Kitchen Focus

I like to think of myself as a warm and loving person and, generally, most people I meet tend to agree with that assessment. However, upon becoming part of a "couple" so many years ago, I was surprised to discover how difficult I was in the kitchen. I'd gotten so used to being "in charge" that my husband found it nearly impossible to rise to my high standards there.

Since then, I've softened my stance on the subject. I've discovered that there is more than one way to chop an onion, there is value in stepping back and letting someone else take the reigns, and there is a lot of fun to be had in the kitchen if you relax and enjoy cooking with someone you love.

Since Valentine's Day finds its home in this month, I thought it would nice to focus on the value of cooking together. It's one thing to go off to a fancy restaurant and order off the menu (and that has its place too), but it's quite another to join forces with your significant other and put together a meal that you can both enjoy. It's not too difficult, but I have learned a few tips along the way that have helped me immensely and I offer them now to you:

  • I find it's best to give "ownership" of a menu to one person and have the other act as an aid in the process. If I'm in charge of one meal, I might ask that my husband chop vegetables for alongside a roast and prepare a salad. If my husband's the one calling the shots, he might want me to grate cheese or make a sauce. It's not about what your "job" is when cooking together ... it's about helping each other make a meal that you will both enjoy.
  • If someone has a special knack for a certain kind of meal or menu, let that be the one he or she "owns". For example, I like to call my husband my "Breakfast Man" because early in our relationship, he took it upon himself to learn to cook eggs and make pancakes. Since then, he's gone much further and is an expert at omelets and crepes and more. I'm thrilled to let him take charge and, instead, busy myself with ingredient preparation, making toast or putting together some fresh muffins. And, of course, I'm always in charge of making coffee or tea!
  • Remember that the process is meant to bring you closer together. If presentation isn't perfect or an ingredient didn't make it in, don't worry. One of my fondest memories was of a time that the dinner I plan didn't work out and my husband, ever faithful onion-chopper and silver-lining-finder, smiled and recommended that we opt to munch Chinese take-out in front of the fireplace instead. It ended up being just fine and making us both closer in the end!

In the end, what you make isn't that important. Sometimes teamwork means deciding that it's time to preheat the oven and toss in a frozen pizza. At other times, it means starting the day by going fishing and ending it by roasting your catch. Either way, the time you spend together looking out for each other's needs and wants will help you grow as a couple ... and hopefully have a good meal as well!

I'm including two recipes this month that are perfect for couples in the kitchen. The first is for a simple omelet that features Mediterranean-inspired ingredients. I love omelets! I suppose that's mostly because I usually get to play around with the fillings and my husband is in charge of putting them together. I am proud to report that he rarely suffers any folding foibles! We like to make a single 3-egg omelet, slice it down the center and share it. Why? Well, neither of us likes making 2-egg omelets in our nice skillet (they end up thinner and suffer tears more easily) and we'd rather not try to tackle a 3-egg omelet solo. Making one super-stuffed 3-egg version and splitting it has kept us happy for years! Of course, you can simply tweak this recipe to make a 2-egg version or tackle a 3-egg omelet on your own as well.

Mediterranean Omelets

Omelets are easy to make as a team. One person can prepare the eggs and the other person can be in charge of fillings.
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 T. plain yogurt
  • 1 T. skim milk
  • Pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 T. diced roasted red peppers
  • 1 c. baby spinach leaves -- chopped
  • 1 T. minced red onion
  • 1 clove garlic -- minced
  • 1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese

In a medium bowl, combine the eggs, yogurt, milk and seasonings. Using a wire whisk, blend the mixture to form a slightly frothy custard.

Spray a medium, nonstick skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Pour the egg custard into the skillet and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the remainder of the ingredients and toss them together in a small bowl. When the eggs have cooked for 2-3 minutes, carefully pour the filling onto one half of the egg mixture. Using a spatula, carefully fold the other half of the egg mixture over the fillings. Cook an additional minute. Slice the omelet down the center and carefully slide each half onto a serving plate. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

The second recipe I'm offering this month is a main dish salad that blends some of my favorite flavors. And while it's got a few steps and a lot of ingredients, it's easily handled when you've got two people in the kitchen. If you want to make sure you can make this one on your own as well, try making it twice with a partner and make sure you tackle both steps. Then, nothing will seem new or daunting when you try it on your own!

Parmesan Chicken Salad

I like this main dish salad because it's so simple for one person to handle putting together the chicken and the other person to prepare the salad and dressing.
For the chicken:
  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 c. vinegar-based salad dressing -- choose your favorite variety
  • 1/4 c. bread crumbs
  • 1/4 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • Cooking spray
For the salad:
  • 4 c. mixed greens -- cleaned, rinsed and dried
  • 1/2 English cucumber -- sliced thinly
  • 2 roma tomatoes -- coarsely chopped
  • 2 T. diced red onion
  • 10 baby carrots -- cut into matchsticks
For the dressing:
  • 1/4 c. plain yogurt
  • 2 T. coarse mustard -- choose your favorite variety
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/4 tsp. ground red pepper -- choose one with a heat that you like

To make the chicken, rinse the chicken breast halves with water and pat them dry. Cut them into bite-sized strips. Set them aside.

In a shallow bowl, pour the vinegar-based salad dressing and set the chicken pieces in the dressing. Flip them to coat evenly.

In another shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs, cheese, salt and garlic powder. Mix to combine. Carefully transfer the chicken pieces to the breadcrumbs and flip to make sure they are evenly coated.

Spray a medium skillet with cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Transfer the chicken to the pan and lightly spray the side that is facing up with the cooking spray. Sauté the pieces for 8-10 minutes or until the chicken is golden and cooked through, turning once.

Meanwhile, prepare the salad by combining all of the ingredients (mixed greens through baby carrots) and tossing well. Make the dressing by combining all of the ingredients (plain yogurt through ground red pepper) in a resealable jar and shaking vigorously to combine.

To assemble the salads, arrange the greens on two plates and place the cooked chicken pieces evenly over both plates. Drizzle with the dressing. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes
If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .