About now you may be tired of cooking and eating what is in your fridge. We’re all used to asking, “What’s for dinner?” “What are we in the mood for – pizza, sushi, Mexicans?” And then go to a restaurant to get it.
Now that the coronavirus is forcing many of us to stay home more often, it’s time to look a little differently at eating time and cooking at home. I take a closer look at my pantry and refrigerator and allow my ingredients to dictate what I’m cooking rather than what I’m in the mood for.
For example, a few months ago I was lured to purchase a large package of mixed unsalted nuts because they were labeled “Omega-3 Nut Mix”. I thought I would eat a handful of “antioxidants” a day for my health, but they were mostly left uneaten. So this week I mixed my favorite sweet and savory spices with brown and white sugar and made baked sugar and spices. Sure, sugar adds a few more calories, but now they’re a delicious and coveted snack rather than sitting unused in the pantry.
I also had a head of broccoli in the fridge that needed to be cooked. I couldn’t bear the thought of steamed broccoli, so decided to just fry it with olive oil and kosher salt at 400 degrees Fahrenheit until the tips were deeply caramelized. Broccoli, like cauliflower fried in this way, is addictive, and any leftover food is delicious the next day with a sprinkling of balsamic vinegar and good olive oil.
If you have pork tenderloin and bacon packaging in the fridge or freezer, you can cook a simple main course of two ingredients. Pork tenderloin wrapped in bacon will complement the pork preparation with a few ingredients and just a little more effort. When the bacon is room temperature, it will stick to itself when you overlay each piece and wrap the notch. I do this with beef tenderloin. The smoky aroma and fat of the bacon, sliced in the center, protect and sprinkle the lean meat during its frying. I fry mine indirectly, but you can bake it in the oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit, mounted on a rack in the pan. When the bacon-wrapped tenderloin is ready, sprinkle it with finishing salt and cut into thick slices to enjoy the benefits of the bacon.
Finally, while you’re cooking dinner at home, think of each meal in simple words: basic (usually animal protein, beans, or a hearty vegetable dish), greens or other non-starchy vegetables and starches. This combination of menus is fairly easy to prepare and still very satisfying. At this time of uncertainty, lightness and comfort are equally important. If you’re cooking a stew or pot of gambo that has vegetables and protein, all you need to add is starch, such as rice or fresh hot cornbread.
And enjoy cooking. A friend of mine from Traeger Wood Fired Grills sent a letter this week and reminded me that “good food equals good mood”. Pass it on together!
Elizabeth Carmel is an expert on grill, kebabs and southern products, and the author of four cookbooks, including the recently released Steaks and Cake. Her website www.elizabethkarmel.com.