Heaping Helpings: Adam Shinder – Stepping it up, and stepping out of my comfort zone

Recreating Chef John's chicken tinga is "hands down, the best thing I've ever made in my life," Shinder says
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Recreating Chef John's chicken tinga is "hands down, the best thing I've ever made in my life," Shinder says

My love affair with cooking started with a cable box.

It was around my ninth birthday, in the long-ago days of 1994, when my parents gave me a set-top cable box for the 13-inch TV I’d gotten for Hanukkah the previous December. That box gave me access to those magical channels above 36 on the dial, and I’ll never forget what happened when I got to 42.

“BAM!”

I don’t know what it was about Emeril Lagasse and his “Essence of Emeril,” but something hooked me, and soon enough I was obsessed with food and food culture.

Like, really obsessed. Like, dressing-up-as-a-chef-for-Halloween obsessed.

It stayed with me — well, not the Halloween costume part — to this day.

I never honed my knife skills to a point where I would’ve considered making a run at cooking for my professional life, but I’m a dedicated and passionate — if clumsy and underequipped — amateur.

I’ve also cooked for an audience of one for pretty much my entire adult life, so I honestly have no idea if anything I make is actually good. But it works for me, so I’ll take it.

In the past year, especially during the early months of near total quarantine and isolation, cooking was one of the things that kept me sane.

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Some of it was just maintaining routine: simple acts that helped pass the time from day to day.

I started a weight loss regimen at the start of 2019, and since then I’ve tried to start every day with pretty much the same breakfast — an absurdly simple smoothie consisting of one frozen banana cut into chunks, one cup of unsweetened almond or cashew milk and two tablespoons of powdered peanut butter. Nothing fancy, but it gets the day started on the right foot.

As far as cooking for one, I feel I’ve gotten the routine pretty much down pat. I’ve never been big on leftovers, so I tend to pre-portion and freeze my proteins as soon as I get home from grocery shopping, making things a little more convenient as I get things ready.

Workdays are often the same routine as they’ve been for a while now. I tend to make my biggest meal of the day at lunchtime, since my nights are usually much busier than my early afternoons, and I’ve got a few tried-and-true recipes that have served me well.

Hot Italian turkey sausage with peppers and onions, with just a hint of balsamic or red wine vinegar thrown in at the end.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs pan-roasted and accompanied by a whole host of different things — roasted butternut squash and apples during the fall and winter, or super-sticky, sweet-and-sour braised red cabbage whenever I feel like staining my entire kitchen purple.

Before I changed apartments over the summer and I still had access to my dearly departed gas grill, I was out there almost every day putting together meals and relishing in the simple delight of chargrilled summer corn.

Of course, not everything is scratch-made. Semi-regular trips to Trader Joe’s have been a gift, stocking my freezer with shrimp and salmon burgers, frozen shakshuka starter and cauliflower gnocchi.

Weekday meals, for me, are about being simple, tasty, filling — and with relatively few dishes to clean.

But when I’ve gotten some time off, I’ve used the last year to stretch my legs in a culinary sense.

Going back to that 13-inch TV in my bedroom, I’ve always watched a ton of cooking shows. More recently, that’s taken the form of YouTube cooking videos, and during long days stuck at home I’d binge my way through recipes from creators like Binging With Babish, Chef John and Adam Ragusea, who have given me plenty of inspiration.

When I’ve got the time, I like to test out a few of their techniques, whether that’s Chef John’s chicken tinga — hands down, the best thing I’ve ever made in my life — or Binging With Babish’s brilliant recreation of Kevin’s famous chili from “The Office.”

They’re a little more involved, a whole lot messier and are much harder to scale down for one — leftovers, ahoy! — but if I can’t go restaurant-hopping, it’s the next best thing.

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Categories: Food, Heaping Helpings, Life and Arts

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