I’m cooking plain and easy this week. Chicken rice soup, steamed vegetables, maybe soft scrambled eggs. I need a digestive rest after an onslaught of foods that don’t visit my kitchen on an everyday basis.
The problem is not the food, all totally delicious, but the scheduling, day after day, sometimes all in one day. Sushi. Curry. Siracha sauce. The pizza delivery guy at midnight. Gluten-free vs. whole grain. Vegetarian vs. vegan. (Those last requiring some refereeing.) As soon as the kids fly in from their far-flung corners of the world, their tastes rule.
Then, two Christmas dinner traditions, each devastatingly rich and labor intensive. An “extreme Brussels sprouts” recipe that includes epic amounts of bacon, butter, heavy cream, at least three cheeses and homemade breadcrumb topping, needs trimming, steaming, slicing, chopping, frying, whisking, grinding, toasting and baking. The second, a roasted yellow pepper soup with rosemary croutons, mascarpone cream and threads of golden olive oil means roasting, cleaning, chopping, sautéing and steaming — and that’s just the peppers. Whew!
For the rest of the week, everyone took a turn at the stove. I was treated to Asian-inspired broccoli stir-fry, mind-blowing curried pork tenderloin and wild mushroom risotto rivaling anything from a restaurant, all proving the family motto, “Cooking is a Contact Sport” is still alive and well. But this generation’s eating habits are not simply transported from a single ancestral country and folded into basic American, but world-wide flavors constantly mixed and matched on a culinary merry-go-round.
And the cooking is simultaneously easier and more complicated. Modern gadgets provide easier and quicker prep time, but dietary decisions are made in the face of conflicting information — organic vs. conventional produce; the difference between free-range and cage-free chickens and eggs; and foodborne illnesses.
Back home, my kitchen continues to change. Old and useless stuff is gone. New stuff demands extra care. The copper pot from Paris needs hand washing and burnishing with a soft cloth. Olivewood spoons don’t like the dishwasher, and don’t like air-drying either. Most baffling, two gadget drawers organized for “prepping” and “serving” utensils each contain an ice cream scoop. For shaping meatballs (prep) and scooping ice cream (serve).
Today, I’m taking a day off. I’m flopped under a soft blanket in front of the flat screen, flipping between old movies and re-runs of “Castle,” a pile of new books — mysteries and food memoirs — on the floor at my side. The tablets and e-readers and smartphones are gone or quieted; tangles of unattached, unidentified cords and wires no longer underfoot. Heaps of boots and athletic shoes cleared from the front hall. Once-overflowing laundry baskets stand empty.
The kitchen will take weeks to put back in order. But I don’t care. The keywords are “plain” and “easy” while I wait for communication — cell, Twitter, Facebook (no old-school email) — from some far-flung corner of the globe.
Page 2 of 3 - ASIAN-STYLE BROCCOLI STIR FRY
Makes 4 servings
Do not step away from the stove when toasting sesame seeds. That’s when they decide to burn.
The cook can substitute cauliflower for the broccoli or use a combination of both.
1 T sesame seeds
1 cup vegetable stock
2 t cornstarch
2 T finely chopped fresh ginger
1 T reduced-sodium soy sauce
1 T vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, split
1 pound broccoli florets
Cook sesame seeds, in a small stick-free skillet, over medium heat, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes until golden. Set aside.
Whisk stock and cornstarch together in a bowl. Add ginger and soy sauce. Set aside.
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook just until it sizzles; remove. Add broccoli; cook, stirring for 2 minutes. Whisk in stock mixture. Cover and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until broccoli is tender-crisp. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with sesame seeds to serve.
CURRIED PORK TENDERLOIN WITH DRIED FRUIT CHUTNEY
Makes 6 servings
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T curry powder
1 t cumin powder
1/2 t ground coriander or fennel seed
1 1/4 pork tenderloin
1 cup chutney, for serving
Preheat oven to 400 F. Blend together mustard and seasonings; rub all over the outside of the meat. Set aside in a roasting pan for 20 minutes.
Roast the meat for 18 to 20 minutes, until the internal temperature, measured with an oven thermometer, reaches about 160 F.
While the meat roasts, make the chutney.
DRIED FRUIT CHUTNEY
Makes about 2 cups
Any dried fruits work here, although apricots, peaches and pineapple are most popular. Check the baking or cereal section of the supermarket for dried apricots, plums (aka prunes), raisins, pineapple, cherries to use in a mix.
Some cooks use powdered ginger, but fresh makes a big difference. Water can be replaced with orange or pineapple or lime juice.
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup honey
Salt, fresh ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 t ground red chili pepper, or to taste
1 T peeled, minced fresh ginger
2 T very finely chopped red onion
20 pieces of dried fruit
Combine all ingredients except the dried fruit in a small saucepan. Turn the heat to medium and bring to a boil. Stir. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook, 5 minutes.
Add the dried fruit. Continue cooking until all but a teaspoon or less of the liquid has evaporated. If the mixture is too thick and the fruit still not tender, add more water by the tablespoon and cook longer. Taste and add more seasoning if needed. Serve warm or at room temperature with the roasted pork.
Page 3 of 3 - Linda Bassett is the author of “From Apple Pie to Pad Thai: Neighborhood Cooking North of Boston.” Reach her by email at KitchenCall@aol.com. Read Linda’s blog at LindABCooks.wordpress.com. Follow Linda for quick recipes on Twitter at @Kitchencall.