Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting Creative…With Food!

Disclaimer: This post has nothing to do with running.

I know. It seems weird, but occasionally I do other things. Over the years cooking has become one of my hobbies. If you would have known me in college, you would know I used to hate cooking. Perhaps because I never really did it. My mother loved feeding me when I was young. Sometimes when I visited from college she would set a plate in front of me and just sit in the chair across from me and stare at me while I ate. She said she liked to watch me eat. And being the self-sacrificing mom that she was, my childhood involvement in the kitchen help usually consisted of eating the discarded peels when she made her delicious apple pie. Hey, garbage disposing is a useful task!

As I've grown up and eventually discovered there is more to cooking than a box of Kraft macaroni (although I'm still a fan), I've found that cooking can be extremely rewarding. Just like my mom, I love it when my food gives someone a happy tummy! And more recently, I've found that making something unique and creative is just as rewarding.

Now, I'm no master chef, but I used to be a complete slave to recipes. This isn't surprising given my personality. I'm the kind of person who is a staunch rule follower and law abider. I'm the one in the passenger seat who will nag you for not using a turn signal or for coming to a stop a few feet past the stop sign. So when I started cooking I always followed the recipes exactly. I thought the lack of one little ingredient, even if it was a useless garnish, would totally ruin the food. It didn't help that I subscribed to Bon Apetit magazine. Don't get me wrong. They have wonderful recipes in Bon Apetit! But if you follow most of the recipes exactly, you're likely to spend a $100 on a dinner at home for two. Eventually though, you learn it's not necessary to roast star anise then roll it in glitter to sprinkle on your grilled chicken. I did just make that up.

In addition to discovering that some ingredients were not essential to a delicious meal, I also found that I could get creative and replace some ingredients with others if I didn't have everything on hand and make my own twist on a given recipe. So this weekend when I was looking to make the Chiles Rellenos recipe that I made back in August with my BUBF's (best ultra buddy forever) hubby, Justin, I succeeded in making a delicious dish that diverged from the precise recipe.

I didn't really look at the recipe before I went to the grocery store to get the ingredients, but I remembered I needed zucchini and poblano peppers. I managed to grab the zucchini but I totally spaced on the peppers. Fortunately I didn't have to go back to the grocery store for just peppers. I managed to grab them during a necessary Denver outing. Every once in a while we have to head to the city to get things you just can't find in the mountains. Like, DSL modems. So when we headed down the mountains to Best Buy, of course I suggested a trip to Target to get Christmas decor! And I could always get poblanos at Super Target.

While our trip to Target was a successful decoration retrieving quest, the poblano peppers proved elusive. There was a single, sad poblano remaining in the produce section. Unfortunately my goal wasn't to make stuffed pepper, it was to make stuffed pepperS. With extreme apprehension, I decided to buy some Anaheim peppers. I hadn't cooked with them before, but they were about the right size and I was pretty sure they weren't super spicy. Maybe they would work!

When I finally got around to making the Chiles Rellenos today, I found that I was lacking frozen corn AND whole canned tomatoes. OMG! My first instinct of course was to rush to the store for the two ingredients. Upon further consideration, I decided that since the whole tomatoes went into a sauce that was eventually going to be blended, the crushed tomatoes that I had on hand would serve just as well. They're already in sauce form. The tomato volume might be slightly off but not by much. And instead of frozen corn in the zucchini/onion/corn filling, I decided to sub in some chopped mushrooms. They don't taste the same as corn, but I like them just as much and I figured they'd be a good texture for the filling.

In the end, everything turned out just swell. The peppers were delicious. I think the anaheims were a little spicier than the poblanos would have been, but I love spicy! So I know my mother would be proud to know that I've grown up to be a decent cook. And maybe the next time she's over I'll stare at her while SHE'S eating. I don't know if I'll ever like making pie crust though. Sorry mom. The frozen ones are just too easy!

P.S. I didn't have enough peppers for all the filling, so I'll be using the leftover zucchini/mushroom/onion/cheese mixture to mix up with eggs. I bet it'll make a good scramble which could be turned into a breakfast burrito.

P.P.S. One of my other secrets to leftovers: pizza. I put the leftover toppings in the leftover pizza sauce and voila, it's fancy pasta sauce.


  1. I use to have that same problem--having to follow a recipe exactly. Thank goodness I'm over that. Now, I even make meals with no recipe whatsoever and that ROCKS!

  2. I'm a mess with recipes, I'm always missing something. But I've only ruined dinner a few times that way.

  3. Of course your mother is proud of you! Given that you come by that "rigid rules following" stuff honestly ("The purpose of a turn signal is to signal your INTENTION--future--not your present action. It's an act of kindness as well as safety."), you've made quite a break with your cautionary DNA. Yay, Laurie! And you may feel free to feed me and watch me eat anytime, as long as I can scrub your floor and wash your dishes. Mom