Necessity is the mother of invention (its Baby Mama, if you will) and so it was that a few weeks ago I had carrots, onions, celery, and some Arborio rice on hand and because I didn’t feel like food shopping that evening, I set out to make a risotto with just water. I’ve told you about this before; it’s something I saw Lidia do on TV, so you know it’s legit. You just bring a big pot of water to a boil, add salt, and then make risotto like you’d normally make risotto, only using the salted water instead of chicken broth. The key is to finish it with some butter and lots of cheese. It’s good stuff.
But I’m not here to tell you about making risotto with water. I’m here to tell you about what you can do with the leftover risotto the next day.
For the past few months, I’ve been buying kosher chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s not because I prefer kosher chicken breasts but because Trader Joe’s is underneath my gym and it’s way easier to grab chicken there than to make an extra stop on my way home. The problem with this is that kosher chicken breasts are brined in salt water and, as a result, they’ve spoiled Craig for more ethical, more sustainable chicken from our local butchers. I know this because I recently bought chicken from one of them, sprinkled it with salt, and cooked it and though Craig enjoyed it–he enjoys all of my cooking–he didn’t like it as much as the brined stuff I get much more cheaply after jogging for 60 minutes to the Footloose soundtrack. Brining, it turns out, is a powerful technique.
Summer’s almost over which isn’t a big deal here in L.A.–it’s almost always grilling weather here–but for the rest of you, I bet you’re split into two groups: those who are grilling up a storm and those who, like me, don’t have the courage to play with fire. Well, that was me until 24 hours ago when, inspired by you and all of your comments (thanks!) I finally tackled that final hurdle of my culinary education: the grill.
If I’m lucky enough to write another cookbook, I’d like to write one about using pantry staples. That’s how you separate a cook from a recipe follower: the recipe follower makes a list, buys what they need for that recipe, cooks it and repeats that process again the next day. A cook opens the refrigerator, opens the pantry, and makes dinner with what they find. That’s what I love to do most and what I’d like to teach other people to do.
Start, for example, with a bag of dried beans. You know I’m really into the Rancho Gordo brand, but you can use any dried beans. These ones were Pinquitos, but use any small brown beans for this formula.
One of the best things that I made before I packed up my New York kitchen and moved to California is the dish you see above. I’m calling it Peppadewed Pork Chops with Cauliflower, but the truth is I didn’t use Peppadews; I used pickled red jalapenos I’d been testing for my cookbook. However, the next time I make this–and there will be a next time it was so good (more on that in a bit)–I plan to use Peppadews, which are those sweet, spicy, red, pickled peppers you can buy in a jar. You work them into the dish twice: you chop them up and add them to a pan of caramelized cauliflower; then you use the Peppadew liquid to deglaze the pork chop pan to make a sauce with butter.
There’s a psychological phenomenon–and I’m not a psychologist, so cut me some slack here–by which, even though we know what’s good for us, we don’t do the thing that’s good for us. So, for example, let’s say we’re an aspiring journalist and there’s a convention downstairs, in our building, for working journalists who are looking to hire interns. And let’s say we want to be an intern–it’s a crucial step in our professional trajectory–but, on TV, is a marathon showing of The Real Housewives of New York City and it’s the episode where Jill Zarin shows up, uninvited, to the Caribbean. Even though all we have to do is turn off the TV, splash some water on our face and walk downstairs, we don’t. That’s a real phenomenon (perhaps it’s called self-sabotage?) and I’d like to talk to you about it today in the context of pork chops.