They say you’ve gotta know the rules before you break the rules and I think that’s true of cooking as much as it’s true of art or writing or any other discipline. Before you make deconstructed spaghetti and meatballs with foam and fruit leather and dehydrated beef essence, you should probably learn how to make the straightforward version. (Plus: the straightforward version is usually better.) Let’s say you’re hankering to be creative, though, and you want to flex your artistic cooking muscles. Then my advice is to master the art of blank canvas foods; the kinds of foods you can dress up however you want once you get the basic idea down. For me, that blank canvas food used to be pasta; but lately, on a California summer-is-coming health kick, I’ve been toying around with farro.
A few weeks ago, for the Golden Globes, I did something I’d never done before: I served health food to a crowd. Now when I say “health food,” I don’t mean the punishing kind that makes you weep with displeasure (tofu on a bed of undressed arugula or something like that); I mean the kind of food that actually makes you feel good, light, refreshed, well-fed but not sick. In other words, the total opposite of the kind of food I normally serve to a crowd (see: chili, lasagna, Sunday gravy, etc). How did this all come about? It started at the farmer’s market.
There’s egg salad with mayo, which is just normal egg salad, and then there’s another kind of egg salad, a healthier person’s egg salad, an egg salad that may make egg salad traditionalists recoil in horror: egg salad with yogurt.
Well, think about it. Yogurt (especially low-fat Greek yogurt) is healthy. Eggs are pure protein. Combine the two and bam: you have a tasty alternative to the gloppy mayo-rich egg salad your grandmother used to eat by the spoonful. The yogurt adds a unique tang and binds things together in a way that almost makes you forget the mayo. Almost.
When you get back from a weekend of binging in Las Vegas, you might find that you really crave salad. Not the wimpy kind with delicate garden lettuces, but a big bowl of raw vegetables that promises to cure all your ills. If you were a cheffy chef your first instinct might be to go to the farmer’s market to gather up your vegetables. If it’s Saturday night, though, chances are you’re too late for a farmer’s market. So you have two options: go to a restaurant that serves a big farmer’s market salad or make a salad from supermarket vegetables. Me? I’m the master of the latter.
Last week I tried an experiment in Liveblogging that didn’t really work. I was really just fooling around, having some fun with my phone, but I can see why seeing pictures of bread arriving at a lunch table isn’t the most exciting thing in the world. Today, though, I bring you a different take on the same concept: a post about something I just made and ate. This all happened moments before I clicked “Add New Post” so I literally still have the taste in my mouth and can describe it to you in vivid detail. Are you ready?
Hey, so I read all your comments on my smoothie post and you all have good smoothie ideas (though spinach in a smoothie still skeeves me out). The other day I had an idea of my own: instead of adding orange juice to my smoothie, I added a little box of coconut water. My goal was to make it taste like the coconut-infused smoothie from The Parker in Palm Springs and, sadly, the coconut water didn’t have that effect. (I’m thinking coconut sorbet might do the trick, or coconut milk.) Still: since coconut water is good for you, it was probably a smart choice. The best part was I added some fresh mint this time around and that really made things interesting. So give coconut water and fresh mint a try in your next smoothie… it’s refreshing!
Sometimes it takes a person’s wild enthusiasm to get you to try a recipe that doesn’t immediately jump off the page. Take, for example, Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup. After I declared my love for cauliflower in this Cauliflower Casserole post, a commenter named Eliza said, “If you love cauliflower, you should try Paul Bertolli’s Cauliflower Soup, especially with the spring crop of cauliflower beginning to show up in the farmers markets. This soup is rich, creamy (without any cream) yet fresh tasting. Only 4 ingredients – olive oil, onion, cauliflower and water – make magic.” The recipe didn’t sell me, but Eliza did. So I tried it.
Healthy dinners don’t fare very well if you refer to them as healthy dinners. You might know in your head that it’s a healthy dinner, but if you call it that, forget about it, everyone at the table’s going to groan.
So do what I do: package a healthy dinner inside a package everyone already knows. For example, make a vegetable curry. When you hear the word “curry” you think “oooh flavor, spice, heat, Tim Curry, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, toucha-toucha-toucha-touch me.” The best part is: once you have the basic technique down, you can apply it to a wide variety of vegetables. Let me show you what I mean.