Saturday, July 7, 2012

My Break Up With Pioneer Woman

I was on Pioneer Woman trying to figure what I could make for dinner. I saw a recipe for Pasta Primavera but I didn’t have the ingredients. Like this special olive oil and sea salt butter, in fact it was a paid post that she put up to sell this special butter (nothing wrong with that, just saying)

Hah. I thought. I don’t need any special butter to cook this. I don’t need cream and half and half, I know how to make a great light creamy sauce that uses evaporated milk and olive oil. HAH.

I thought what if I take apart the recipe and think about the actual ideas and techniques?

It occurred to me how often I will just follow the steps in a recipe and yes, that produces good food but it doesn’t produce real learning.  It doesn’t turn me into the kind of cook that can just open the refrigerator and cook, on my own, without paying homage to the latest online who-ever. I’m ready for independence, baby.

Lesson One: Get everything out and chop everything ahead of time.

I used what veggies I had: carrots, mushrooms, bell peppers, squash, zucchini.


Lesson Two: Create variations in texture and adjust accordingly.

I noticed she put the carrots in first to cook on their own, then pulled them out and sautéed the rest of the veggies. So the carrots were crunchy and the others were softened but not mush.  This made the end dish nice because you had differences in texture.


Lesson Three: Season as you go.

She had the magic butter, I didn’t.  So with each step I added a little butter, a little olive oil and a little salt. And I tasted it to be sure it wasn’t getting too salty (because there is broth later) but on pasta you need the non-pasta part to have some saltiness or it gets bland when put it all together.  I noticed she didn’t add pepper until the end after the cream was in, I don’t know why but I followed suit.

Lesson Three: Building a sauce: Aromatics, Liquids, Reduce…Cream.

If you go through and pay attention the Pioneer Woman site does teach how to put together a lot of different sauces but they pretty much follow this basic pattern.

Add aromatics to the fats. I used onion and garlic.

Add liquids and deglaze the pan. I used broth and wine.

Reduce to half.



Lesson Four: Balancing the flavor profile

In putting together a dish, even one that is simple like this there needs to be sweet, salty, and acid, there  needs to be variations in texture.  Notice how she covers each element : veggies & wine = sweet, meat and broth = salty, wine & basil = acidic.

If the overall profile elements are all met, the dish will probably turn out great, even without the exact ingredients.

I didn’t have basil. (My basil seedlings are still tiny) I thought about what to use, I wanted it to be green, lemony and something that could be chiffoned. I had Brussels sprouts, light, crunchy, lemony – perfect substitute.

I didn’t have ham, but I knew the point wasn’t “ham”, it was Salty Meat. I subbed pepperonis cut into small pieces, bacon would have been good too.

Lesson 5: Learning From Mistakes

My only misstep (Wail! and it was all going so well!!!)  is that in the last 1 minute of making it, my sauce “broke”.   Ugg. I like to cried.  I’m going to out and research *why* my sauce broke.  I think you need the heavy fats from cream or half and half because they will hold up to the heat.   I also think that I am still learning how to use my cast iron skillet, which gets hotter and hotter as you go.  Maybe it was too hot when I added the milky cheesy elements.  I have used evaporated milk before with no problems so I suspect it was the 2% milk which got too hot.  It tasted incredible though and once it was dumped over pasta you couldn’t tell at all.


This was overall one of the most satisfying half hours I have spent in the kitchen and the pasta dish was so good, I will definitely make this one again.  This doesn’t mean I won’t still be cruising Pioneer Woman or Machismo, for ideas, but I do feel like I’m sort of ready to break free from following each recipe like it’s the law.

Take lies and what is false far from me. Do not let me be poor or rich. Feed me with the food that I need. Proverbs 30:8


The Pences said...

I do that kind of thing a lot. (Well, more and more anyway.) In fact sometimes I'll take a recipe from like Heavenly Homemakers or somewhere that's full of ingredients I like to cook with (whole grains, full fat everything, etc.) and cook it more "PW style." I looooove her site; for me it really breaks complicated recipes that might normally scare me down and lets me see how simple they can be. I always feel such a sense of accomplishment when I branch off on my own and it works out!
Your dish looks beautiful -- sorry it wasn't "perfect" but glad it tasted great!

Shaun said...

It does feel good doesn't it? Like I feel like I actually am developing a "style" or something. By the way I totally LOVED your green bean recipe with the bacon, I did it with asparagus though because it's what I had, I am doing it again in this month's rotation for sure!

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