Tejal Rao has a marvelous story in The Times this week about how restaurant cooks have taken to their home kitchens — and to Instagram — to survive during the pandemic, making small-batch meals to sell to customers, pop-up restaurant style. The food’s exciting, Tejal reports — “revitalizing and intimate,” in her words — and a good reminder that creativity cannot be stifled by the coronavirus, that culture continues to bubble along, that art is out there always.
There’s a confidence to the cooks Tejal interviewed. They’re proud of their craft, of the food they’re selling, and it occurred to me, reading about them, that cooking can and should satisfy and delight these days, after so many months of cooking so often, of honing our skills. You don’t need some towering sourdough boule to achieve that. You can just cook, simply and well, and marvel at how good it makes you and others feel.
Try your hand, for example, at this chicken and mushroom juk with scallion sauce (above), clear and comforting. Or these marvelous porchetta pork chops, brawny and flavorful. Make a bowl of creamy vegan tofu noodles, or a brace of French onion grilled cheese sandwiches.
You don’t even need a recipe to unlock fulfillment. You can go to the market and wait for a muse. I did that and came home with a few dozen cherrystone clams. I steamed them open in just a little water, then dipped them in brown butter I had stained with sweet and fiery habanero sauce. I washed it all down with clam stock, then mopped the bowl with a heel of lard bread I had lying around. This was maybe the best thing I’d cooked in a month: pure flavor, the ingredients barely touched.
You may end up feeling the same way if you make this vinegar chicken, or this kale and quinoa salad with tofu and miso. Swap in some frozen wild blueberries and you could make these muffins some morning to remind you of summer. Sweet potatoes with tahini butter? You may find yourself wondering if you could make those at scale, start a pop-up of your own, delight the neighborhood.
Here’s a pan-seared steak with red wine sauce you’d be happy to eat once a week at your neighborhood bistro. But you made it yourself. Here’s vegetarian kofta curry. And dan dan noodles. Please make salmon burgers some time. You’ll love yourself for them.
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