I’ve been thinking a lot lately about this blog. Specifically, I’ve been thinking about how it might better represent who I am now, since who I am now cooks differently than who I was a year ago.
That’s right, Handsome Jack is almost a year old. We did it!
A lot of you have been told this before: “Parenthood changes everything.” If I had a dime for each time someone shared this terribly-kept secret with me during my pregnancy, I’d have had enough money to buy some kickass noise-cancelling headphones. Though I know now that this is true, I also truly believe that what changes when you have a kid will differ from person to person, so I will only tell you what has come into laser focus for me since my son’s arrival:
- I need coffee every day.
- I do not need to shower every day.
- I high-five Young Jeanelle in my mind constantly. Almost ten years ago, she started washing her hair only twice a week like they say you’re supposed to, and it’s been a damn good hair decade. This comes in handy when, you guessed it – you don’t shower every day.
- I am no longer ashamed to own the fact that I have a uniform. It’s not quite on a Steve Jobs level (which, thank goodness, because mock turtlenecks…), but it works for me. I used the phrase, “It’s not really in my capsule” to a salesperson recently and I was not trying to be funny.
- I can’t remember a list longer than about five items. I’m not sure I ever could, but I definitely can’t now. Motherhood has somehow made me a lot smarter and a lot dumber.
I treated myself to some new cookbooks lately (because if you can’t cook as much as you used to, you might as well read about it… in bed), and realized that almost to a recipe, the dishes I bookmark have relatively few ingredients. They’re also built on techniques or other base recipes that I’m sort of familiar with. This led me to two possible conclusions:
- I really am the lazy, basic fraud I fear most and at my rotten core, I crave boring food
- I’m in love with technique, cook’s intuition, and excellent ingredients
I know #2 is the truth, but who doesn’t feel like #1 at least sometimes? The bottom line is, the vast majority of what I make – and dream about making – nowadays has just about five ingredients or less. This is partially because I simply cannot with a long ingredient list. Like I said, I can’t remember worth sh*t anymore. It also takes too long to gather everything, I inevitably forget something, and I’m impatient. But the other part of this comes from something a lot deeper. I love simple recipes because there’s nowhere to hide. You’re forced to use great ingredients because you’ll taste it if you don’t. Your food tastes dull when your ingredients are subpar; your food tastes AMAZING when your ingredients are honest and real and you’ve found ones you love and trust.
Although I still make the occasional grand/ambitious/complicated recipe, our day-to-day meals are a lot more straightforward. I’ve come to depend on these simple recipes – many of which are more of formulas or building blocks – that then show up in a variety of dishes as we go through the week or month.
In this spirit, I’m excited to tell you about the new focus I’ll be trying out here. When I post a recipe, I’ll aim for it to call for five ingredients or less. (One caveat: that magic number will exclude salt, pepper, and olive oil. All of those sit on my counter and most of my cooking involves at least one.) These recipes will be classic and honest; usually healthy, but sometimes not. Those who know me know I’m not into eliding or omitting ingredients or steps to sacrifice the taste or quality. Light-but-crappy and fast-but-crappy are… still crappy. I want you to make and eat food you’re proud of and excited about.
So what’s first? Possibly the ultimate make-ahead building block: salad dressing. Specifically, a fresh basil vinaigrette. Herby as hell, bright green, and, believe it or not, a bit creamy without using any dairy, it has taken up pretty much permanent residence in our fridge. It’s a play on a basic French vinaigrette, just with a ton more herbs. This will work with pretty much any soft fresh herbs you’ve got lying around (tarragon, chives, parsley, even cilantro). I’ve been finding super-lush, locally grown basil at the store lately, but look forward to using leaves from our backyard as soon as summer heats up.
This has gone on just about every salad in our house for the last 3 months, but would also be delightful on warm roasted potatoes, or ripe tomatoes and torn fresh mozzarella, or – ooooh – warm, just-grilled fish. (And honestly, in the true spirit of parenthood, any of those things in leftover form or scavenged from the fridge and reborn as lunch.)
- 1 cup fresh basil leaves, fairly packed
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley
- 1 clove garlic or 1/2 of a shallot
- 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup Champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil
- salt and lots of freshly ground pepper, to taste
Special equipment: immersion blender if you have one, regular blender if you don’t. (If you have neither, you can do this in a food processor or even by hand, if you chop everything finely. It’ll just be a bit more rustic – never a bad thing!)
DON’T. CHOP. ANYTHING. Don’t do it! Live your life! Roll the dice! Blend all ingredients until smooth and creamy-looking. Add salt & pepper to taste.
Makes about 2 cups – it’s a lot! Keeps in the fridge for at least 1 week. Allow to stand at room temp for a little bit before using (the oil will solidify when cold).