There are dividends in the simple moments of creating a meal
I have this love-hate thing going with the task of day-in and day-out cooking — which any seasoned cook will tell you, is an entirely different animal than that carefree-and-cooking-because-I-wanna style of cooking. Sometimes it takes a little extra effort to haul my lazy self into the kitchen and face the reality of what cooking on a regular basis really is: work. But once I’ve hit my stride and made a mental leap beyond the chaos the activity creates, and the time it eats up, well, the rewards do come.
The dividends even can start rolling in the moment the cutting board is brought to the counter. I feel a day’s worth of woes melting away as I focus on a single onion and the task of rearranging its structure into a pile of tiny pieces. If you really need to, you can step back at this point and admire your handy work. It may be the most success you’ve had all day, and that’s something to appreciate.
And then add that into all of the other simple moments in a day that make us feel lucky to be alive. Those evanescent blips of happiness that register on your brain when you rediscover a tulip or a puppy or children at play. Indeed, at those simple moments a funny thing happens inside your brain. In the blink of an eye, that momentary blip of happiness is anchored to a bit of gray matter, and you become an even better person in the process.
Most of us move past such tiny epiphanies far too quickly. We forget that it’s the sum of all those wonderful little vignettes that make us whole.
So as we sail through spring, I encourage you to cook what you enjoy, and enjoy what you cook. There are rewards in that. With that in mind, here are a few recipes to share with family and friends that just might set you on that path.
Mushroom Bisque with Potatoes and Leeks
Sitting down to a bowlful of this simple-but-elegant soup might be just the ticket for erasing any negatives that arose earlier in the day. Bonus? It can be made several days ahead and refrigerated until you are ready to enjoy.
Makes 8 servings.
1 to 2 tablespoons butter
1 pound white or cremini mushrooms, thinly sliced
3 stalks of celery, chopped
2 yellow onions, chopped
1 leek (white part only), washed and chopped to measure about 1 cup
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8 cups chicken broth
1½ cups full-bodied brown ale (such as Deschutes Brewery’s Buzz-Saw Ale or Rogue’s Hazelnut Brown Ale)
3 medium-sized Yukon Gold or other yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and chopped to measure a scant 4 cups
1 medium carrot, diced
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
½ cup sour cream
1 to 2 tablespoons heavy cream
About 1 tablespoon dried crumbled sage (or fresh sage leaves)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted and skinned hazelnuts
In a heavy 4-quart pot, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms and saute until the moisture they release has cooked off and the mushrooms begin to brown. Add the celery, onions, leek, salt and pepper and saute for 5 minutes.
Add the chicken broth, ale, potatoes, carrot and vinegar and cook until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes.
Remove about half of the soup to a separate pot or bowl. Puree the remaining soup in batches in a blender or food processor (or directly in the pot with a handheld immersion blender). Return the reserved soup to the pureed soup. Adjust seasonings, adding additional salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste.
To prepare the garnish: Thin the sour cream by whisking in some of the heavy cream. To serve, ladle into soup bowls and garnish each one with a swirl of the sour cream, a pinch of sage (or one or two whole sage leaves), and a sprinkling of chopped roasted hazelnuts. To make a pretty design with the sour cream, place a dollop in the center of each serving, then draw a skewer through it at several points (beginning at the center), to create the desired pattern before adding the sage and hazelnut garnishes.
Recipe from “Oregon Hazelnut Country- the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” by Jan Roberts-Dominguez.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
2/3 cup red or white wine vinegar
1/3 cup ketchup
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon each: Dijon mustard, paprika, sugar
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 head of green cabbage, finely shredded and coarsely chopped
1 green sweet bell pepper, cored, seeded, and sliced into slender 1-inch long strips
1/2 sweet onion, sliced into slender 1-inch long strips
Whisk together the vinegar, ketchup, salt, mustard, paprika, sugar, garlic and white pepper. Add the olive oil and canola oil and blend again.
Place the shredded cabbage, sliced peppers and sliced sweet onions in a large bowl. Toss with enough of the dressing to thoroughly coat the salad without being too soggy. Add more dressing as desired.
Simply Stewed Chicken Thighs
Makes 4 servings.
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 chicken thighs (bone in), most of their skins removed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
3 medium celery stalks, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
1 (14½ ounce) can peeled and diced tomatoes (in juice)
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks (peel may be left on if desired)
1 medium red sweet bell pepper, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch wide strips
2 cups homemade or canned chicken broth
2 cups homemade or canned beef broth
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry sherry, or ale (for an alcohol-free version, substitute additional chicken broth)
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large, heavy pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, dredge the chicken thighs in the flour, then add to the pot in two batches if necessary to avoid crowding and cook until golden brown on one side. Turn the chicken to brown the other side, then transfer the chicken to a plate and repeat with remaining pieces.
To the pot add the garlic, onions, celery, and carrots and continue to saute, scraping up all of the cooked-on bits of food on the bottom of the pot. Continue cooking until the onions are softened. Add the chicken back to the pot along with the tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, 1 cup of the chicken broth, 1 cup of the beef broth, the wine (or sherry or ale or additional chicken broth), the vinegar, and sugar. Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring well, then reduce the heat and simmer gently, covered, for 30 minutes.
Remove the lid and continue cooking for another 30 minutes, or until the chicken is very tender. As needed, add additional broth to maintain a stew-like consistency (not as thin a broth as soup). Adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice, rice pilaf or pasta, and a big crunchy salad.
Here’s a simple one-dish meal featuring one of my favorite vegetables.
Makes 4 entree servings.
3 cups broccoli stalks and florettes (cut in small chunks)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1½ cups cottage cheese
3/4 pound Monterey jack cheese, shredded
1/3 cup melted butter
1 (4-ounce) can diced green chiles
Boil or steam broccoli just until barely tender, about 3 to 4 minutes; set aside.
Whisk the eggs in a bowl until well mixed. In another bowl, sift together the flour and the baking powder, then whisk in the eggs. Add the salt, cottage cheese, Monterey jack cheese and melted butter. Stir in the chiles. Arrange the broccoli in the bottom of a greased 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Pour the egg mixture over the broccoli. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 minutes, or until the egg mixture is set.
Roasted Pork Chops with Orange Juice, Rosemary and New Potatoes
Makes 6 servings.
1½ cups good-quality orange juice
1/4 cup dry vermouth or dry white wine
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
3 garlic cloves, chopped and finely minced
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 thick-cut (about 1-inch) loin pork chops
2 pounds small red-skinned new potatoes, scrubbed but unpeeled; or 2 pounds medium, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. In a blender or food processor, process the orange juice, vermouth, mustard, rosemary, garlic, and pepper until well pureed. Pour the mixture into a large baking dish. Add the pork chops and turn to coat them. Set aside.
In a roasting pan, toss the potatoes with the oil and salt. Roast, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are about half-tender when pierced with a knife, about 25 minutes.
Arrange the pork chops over the potatoes, and pour the marinade over all. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Roast, basting occasionally, until the pork chops are cooked (they should be a very pale pink in the center with an internal temperature of 145 degrees), which will take about another 30 minutes or longer, depending on their size and thickness.
Transfer the pork to a serving platter and arrange the potatoes all around, then pour the cooking juices over all.
Adapted from “Kitchen Suppers,” by Alison Becker Hurt.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist, and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.