Cooking from Scratch—and Sniff
The other day I decided to check out some of the newspapers and magazines that had piled up and I grabbed the September 2017 issue of Country Living, mainly because that’s where I am right now—living in (more or less) the country. The cover promised to show me “118 Elements of Country Style.” I realized I might need some proper country touches in my décor since I am now living (more or less) in the country. I turned to the facing pages that held the country elements guide to find graphics resembling the old periodic table (my basic chemistry class came chillingly back). In those many tiny squares was an impressive array of items that make up, evidently, the editor’s idea of “Yokelsville.” Pick from these elements and I imagine your home will look like “before” pictures of the Beverly Hillbillies.
Anyway, my eye glanced down to the “Py” square and, sure enough, there was Pyrex. Indeed, the brand often featured so-called country themed decoration on the bowls.
And while I was checking out publications I came across a disturbing article, well, disturbing to the advocates, like yours truly, of home cooking. The article ostensibly touted those meal-kits that send you precut, pre-measured ingredients. You do the minimal cooking involved, using the easy steps described so precisely that even a kitchen klutz could produce a meal to thrill the dinner guests. I learned that now there are kits for vegans, kits that use only sustainable ingredients, and kits in which organic abounds. But buried in the article’s copy was this drop-dead line: “Americans don’t want to cook and never really have.”
The authors go on to tout some of the many inventions designed to help the hapless. The authors mentioned some of the usual suspects: packaging breakthroughs, frozen food, the microwave, food processor, markets selling pre-chopped ingredients. And I must mention the recent, and amazing, entrance of Amazon.com to the “make it, but make it easy” world. Amazon is selling menus, with grocery lists under the sections of a market, no less, so you still do the shopping and the cooking, but the recipes are dumbed-down so you can produce a meal that’s been planned for busy you. Could pot-shaped drones fly in and deposit dinner at your doorstep? Stay tuned.
There are the companies like Blue Apron who ship you all the ingredients to make a meal, just to name the obvious. Then there are the drive-throughs, the last resort to eating, I think. More from the article: “...once women—who used to do all the cooking—had the opportunity (and the need) to work outside the home, the home cooked meal was finished, at least as the daily anchor of domestic life.”
Average cooking time for women (women as the cooks, not the cooked) has shrunk to thirty-seven minutes a day, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. What, I wondered, are dads and responsible teens contributing to, say, dinner prep or actual cooking? I’ll bet that number is growing, at least in some of the families I know.
Well, let’s just say real cooking from scratch has become more like a hobby, like collecting rooster-themed kitchen towels or ceramic tchotchkes—a somewhat recent passion of mine until I had the overwhelming task of moving and repositioning them on the slightly smaller kitchen counters in the new place. Cock-a-doodle-do.
Sniff and Savor
I have a loaf of banana bread in the oven as I write, and it reminds me of the sniff factor I mentioned in today’s headline. No perfume can match that of most cooking odors—I exclude cabbage. I checked out “smell” online and found that your smeller is 70,000 times more sensitive than any other sense. “The fragrant aromas cause us to perceive odors and access memories about places, people, and events associated from these smell sensations at any time in our life,” according to someone who must have smelled something delicious baking at one time or another.
Have you ever thought of grandma’s kitchen when you baked those pies for Thanksgiving? And the aroma of tomatoes reminds me of those autumn days in our family kitchen. I’d come home from school and into the kitchen with those beloved split-wood bushel baskets overflowing with tomatoes, and there was mom making sauce to preserve, or canning whole plum tomatoes with basil. I loved looking at the rows of Ball jars all winter long. My, how they dwindled by March. Even today just a whiff of tomato sauce fragrant with oregano takes me, mentally, into the better pizza parlors of my life.
It was from James Beard that I first heard the term “taste memory.” He certainly had it, and he was referring to both the taste and aroma of a dish. And another example of “the nose knows” is that if we forget to turn on the oven timer you can usually detect when a baked dish—a cake or pie—is done. And there is that dreaded burn smell when things are overdone or sticking to the pan. It ain’t pretty.
One Pot. Period.
Aha. Now’s the time to showcase a new book. It’s from England but available in the U.S. and such a good idea—using one pot to create a multitude of pasta dishes. Add a salad and maybe some gelato (store bought) for dessert. Since washing up is not my idea of fun, I rarely make any dishes from chef ’s recipes. They have staff, I have O-Solo Me-O! I’m singing again. Help!
I’ve seen a proliferation of one-pot cookbooks over the years. Web sites and bloggers abound to help you achieve good meals without all the mess afterwards. But I recently happened upon a book entitled One-Pot Pasta. As you’ll see from the sample recipe that follows, most everyone’s favorite main course, pasta, is cooked with the sauce ingredients. This is a great way to boost favor. Good Italian cooks have favored adding slightly undercooked pasta to the sauce to finish cooking. But this book is full of ideas to combine the raw ingredients, then cook.
The only reason I hesitate to recommend the book is because in its seventy pages are many terms that may be unfamiliar to you: “lardons,” “streaky bacon,” “passata,” “courgettes,” “prawns,” “aubergines,” and I am confused by the term “soft cheese.” Is it goat’s cheese or cream cheese? And I couldn’t find a few of the pasta shapes they use (there are hundreds it seems). The measurements are odd, too. But, honestly, reading the recipe, I don’t think it matters. Pick the closest match to the color illustrations of each recipe. The book promises “from pot to plate in under 30 minutes.” Unlike so many pasta dishes in books featuring one-pot or one-dish, our friends across the pond show you how to place the ingredients in your Dutch oven or maybe an oven-safe skillet, in the order listed, and serve out of the same pot. No browning, remove, add, return, or any tricky logistics. Even I had to admit that getting something on the table was quick. I used enameled cast iron but a sturdy metal pan should suffice. After cooking, soak the cooled pot, and wash-up is done in the snap of a towel. Gad, how my brothers and I used to love playing snapping the towel when we “helped” in the kitchen. But I digress.
One-Pot 15-Minute Gorgonzola and Mushroom Pasta
Here’s a recipe from the book to give you an idea how to perform the fifteen-minute feat (or fête). ere is one important step to remember, and the book makes this clear: after its fifteen minutes of flame, remove from the heat and leave to stand for another fifteen minutes, stirring regularly. The pasta will finish cooking and the sauce will thicken thanks to the starch remaining in the cooking liquid. I couldn’t find the pastas they suggested but, guess what, farfalle worked well for me. I might even use broken up lasagna in a pinch.
- 9 oz. dried farfalle pasta
- 7 oz. button mushrooms, quartered
- 3-1⁄2 ounces mascarpone (now available in large supermarkets)
- 7 oz. Gorgonzola
- 3-1⁄2 oz. chopped walnuts
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 Tbsp. chopped Italian parsley
- 1 tsp. salt (Malden or sea salt preferred)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 25 oz. water (use spring water if possible)
Set aside 1 teaspoon of the parsley for garnish. Put all the ingredients into a large saucepan or Dutch oven in the order listed (very important). Cook for approximately 15 minutes over a medium heat, stirring. About 3⁄4 inch of cooking liquid should remain at the end. Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle the parsley on top and serve. Serves four.
What to drink? Try a Finger Lakes rosé or a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco.