James Beard wrote, “I don’t like gourmet cooking or this cooking or that cooking. I like good cooking.”
Then there’s another type of cooking, which I call mood cooking. How many times during a week do you think to yourself, “I’m in the mood for X” or “I’m not in the mood to cook tonight; let’s go out or order in”? If that fails, many of us resort to one of our standard recipes, which become rather mundane.
The average home cook has but a handful of recipes rotating on an “I’m in the mood for” basis. I know this to be true, because I personally fell into this trap several years ago.
My significant other remarked one evening, as I was setting his dinner plate on the table, “Chicken again?”
I knew the time had come.
We were moving our home from Southern California to Ben Lomond, and the time was ripe. Looking at my shelves of cookbooks with yellowed pages, some never opened and most with methods and equipment no longer in use, I boxed them up and had them hauled away. I did, however, keep my Julia Child volumes, which I doubt will ever become outdated.
My equipment drawer was the next step. No easy task, either. There were tools that, after so many years of nonuse, were unidentifiable: Lids to something, screws and plastic parts for something else. A Watkins “freebie” brush, its bristles brittle with age. A green-handled, odd-looking contraption of some sort that belonged to my grandmother and was later identified as a cherry pitter.
There was also a little pink crochet potholder that I retrieved from my mom's home when she died; it still has that familiar, musty smell of her old drawer. Today, that potholder is in my new equipment drawer, reminding me each day of my mom of long ago.
I've replaced those old cookbooks with the newest volume of “The Joy of Cooking,” “The Bread Baker's Apprentice,” “Betty Crocker's New Addition” and, in my opinion the most important cookbook of all, “America's Test Kitchen.”
“America's Test Kitchen” is on TV’s Channel 9 at 11 a.m. each Saturday, with recipes including videos covering each preparatory step of the recipe. These detailed recipes have taken the fear out of assembling and baking an apple strudel, a fresh peach pavlova or an upside-down fresh Bing cherry cake.
And pie crust is no longer a problem, when you follow their step-by-step photos and replace one half of the water normally called for in recipes with vodka. The secret here is that vodka evaporates, leaving your pie dough flakey, not hard or compact.
You simply cannot go wrong with the Test Kitchen’s detailed instructions. For me, they’re invaluable.
I have learned that tenderizing by brining or smoking with aromatic woods can achieve amazing new flavors in fish, poultry or meat recipes.
Adding a simple sauce raises the dish to its next level.
By adding a little more time and these extra steps, you will have what I call: Company Pork Chops.
- Colly Gruczelak, a Ben Lomond resident, loves people and loves to cook. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
COMPANY PORK CHOPS
1½ cups water
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup rice
4 pork chops, ½-inch thick, bone in or boneless
1 cup diced, canned or fresh tomatoes with juice
2 cups chicken stock
¼ cup red wine
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon garlic salt
½ teaspoon celery salt
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices of sweet dried onion, ¼-inch thick
2/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350.
In a small pot, bring salted water to a boil, add rice and simmer. Cook rice until it is just beginning to soften. Drain and set aside.
In a large frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons oil and fry pork chops 2 minutes on each side or until nicely browned. Remove from pan and set aside.
In the same frying pan, add tomatoes, wine and seasonings to drippings. Simmer for 5 minutes.
In an 8-by-10-inch casserole dish, arrange pork chops close together. Place an onion slice on each chop. Spoon the rice on top, and cover all with the tomato mixture.
Garnish with cheese, cover with foil and bake 30 minutes or until chops register 170 degrees.
— Adapted from Colly Gruczelak