What is it about cooking that relaxes me so? I love the entire process – browsing recipes until one makes my stomach growl. I love shopping for my meal and I love cooking it. From the tedious prep work – chopping onions, measuring out ingredients, making marinades, washing herbs; to the actual excitement of using heat and skill to turn a bunch of ingredients into a tasty meal, cooking for me has become not only a hobby and an enjoyment, but a necessity to keep me sane.
I’ve always loved eating food but never really got too involved with cooking. I call it the curse of the Greek mother – the incessant need to do everything herself, the nerve-inducing nagging about the mess, the dirty dishes, etc. And maybe when I was younger those were valid concerns. I can’t really imagine that at 15 years old I would have been a stickler for cleaning detail.
College was a much too stressful experience to allow me to focus on food. Between working full-time at my family’s bagel shop and commuting three hours a day to school, I really was much too pooped out to even think about cooking. And, really, how many college kids care about cooking? My post-college professional life kept me too busy to even fathom spending a second in the kitchen. So I fulfilled my foodie desires by obsessively watching The Food Network. Barefoot Contessa, Giada, Iron Chef America…these were all shows that were on my “To Watch” list.
I envied Ina Garten’s beautiful Hamptons kitchen. I loved Paula Deen’s rich Georgian accent – her tongue rolling in such mystical ways that the word “oil” would come out sounding as “awl.” I questioned if Giada’s male demographic watched the show for her recipes, or her cleavage. I wondered why Rachael Ray created an acronym for extra virgin olive oil…why go through the trouble doing that when you explain the acronym. Every. Single. Time. “Ok, so now we pour some EVOO in the salad, that’s extra virgin olive oil.” Doesn’t that defeat the purpose of the acronym? In between the anthropological musings I daydreamed of cooking all sorts of foods – from complex stews to fresh bread, to sweet desserts.
In the last year, (much to my mother’s dismay about the associated costs), I’ve fully embraced my love for cooking and baking. I’ve made homemade chicken Caesar salad teriyaki pork, orange chicken, chow mein, homemade pizzas, cheesecake, biscuits, pop tarts, chocolate cake, carrot cake…the list goes on and on. I’ve considered making English muffins; even boiling and baking my own bagels. I basically try to re-create foods that are unavailable in Greece. Foods that I love and I miss eating. Perhaps that is the motivation that I needed to get my cooking gears moving.
Cooking non-Greek foods can be a challenge when you live in Greece. It requires full dedication. If I want to cook Chinese I have to make a special trip to a specific supermarket that has a small international foods section, and even then I still have to forgo ingredients like bok choy. I still haven’t been able to find fresh cilantro. I make my own buttermilk to save money. I also make my own sour cream (yogurt, lemon, salt and pepper – who knew it could be so easy?) I’ve even considered making my own ricotta cheese for lasagna. There are so many simple ingredients that I took for granted when I lived in California. I’ve basically turned into a cooking addict and I’m on a bender to get my next fix. The more random the recipe, the more I want it.
The night before, after running some errands, I came home and felt the need to unwind a bit. An hour later this need to unwind resulted in a rich, moist chocolate cake. Yesterday, some leftover barbecued steak gave me the inspiration for my dinner. I made a thyme-infused pizza dough. I lovingly caramelized onions for 30 minutes until they were soft and brown and so sweet they would have passed for dessert. I ran into my garden, chopped off a large chunk of basil and made an impromptu pesto sauce. I cooked down some balsamic vinegar until it was thick and rich and dark – a glaze that was worthy of the pizza I envisioned.
The result? Thyme pizza topped with pesto dressing, caramelized onions, fresh mozzarella and goat cheese and barbecued steak. Drizzled with a lovely balsamic glaze. It. Was. So. Good. Melt-in-your-mouth-good. I-want-to-eat-the-whole-pizza-good. It was so good, in fact that I completely forgot to take a picture of it. My masterpiece was consumed without any evidence of it existing. But here’s a photo that I found on Google. I typed “pizza with caramelized onions” and I found a picture of something extremely similar to what my pizza looked like. I call it the Wonder Twin.