces and a nice stash of premium Chimayo chile powder which I picked up in the town it is named after when we were in New Mexico.

Susie doesn’t like her chili hot, so I have to add most of the hot sauce and chile power (and often some jalapeno peppers) to mine separately, which dilutes the effect it since it doesn’t simmer into the sauce. I’m thinking that this winter I will make “his and hers” batches since we have two crock pots.  (Plus a “reserve” one that’s still in the box, which I picked up at a real good price at an outlet mall sale.)

When I cook on the stove, it’s typically in a “wok” pan.  This has a small cooking base and then widens out.  This allows a smaller amount of liquid to cover all the food than if the base is also wide.  I often stir fry / simmer something in that wok pan.

Top on the stir fry / simmer list is chicken or pork adobo.  It’s a Filipino standard which uses a mix of vinegar and soy sauce to simmer the meat chunks along with some onions and mushrooms.  Susie enjoys it.  I’ll also use it to stir fry my version of Sichuan beef.

About the only time I use the oven is to roast a boneless pork loin.  I baste this with whatever funky salad dressing I happen to have on hand.  Zesty Italian and Greek are two favorites.  This is accompanied by sweet potatoes zapped in the microwave, which I never owned until receiving one as a wedding present in 1995.

If we’re not eating pasta, then all these meals are accompanied with rice, which I buy in 25-pound bags.  Susie’s eaten so much rice over the last 25 years I’m waiting for her eyes to become slanted just like mine!   😉

I recently stumbled upon some “Thai Coconut Curry” flavor chicken broth I picked up on sale .  I’m thinking about an opportunity to try it out. This broth may become a favored cooking liquid since I like both curry and coconut.  (Whenever Blue Bell ice cream goes on sale, I try to pick up their Tropical Paradise flavor – coconut ice cream with crushed pineapple, macadamia nuts and coconut sauce.)

I limit home red meat consumption to about once every six weeks.  Even in the Philippines, I didn’t eat much red meat; it was mostly chicken, pork and fish.  My uncle’s convinced that my grandmother (his mother) lived to be over 100 because her diet was mainly fish, vegetables and rice.  That’s a little too confining for me, especially considering the price of fish here compared to the Philippines.  (While we had shrimp in the Philippines, it took a back seat to the Godzilla size prawns we had, which I rarely see here.)

I’m hoping our upcoming trip to Puerto Rico will give me some new cooking ideas.  In Manila, one of my favorite dishes at home was Cuban Rice:  seasoned ground beef surrounding rice which had literally been inverted from a  cup with a fried egg on top of the rice.  Surrounding the ground beef was fried bananas.  Masarap!

I’d never seen this on the menu in a Cuban restaurant, only Picadillo which is similar but without the fried egg or bananas.  I asked the owner of a local Cuban restaurant whether Cuban Rice was a real dish or…  She assured me  it was very Cuban but didn’t think it’d go over with Americans.

My problem with “American” food is that it is often bland.  Food, like life, should be characterized by zest! All it takes is some spices and herbs…and you too will be saying: “masarap!”

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14 responses to “Confessions of a Laissez Chef

  1. It’s 0952 and I am already waiting for dinner.

  2. I have a similar attitude about cooking. The grill and crock pot get frequent use. The oven… only if a frozen pizza is on the menu or if it’s Thanksgiving and I’m cooking a turkey. I’m thinking about getting a George Foreman grill for use over the winter, since it’s usually too cold to do much outdoor grilling from November through April…

    • One of the benefits of living in a warmer climate is the longer outdoor cooking season!

      On the other hand, there’s the mosquitoes, humidity, etc.

      I’d like to live where it’s usually about 75 and little humidity.

  3. Spencer: You write: “Plus, cooking on a gas grill is cheaper than cooking on a stove.”

    Can you please explain your analysis behind this statement? Seems counterintuitive.

    • I can cook for at least a year on a 20-pound propane tank, which is pretty cheap to refill. Can’t recall the price since it’s been so long.

      Tallahassee owns its own power utility. The State capital is located here, so much property is exempt from property tax. But guess what all those buildings use?

      Electricity. Voila! We have one of the higher kilowatt rates in the state, since as a government utility, the City is not subject to rate regulation.
      Whatever the City wants to charge, they charge.

      Currently, about 15.5 cents per kilowatt.

      I Googled “average Florida kilowatt rate” and learned that in July 2009, the statewide average was about 12 cents per kilowatt. So we are more than 25% above that.

      I have no problem with that. The City makes HUGE money on power which is then transferred to the General Fund for day-to-day operations. This keeps my property tax low and since I can control my electricity usage I prefer that to a higher property tax.

      My power bill for September usage was…$52.
      And that included AC.

      But if you want to know how I achieved that, you have to PAY for my secrets! LOL!

      I hear how other folks have $100+ electricity bills. They obviously need my secrets…

  4. I loved this post so much, I almost ate my laptop. I love that you do the cooking. My husband does, too, and I am not ashamed to admit that he is a much better cook.

  5. “Thai coconut curry” sounds wonderful. I like coconut but love curry. I make this incredible curry sauce that is unbelievable on steak. At least I think I do…the last time I made it…I think I may have cooked last in 2004.

  6. Deal…but I am fussy about my steaks 🙂 Has to be ribeye, has to be blackened, and has to be rare 🙂

  7. Guests cannot be fussy! Very impolite! lol!

    You’ll get sirloin. You’ll have to do the blackening because that’s way too fancy for me.

    I think I can manage rare; I like mine medium rare.

  8. Fakename has reached the age where being called impolite is not the worst thing you could call her 🙂 However, she still has enough manners left to offer to buy the steaks (whatever version anyone wants) in order to accomodate her personal fussiness!

  9. > offer to buy the steaks

    It would be a gross violation of all standards of decency to invite someone over for dinner and then they have to bring the meal!

    OTOH, if you insist on bringing your own steak….

    Let’s look to early December… I’m going out of town in mid-November and then it’s Thanksgiving.

  10. If I were on a diplomatic mission, I would quietly munch on the boiled kangaroo. But we are friends! I get to display my foibles.

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