Anybody can cook. I’ll say it again because it’s the truth, and it needs to be emphasized.
I have a coworker who by all accounts (his own included) can’t cook. He recently mentioned that he has never made spaghetti. (To clarify, he has never boiled pasta in water-ridiculous) Our office has been providing him various easy recipes to try, with little success on his part. Not due to his enthusiasm, as he has plenty, but rather he makes critical mistakes only one with no experience cooking could possibly make, often ending in hilarity. Kevin, another coworker who is also pretty talented in the kitchen, recently gave him a recipe “he couldn’t mess up” – taco pie – a baked concoction of pre-made croissant dough, taco meat, seasonings, and the usual accompaniments of sour cream, lettuce and tomato. He painstakingly wrote a step by step instruction guide. I thought he’d botch the croissant dough, but apparently that wasn’t his downfall. No, our fearless coworker followed the directions almost perfectly, but made the fatal mistake of adding the lettuce and tomato, THEN BAKING the dish. Baked lettuce. You read that right.
After the countless jokes made in his honor eventually subsided over the days, many of us took it as a challenge of sorts to get him up and running in the kitchen. Some even doomed him as hopeless unless he received in-person instruction. Some of us weren’t ready to give up on him. We created an office wager where different employees would provide the employee with a recipe. Whatever recipe he successful completes and thinks tastes best, provider of said wins free lunch from other employees.
There had to be something he could pull off, apart from top ramen, that would be easy and delicious. I was tempted to recommend prepackaged shake-n-bake, but I wanted to take it a little farther and have get a little more down and dirty. Soup seemed like the best route. So I crafted out one of my favorites that my mom and I make every once in a while, and modified it slightly to make it easier on him.
After walking through the grocery list at the end of the day at work, and answering several random questions about the process, I nervously sent him on his way.
I received a few phone calls over the evening as he first shopped, then prepared the meal.
6:17pm: “Would garbanzo beans work in place of pinto beans?”
6:26pm: I attempt to encourage him via text message with an inspirational fake quote. “Confidence is key – Bobby Flay”
6:29pm: Coworker responds via text with “Good advice but who’s Bobby Flay?” FAIL.
8:27pm: Frantic phone call received. “I’m screwed. I don’t have a pot big enough for soup and I haven’t even started yet.” (He had no pots at his house. That dilemma was solved when we discovered he had 4qt sauté pan he could use for the task)
9:19pm: Picture text message received from coworker showing cut chicken and ingredients stove side, with caption “Ready to go!”
I didn’t hear from him for the next hour, and finally got nervous enough where I had to call and see how it went.
“How did it go?”
“Just sitting down and taking my first bite, but it turned out really good.” You could here the excitement, and dare I say, pride, in his voice. He continued. “You should see how I presented it. I did little cuts of avocado on top, then dollop of sour cream in the bowl. I took pictures”
Now I was pleasantly surprised and smiling a bit. Not only had he made something he was proud of, he also took pictures of it to share. Good lord. He’s moving quick into the food nerd category. Apparently it turned out pretty good. Now granted, what I told him would take thirty minutes ended up taking two hours, ten minutes, but hey, it’s a start.
So that’s my story for the evening. Anybody can cook. Give yourself some time, build up that courage, and try something new. The recipe is below. I have kept most of the original text I gave him in terms of instructions, which is dumbed down, as he had absolutely no cooking experience when attempting this. That being said, I’m super proud of him.
Easy White Bean Chicken Chili
2 skinless/boneless chicken breasts, unfrozen, cut into ¾” cubes (If you can find cooked chicken that is cut into pieces for you, that’s fine)
1 large onion, chopped (cut into pieces size of thumbnail)
2 cloves garlic, finely diced (cut into half a grain of rice size)
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
32oz of chicken broth
¼ teaspoon red pepper sauce (Tabasco, or your favorite hot sauce)
2 cans (15 to 16 oz each) white kidney beans, drained, rinsed
1 can (11 oz) white corn, drained (yellow canned or frozen corn would work fine too)
1 lime, cut in half. (You are going to squeezed all the juice into the soup )
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
¼ cup instant mashed potato flakes (optional)
1 avocado (sliced)
Crushed tortilla chips
Making the Soup
Put pot on stove on medium heat. Put two tablespoons of oil (canola, olive or butter) into pan and put all the onions in as well. Stir the onions every minute, for 5 minutes. DON’T BROWN THEM. If they start to brown, remove pan from heat and turn heat down. After 5 minutes add your garlic, chicken, cumin and oregano. Cook and stir constantly until the chicken is done (Cut a chicken cube in half, and if there is no pink, it’s done).
Add chicken broth, hot sauce, beans, corn and lime juice. Bring to boil for 3 minutes, then reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
While soup is boiling, clean your cilantro. To do this, fill a large bowl with cold water, and dunk the cilantro into the water aggressively multiple times. What you are doing here is cleaning the cilantro – there is lots of dirt of the little leaves you want to get off. After you’ve dunked them a bunch, dry them in paper towels. Cut only the bushy part of the cilantro, and try to avoid the stems. The stems have no flavor, the leaves do.
Add cilantro, salt and pepper to chili mixture and simmer for another 10 minutes.
(Optional) After 10 minutes, if the chili looks a little thin for your preference, whisk in the mashed potato flakes into the chili, and simmer for another 5 minutes. This will thicken it.
Serve soup in bowls. Place several wedges of avocado on top of chili, along with a dollop of sour cream and some crushed tortilla chips.