I think we can safely say that the whole Chicken Restaurant Which Shall Remain Nameless issue has reached–and passed–the saturation point. We’ve all had our fun, gotten nice and riled up about things, and now…well, now mostly what I’m seeing is people saying “If you mention that restaurant one more time, I will punch you in the head”. And frankly, I’m inclined to agree. I think we’ve all reached our limit for the number of hyphens we’re willing to use, and ohdearlordinheaven am I ever tired of hearing the word “chicken”.
So this weekend for our Weekend World-Changer Homework, let’s try something altogether different: let’s try cooking at home. It’s healthier, for one thing, and it brings families together (at least according to all those bazillion studies the powers-that-be like to quote), and if you buy your ingredients from farmers markets, you don’t really have to worry about what the Corporate Head Office is doing with the cash you give them. I mean, ok, sure, maybe you want to ask your friendly local farmer about his or her politics, and that’s your business; but at least I know, by buying from these nice folks, that some six-tiers-removed muckety-muck isn’t going to use my dollar to support … y’know what, never mind. Politics schmolitics. Today we’re talkin’ about food.
So here’s what I propose: this weekend, hit your local farmers market and buy some ingredients. Any kind you like. Any kind at all. Then take them home, prep them as needed, and cook dinner. The family can help, unless you’re planning to use all that choppin’ as a way to make ’em scurry and hide (which is also totally fair game). Then bring everyone together at the table–go pick up a $10 folding table if you have to, or go to the park; they have tables there that you can use for free–and sit down and eat together. Talk about what’s going on in everyone’s world. Talk about what the heck this meal was supposed to be, since it appears to be a pile of vaguely reddish slop. Talk about how you get no respect or appreciation. Talk about whatever is on your mind, while enjoying a meal that you made all by yourself, with no concerns about accidentally having supported human rights violations in far-off lands with it.
And for those of you who are finding this idea a little intimidating, allow me to offer the following suggestions, which we’ll call Mama Buffalo’s Cooking 101–Tips and Tricks for the Mighty At-Home Chef (remember that title. There might be more posts like this in the future.):
1. Recipes are your friend. So is the internet. I confess: most of my best recipes come from the internet. I reckon there’s absolutely no call to try and reinvent the wheel; so if someone else has already looked at their pantry, discovered some kohlrabi, some apples, and some lemon juice, and has sorted out what to do with that, then by gosh, I’ll just go right ahead and help myself to their advice (hint: Kohlrabi-Apple Slaw). It’s certainly fair game to tweak as needed, and if you’re a creative chef, then by all means, invent something new; but if you’re like most of the rest of us, just remember that if someone else volunteers to do the heavy lifting, the appropriate response is “thank you”.
2. Nobody said you can only use one recipe. Here’s another confession: most of my best meals come from taking a whole heap of recipes and averaging them. Sure, you can pick a chef whose food you admire and stick to their cookbooks (we’re big Alton Brown fans here, so his biscuit recipe is pretty much the only one I’ll use)…but it’s also a great deal of fun to go hunting for something new and different and just hobble together your own Frankenrecipe from what you find out there. For instance, there are approximately one hundred kaspillion chili recipes out there, and everyone believes theirs is the best. So go look up some chili recipes, and start looking for the points where everybody agrees: you’re probably going to find “brown some meat”, and “add some onions/onion powder”, and “add cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper” in just about all of ’em–so start from there, and add any additional steps you find exciting. It’s like crowdsourcing, but with dinner. And that makes me very happy.
3. Try something nobody in your house has ever had before. This is seriously my favorite tip of all time. Here’s why: if nobody has ever had it, there’s really no way to tell if you did it right. I mean, there are the obvious tells–undercooked meat, things catching fire, etc–but if nobody knows what it’s supposed to taste like, then who can tell if you got it slightly wrong? For all they know, you’ve just thrown down like an Iron Chef, and suddenly you become a legend in your own home. Case in point: I make a heckuva Moroccan lamb stew, which is a Frankenrecipe that pretty much comes down to “put thinly sliced onions in a pot with some ground lamb, dates, apricots, raisins, cabbage, diced tomato, chicken stock, and a lot of ras el hanout, toss in a little salt and pepper, and come back later”. We’ve had this stew approximately 900 times since I “invented” it–we love it that much–and the good news is that neither of us has the first idea whether it tastes “correct”. It tastes good, which is all that matters. Well, that and it’s all nutritious. We like nutritious things around here. We also like cupcakes, which is neither here nor there but does lead us to the final point:
4. Dude, chill out. It’s just dinner. Nobody expects you to cook like a Top Chef, and the President would’ve let you know if he was planning to drop by for dinner, so there’s nobody here to impress. Your family already loves you and will forgive you if you screw up (though they’ll probably tell the story at embarrassing moments, so plan for that). In a worst-case scenario, you can always go buy a coupla premade pizza crusts and some toppings. Or make spaghetti. Or declare it breakfast-for-dinner night and show everyone how to make their own scrambled eggs. It’s ok. It’s really, really ok–right down to the cupcakes for dessert, which are nutritionally valueless but man-oh-man are they tasty.
So that’s our mission for this weekend, ‘Tracters: show people you love ’em by making ’em some delicious food. Who knows? It might be a huge hit with your family, and become a regular weekly thing. Or a daily thing. The possibilities are endless.
Oh, and if what you make ends up being particularly delicious, feel free to invite me over the next time you make it. *grin*