Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Embracing "less is more"

I haven't been doing a ton of cooking lately. A nasty and persistent ear infection has made me frequently dizzy and queasy, which doesn't lend itself well to doing much of anything other than lying on the couch and watching mindless television. Dizzy can hardly believe her luck, and has spent nearly all day every day curled up in my lap. I like to think that all the purring I'm being exposed to must be good for my health.

Fortunately the dizziness and queasiness are intermittent, and I have windows of opportunity for activity in the kitchen. We've had blueberry muffins (a delicious recipe* in the upcoming May issue of Cook's Illustrated), brownies (Cook's Illustrated's triple chocolate brownies*: good, not great--better, oddly enough, frozen and then thawed for 5-10 minutes), and macaroni and cheese with leeks and aged cheddar (which I'm considering writing up).

But over the last few weeks most of my cooking inspiration has come from the New York Times' "Minimalist," Mark Bittman--primarily from his blog, Bitten. If Bitten isn't already on your regular reading list, I recommend it. The recipes are simple, and usually relatively quick from start to finish, which I find makes them great for weeknight dinners. Spoiled as I am with such a wealth of excellent produce available to me, it's easy to rely on a few quality ingredients to produce a quick, easy, and delicious meal.

A recent favorite is a fresh, Italian version of colcannon: green mashed potatoes. Bittman makes them with dandelion greens, but any greens will do; I had great success with chard. Something I particularly like about this dish is the use of olive oil, rather than butter or cream, to moisten the potatoes. It probably goes without saying, but use a really good olive oil.

I also owe a debt of gratitude to Bittman for this post, which prompted me to tackle a head of red cabbage that's been sitting in my fridge for a couple of weeks, taunting me and daring me to do something with it already. Armed with half an onion, some sesame oil-laced brown rice, and an alarmingly large chunk of fresh ginger, I turned that stubborn cabbage (okay, half of it--I'm only one person, after all) into a delicious "fried rice" that was far more vegetable than rice. The red cabbage turned a gorgeous and very vivid violet when all was said and done, and I felt good about getting such a large dose of the oft-neglected purple area of the vegetable spectrum. (Still, I felt bad about the lack of green and added some frozen petits pois near the end of cooking.)

Now, I'm not saying that more involved dishes don't have their place, or aren't delicious in their own right. They do, and they are. But in all honesty, sometimes I find myself not only tired and hungry, but with complexity overload. I just want something clean-tasting and simple that satisfies those needs while also entertaining my taste buds, and it's recipes like these that fill that niche for me.

* Subscription required.


Supersaps said...

Ugh, sorry about that ear infection. I hope you get better soon.

I *love* Bitten *and* Bittman (his cookbook has actually surpassed Debbie Madison's big one as our favorite).

I've done two good things with cabbage lately: I made a slaw with carrots, champagne vinegar, oil, and mustard, which I put onto baked tofu sandwhiches. I also stuffed them with wild rice, Gruyere, nuts, and mushrooms.

Anne said...

Thanks--I hope so, too!

I think I might need to get Bittman's cookbook. I keep hearing such good things about it.

The cabbage slaw with vinaigrette sounds intriguing. One of my problems with regular cole slaw is that I really don't like mayo. And cabbage itself, well, I'm just not that big a fan. But with a good vinaigrette--and some grated carrots so that it's not all cabbage--it might work. The wild rice stuffing sounds good, too.