When I meet my students for the first time, we go over the basics.
What’s the most important ingredient in cooking? “Salt,” someone says. “Safety,” chimes in another. “Love.” “Spices.” “Butter.” The answers come thick and fast. These are, after all, 9,10, and 11 year olds.
Attitude, I tell them. Cooking is 90% attitude. Cook like it’s going to turn out well. Trust yourself! If you cook or present your food with an apology, or with your head down and body language saying this is terrible, or pick it apart before you even let anyone taste it (“I forgot the garlic! It’s probably not very good.”) chances are good you have contributed to a less-than-stellar experience. Serve it with a smile, with excitement? You’ve got it.
And the next thing I tell them is that there are no mistakes in cooking. There are only lessons to learn from. Sure, you need to be careful with knives and behave certain ways, but in general, you can’t mess things up too terribly.
These 2 guidelines, principles, go hand in hand for the most part. If you go at it with the attitude that you can do it, and you know that if something happens you’ll roll with it – those 2 things can open up an entire world to you.
It’s not just cooking, though, of course. When is a guiding principle applicable to only one aspect of your life?
I had lunch with a friend yesterday, the co-chair of a board where I serve. We’ve seen each other off and on, at board meetings and even on the soccer field where his oldest daughter and mine used to be on the same team. This was the first time we had a chance to learn about each other’s lives.
Somehow the conversation turned to traveling, and he mentioned a friend who was getting ready to take his family traveling for a year. “We’ve talked about that,” he told me, referring to his family, “but there’s really no way.”
He looked at me. “How could we afford it? We have 4 kids.”
I pounced, or at least it felt like that to me. “No, just do it! The hardest part of any decision like that is making the decision to go. Once you do, things just fall into place.” I shared our story, our 9 month cruise with the kids. Go. Go go go.
To me, this kind of an experience is so much like cooking. 90% of it is attitude, and really, there are no mistakes. Only learning opportunities. What can you learn today?
This week’s recipe is Shrimp and Grits. Inspired from a version we had at Charleston’s SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) restaurant, this dish reminds me of decadence and lavish pampering. The Christmas vacation we had in Charleston was magic, from the house we stayed in right on the beach to the family who all piled in with us to the food we ate both in and out. That’s a heck of a lot of memory on one plate.
- 1 c grits, 4 c water
- 2 TBS butter or olive oil
- ½ a link of kielbasa sausage, sliced very thin
- 2 oz prosciuitto
- ¾ lb peeled and deveined shrimp (I use the 25-30 count)
- 4 scallops, cut in ½
- 1-2 tomatoes, diced
- 4 scallions, sliced thin
- 5 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- ¼ c white wine
- up to ½ c water
- Bring 4 c water to a boil, then add grits whisking constantly until smooth. Cook over low heat until the rest of the food is ready. (Or follow package directions!)
- Melt 1 TBS butter in a sauté pan. Add in the meat and cook until beginning to brown and get crispy. Remove to a bowl.
- Add 1/2 TBS butter or olive oil to the pan. Add scallops and cook for about 1 minute a side. Scallops should be browning but not tough – you actually want a little opaque in the middle as they’ll continue to cook off the heat. Remove from pan into bowl with meat.
- Add ½ TBS oil or butter. Add in the shrimp and cook until pink and curled into a c-shape. Don’t overcook! Remove from pan.
- Add in the veggies and stir. The tomatoes will release juice which you can then use to scrape up all the yummy browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in the wine and let simmer until the tomatoes have mostly broken down, about 5-10 minutes. Add in the water if you need it for liquid.
- Stir back in the seafood and meat. Heat through and serve over the grits!