This is a week of recipes where the finished dish doesn’t look good, but tastes really good, so I lead with a picture of something else. Yesterday it was Kachin Chicken Curry with a picture of a mortar and pestle, today it’s No-Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies from Baked Explorations with an image of peanut butter in a measuring cup. You’ll understand why when we get to the end.
There’s something thrilling about inventing a recipe. And though I’m not 100% sure that I invented this (it may very well have existed, somewhere, before me) let’s pretend that I am to this recipe what Isaac Newton is to gravity. No apple fell on my head, but garlic toasted in my head as I tried to figure out something new and different to do with couscous. Here’s how it all works.
Cooking without a recipe. How do you do it?
You start with ingredients. My favorite way to do that is to open my refrigerator to see what’s there: on Friday night (when Craig was working late and his parents were flying in from Seattle) I saw carrots, I saw celery, I saw onions. I decided to cut them all up into big chunky pieces.
There are certain readers of my blog–and I know they exist, I’ve met them in real life–who see the food I make as aspirational. Instead of thinking, “Oooh, that’s easy, I can make that” (as many of you think when you read my posts), they think, “Oooh, that looks tasty, I wonder if someone will make that for me?”
To those readers, then, who think these recipes are outside of your reach (and, again, I acknowledge that I’m not describing most of you) I have a recipe for you. It’s Penne with Brown Butter, Nutmeg and Parmesan and I used to write about it all the time on the blog when I was a bachelor; it’s a dinner you can whip up easily for yourself after coming home from work. All you need is a pot, a pan, a box of penne, a stick (or less) of butter, whole nutmeg (so much better than the pre-ground stuff), a hunk of Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. This is comfort food with a sophisticated flair.
Cheap and easy: that’s my new motto (and reputation), especially at lunch. Yes–times are hard, even for your friendly Amateur Gourmet. “But you just went to Momofuku Ko,” you might say and I’d say back, “Yes, and wiped myself clean!” Especially now that I’ve done my taxes: to quote my rabbi, “Oy!”
No more lunches out, then: from now on it’s sandwiches and leftovers. And the occasional chickpea salad like the one you see above.
Monday night I went to a friend’s play reading that let out at 9:30. I was starved. I considered grabbing a bite (I was in the No Man’s Land of 35th and 8th Ave.) but then I decided I’d head home and grab a can of chickpeas from the bodega and make bodega hummus. (See here).
As fate would have it, though, on the subway I ran into the unmistakable, inimitable Rachel Wharton of The Daily News who I journeyed to Queens with this summer. Rachel has a degree in food from NYU, so I put her to the test: “Rachel,” I said, “I want to make a quick easy dinner with something I can get from my corner bodega.”
“Beans,” she answered.
“Yes,” she continued. “Beans. I ate beans all through college. With some onion, garlic, or whatever you have, they’re delicious.”
There are moments when I don’t want to plan a dinner, but I don’t want to order in either. In those moments, I think about quick solutions: what if I buy some bread and make an egg salad sandwich? Why don’t I heat up leftover French onion soup? Or–in recent days–why not make some polenta?
Tonight, coming back from a day in the city, I craved hummus. Not the kind you buy already made, I wanted to make it myself. I also wanted homemade pita bread. Every time I have hot, homemade pita bread (like the kind you get at Snack Taverna, for example) it’s so much better than dried-out packaged pita bread, I vow to make my own from now on. But I never do. I tried it once with whole wheat flour and didn’t love it. Tonight, though, would be different. Before getting to my apartment, I popped into the corner bodega (Craig calls it that, I used to just call it “the corner store”) and bought the following:
– a can of chickpeas
– packets of yeast (yes, they have dried yeast at our corner bodega)
– a lemon
That was it. I had garlic and olive oil at home and flour too and that’s all I’d need. The grand total? A little more than $5. Not bad for a Sunday night dinner.
I fully support, endorse and celebrate the spirit with which Nancy Silverton wrote her newest book, A Twist of the Wrist. For a chef as particular as Silverton (and believe me, having made her sourdough bread from scratch, that woman loves detail) it’s refreshing to see her let down her hair, so to speak, with a book that grants the reader permission to skip the farmer’s market in lieu of canned, jarred and boxed foods. For any other chef, it’d be an act of heresy; for Nancy Silverton–of the La Brea Bakery & Pizzeria Mozza, both groundbreaking California institutions–it’s an act of humility. The book seems to say, “Look, home cook, I know you’re busy; so here’s a way to make delicious, restaurant-quality food at home for much less money in much less time.” What could be wrong with that?