I’m not one for New Year resolutions. The dead of winter seems like such a strange time to make changes. I suppose that eating better is timely given the indulgent food of the holidays, but I have never found motivation for improvement at a time when days are cold and short, you feel heavier, and your credit card could use a rest. But to switch things up a bit this year, I thought I might attempt some small goals that would give me a fighting chance at achievement.
The most significant one is cooking myself a proper dinner once a… month. That is not to say that I don’t eat properly when I eat at home (the majority of the time), it just means I don’t really cook with any kind of techniques that would suggest I’m anything but a male college freshman. No frozen or prepared meals ever grace my kitchen, but omelets, oatmeal, salads, and toast are my greatest hits. I just don’t have any reason to put effort into a meal for one. An hour or more of work for me to down it in minutes holds no appeal. I’ve attempted the soulful love myself via treating myself philosophy before and quickly lost interest. This time, I would cook to learn and practice, not to treat myself.
My dream life involves being a homemaker where I take care of all meals for my brood in a large kitchen with only the best appliances and tools—admittedly more Ree Drummond than Deb Perelman. But such a dream cannot be achieved if I only know how to make eggs and pasta with confidence. I’m not a bad cook, just inexperienced. And the experience I do have with more complicated cooking is with recipes that are hard to screw up, like braises. Julia Child’s beef bourguignon is not difficult, just time-consuming, so despite knocking it out of the park and impressing my guests, I knew that it really didn’t mean that I was any good at cooking.
So trying new-to-me techniques and recipes to become a better cook is my motivation for the monthly special meal. Once a month makes it achievable and manageable, as any ounce of pressure will have me give it up. I won’t spend the time prepping for a weeknight meal, and sometimes I’m out all weekend. One weekend night, once a month. At least until it gets too hot to cook…
I most want to increase my confidence in cooking meat. Like with cuts and techniques where I have to know when something is under or overdone. I tend to favour recipes where doneness is judged by something falling off the bone. I also have some decent tools in the my kitchen that are extremely underused. Or I buy tools with the expectation that I’ll use them to expand my skills and never do. This should change.
So, anyway. Meat + using my tools lead me to pork chops for January.
I chose to go to one of my favourite cooking and info sites, The Kitchn, as I had bookmarked their how-to post on how to make a perfect pork chop. You start it on the stove in a cast iron skillet and then finish it in the oven. The recipe would allow me to practice browning meat properly, checking temperature for doneness, and then using the pan drippings to make a sauce. I know this sounds all very elementary to some, but I never do these things. Ever. I stay away from cooking meat because I’m so insecure about serving it at the right temperature.
My major screw-up was that I had to make it twice. The first weekend I bought the wrong kind of bone-in chop. It cooked too fast and was overdone. The second attempt (pictured), I got it right. Even with the well-done first chop, it wasn’t too dry as I chose to brine my chops. I didn’t find the brining added much flavour, but I think it did add some juiciness and prevented dryness when cooked well through. My pan sauce was as lazy as I could make it, with the pan drippings, a chopped shallot, a little citrus juice (on the recommendation of a friend when I said I didn’t want to open a bottle of wine), chicken stock, and a touch of heavy cream at the end.
I served it up with a potato and roasted sprouts. I went with the Hasselback method for the potato purely because I knew it would be photographed. It wasn’t hard, but I didn’t find it to be any more special in taste than a regular baked potato.
I wish I could tell you that I am all excited for my next cooking lesson. Dinner was fine, and I’m happy with my result, but all the chopping and prep and watching and waiting just for me to eat the meal was a giant whatever. I am much much happier putting effort into cooking when someone else is going to eat it. I think this is because I will always be a teacher’s pet. I want the gold star and affirmation. But I do also like to be good at things (who doesn’t?), especially something I’m passionate about, like food. So there will a February meal. Stay tuned.