My 25 year old self would not recognize me today. Specifically in the context of cooking and the amount of time I spend cooking. So much has changed. I can cook now. Not make a dish or two. I mean I can cook.
I breeze through the grocery store knowing what to pick up in the categories of the next family meal, lunch to pack for tomorrow, fruit, vegetables, general pantry needs, etc. I know what is in my fridge, what is running low and what more I need to buy. I never thought I would acquire these skills but by forces of nature and a need for good food, I did it.
Now, I know this is not a big deal for a lot of people, particularly in some communities and cultures. But let me tell you, New York likes seamless, take out, and going out. And why wouldn’t we? New Yorkers are busy people and we have great convenient restaurants with great tasting food. It is awesome. Further, I have been to VC dinners where the investors talk about how they don’t have to cook and try different services to make the best food appear without effort. I have been to investor breakfasts where women ask me how I am doing with two kids, plus the fund and everything else. I tell them about cooking as one of my many new skills.
It is such a pain point for some people that I get the most genuine confessions. My favorite was an investor’s outing to a grocery store. This person was determined to go to the grocery store, buy ingredients and make a meal. The investor was so overwhelmed that he/she left the store with coconut water and a bag of almonds (or something of the equivalent). I laughed and told her/him I know how you feel. I was the same way. I did not know how to plan and think through what I wanted. Especially when I was single or pre-kids, I would go out for drinks then grab dinner with friends. When I met my husband we would stay late at work and meet for food or drinks. Life was different.
Now I have two kids and the forcing mechanisms that made me a cook were the following:
1- My daughter had started a day program where we had to provide lunch;
2- I had to make dinner for my daughter regularly during the 5 o’clock hour since I was on maternity leave
3 – I had just had my second baby, was on leave, did not have additional childcare help and was feeding my baby 8-12 times a day. This means I had to feed myself about 2,500 calories a day, stay hydrated and keep it together in the 80 degree heat. (Breastfeeding is no joke and is one of women’s many superpowers.)
This meant that I needed a lot of food, with variety and at scale, to be eaten as snacks, small meals and bigger meals. I had to build the confidence to make mistakes and get more comfortable with the food. And like becoming a parent, I had to do it my way.
I have vivid memories of wearing my son in a baby k’tan while flipping pork chops with a set of tongs and twisting my body away from the cast iron pan to avoid any grease popping from the perfect sear I was trying to achieve. The best reward was eating! Again, I was post partum and breastfeeding 8-12 times a day for a baby that would breastfeed in under 5 minutes. He was highly efficient and I remember needing to eat, finally eating, feeding him again and then needing a snack.
Demand was high, resources were limited and my supportive husband said to go and make mistakes, I want you to be happy. It is ok if it does not come out right. For the record, my husband is the lead chef in our house since we started dating, so this coming from him meant a lot.
Now I cruise through different meals and have enough variety for us throughout the week. And yes, I still make mistakes. I had recently started a new job and was making dinner every night that I was making too much food and leftovers were crowding my fridge. It looks like we can get away with only cooking dinner 4 time a week because we have enough leftovers. The leftovers from cooking also go to my daughter’s lunches five days a week.
I love learning and growing. Cooking gives me calm and joy. I love seeing my children enjoy the food I give them and we get to eat together everyday.
Here is a recipe for a dish that I learned to cook. During this post partum period, I made it once a week and my husband did not make a comment. He saw that it gave me confidence and I was improving on my food timing. Food timing meaning having the meats, vegetable and carb ready at the appropriate times to serve dinner.
Orecchiette with crumbled sausage and peas (Note, I prefer this with spinach but small children with limited molars can be tough to chew, so we do peas for now and it is delicious). I also love the simplicity of this recipe.
- 1 box of ronzoni orecchiette
- 1lb of sweet italian sausage (I use Premio)
- 1 bag of frozen peas (the small basic bag size)
- 8-10 oz unsalted chicken broth (I usually buy a 32 oz container and pour as I cook)
- 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan cheese
You will need three pots. Put on the pasta water pot and salt the water. Put on high and cover. Bring to a rolling boil. Put on a smaller pot for the frozen peas.Put on high and cover. Bring to a rolling boil. Put on the cast iron pan and put on medium heat. In four minutes, you will add the sausage. I still use a timer.
Open the sausage packet and use a paring knife or any sharp knife to cut the sausage casings vertically. When the timer goes off, put a little bit of olive oil on the pan and make sure it covers the surface of the pan. I pick up the pan using an oven mitt and move the oil around, you can also use a silicon spatula. Take your pick.
I immediately pick up each sausage and open the casing from where I sliced, take out the sausage and rip it in to chunks. It is about 4-5 chunks per link. I do this for all the sausage that come in the packet.
Take a wooden spatula and start to chop up the sausage using the flat edge. Move the meat around and then add salt and pepper to taste. Keep chopping until it is browned, then add chicken broth. Let is boil and lower the heat to let it simmer.
When the smaller pot of water comes to a rolling boil, remove the lid, and put in the whole bag of frozen peas. Mix the peas and leave the pot on high. When it comes to a boil with the peas in there, let it boil for a minute and then turn off the burner. Strain the peas by dumping them into a strainer or small colander. I use a metal hand strainer that is a good size to hold all the peas. I strain the peas and then put the metal strainer on top of the pot to finish dripping.
When the pasta pot comes to a rolling boil, remove the lid and dump in the box of orecchiette. It takes 9 to 11 minutes. I still use a timer. Mix the pasta so the orecchiette do not stick to each other, mix again after another minute or two.
The sausage pan should still have some chicken broth while simmering, add the peas to the pan and carefully mix, add salt and pepper to taste. Turn up the heat a bit so long as the chicken broth does not boil hard, light simmering is fine because you want the ingredients to mix.
Take two tablespoons of unsalted butter (I use butter sticks) and chop the butter into 4-6 pieces and distribute them throughout the pan. The extra heat that you added will help melt the butter. Let it simmer and mix.
Check your pasta by taking out a piece and tasting one. Don’t let it touch your tongue, use your teeth to determine if it is too firm. If you can cool a piece of pasta off and then taste, you can see if there inside of the pasta from where you took a bit is white or not. It is up to your personal taste as to how firm you want it.
When the pasta is finished, you can use a regular colander to strain the pasta. Drain the pasta and then scoop a majority of the pasta into the sausage and peas pan. Carefully mix. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle some parmesan to cover the pasta and mix again. Turn off the heat and you are ready to serve. This dish can be done in 30 minutes or less.
I save some extra pasta to have plain pasta to make a quick lunch side for my daughter.