March 26, 2014

My childhood best friend is expecting her first child any day now. She lives more than two hours away, so I've been unable to help her put together the nursery or go to appointments the way I would if we lived in the same zip code. This past weekend, however, I loaded up my car and headed south to cook for her. She and her husband are getting ready to welcome their  son into the world, and I'll not let them starve when they return home.

They're not exactly proficient cooks themselves, and I knew that before I left home, so I took with me some essential spices, a scale, and good measuring utensils. Half way through cooking our Individual White Chicken Pizzas, I realized something, however: You can't rig some kitchen utensils, no matter how hard you try. In this case, I desperately needed a fine mesh sieve. The best they had was a decorative colander. I dug and dug through their cabinets and finally found a slotted spoon that had holes small enough it caught most of the particulates I needed.

I decided then I'd share some wisdom in case you, like me, find yourself cooking in someone else's kitchen soon.

- Take what you can't fake. You can use a knife to peel a potato. You can use the rim of a glass as a biscuit cutter. You can repurpose a wine bottle as a pizza dough roller. You cannot, unfortunately, zest a lemon or an orange without a zester. Despite my ninja skills with the slotted spoon, you can't easily fake a fine mesh sieve. Bring these essential items, and the process will go much more smoothly. On my list: a large skillet, zester, fine mesh sieve, potato peeler, a good knife, a large cutting board, a scale, and a rubber spatula.

- Save money with spices. It's surprising how quickly spices add to your grocery bill. One jar of ancho chili powder is more than $6. One jar of cumin can top $2. Good vanilla extract can run you $4. If you already have these things and only need a small amount for your recipes, bring your jars. They're easy to transport and save serious dough at the checkout.

- Pare down the prep. When you're in an unfamiliar kitchen, you need to keep your recipes as basic as possible. If you require a blender, a food processor, and a mixer for one recipe, you'll take up many, many precious minutes finding a plug and learning how to use the equipment. Stick with basic recipes. That may also help your friend in the future if they want to try the recipe for themselves--easy recipes are, of course, easier to learn.

If you're in the market for some freezable meals you can make for a sick friend, expecting neighbor, or recovering co-worker, here's what I made:Caramelized Banana Bread with Browned Butter GlazeIndividual White Chicken PizzasChicken TetrazziniChili MacChicken with Pepperoni-Marinara SauceThese recipes go together well and require many of the same ingredients. For example, one 3-pack of chicken breasts was enough for both the Pizza and the Tetrazzini. You need 1 1/2 jars of low-sodium marinara sauce for the Chili Mac, so use the remaining sauce for the Chicken with Pepperoni-Marinara Sauce.

Share your tips for cooking with ease in another person's kitchen. I'd love to hear them!

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