Last night, I did something that I absolutely dread: I cooked a recipe out of a cookbook.
This may not seem terrifying to the rest of you, but there’s something about cooking while reading while measuring while stirring while pouring while flipping that completely destroys any normal cooking ability that I have. I think it’s the reading part that gets to me.
Baking something out of a cookbook? No problem. That’s normal. I can’t just stand there in the kitchen and decide, “You know, I think I’m going to put this flour together with this cocoa powder and see what comes of it!” Baking is more science than art, and for that you need a recipe. Sure, you can fiddle with the recipe as you go or modify it later to your liking. But baking is simple and straightforward: stir things together in bowl, bake. Throwing “reading” into that mix doesn’t make too much of a difference.
Cooking, however, is different for me.
I’ve always been the kind of person who cooks in the same way that I play piano — by ear. Now, I don’t have the incredible palate that my mother has, where she can visualize a meal and all of its ingredients in her mind and know exactly how everything will taste together before she’s even bought the groceries. But I know what goes together and what doesn’t. And I usually make our meals out of whatever’s in the pantry at any given time, a practice which doesn’t necessarily lend itself to following a recipe out of the latest issue of Bon Appetit.
Weirdly, I own a massive collection of cookbooks (again, not as large as my mother’s collection which — at last count — numbered 258 tomes). But instead of using them for their intended purpose, I read them like you would novels. And I suppose that somewhere in the back of my mind, I ferret away little chunks of cooking knowledge that present themselves when I’m poking aimlessly through my pantry and trying to figure out what I can make with a can of butterbeans and some leftover baby spinach.
That said, I am determined to start cooking with actual recipes. And to that end, I chose a very easy porkchop recipe with a caramelized onion sauce (a Rocco di Spirito recipe) and a side of creamed spinach (my mother’s recipe). And I have to say, I was impressed with the results.
I don’t know if it has more to do with the fact that I’ve finally got decent appliances and cookware (I love you, All-Clad) or that I’m a calmer person in general than when I first started cooking in college, but everything turned out exactly as planned.
The recipes are after the jump. Yes, they’re ridiculously easy. But for someone like me, they were quite an accomplishment.
Creamed Spinach with Gruyere Cheese
Two 10 ounce boxes of frozen spinach
4 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of olive oil
One medium sized onion, diced
Two cloves of garlic, minced
One bunch of scallions, minced
1 cup of grated Grueyere cheese
1 1/2 cups of sour cream
1/4 cup of all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons of heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat the oven to 350°. Defrost the spinach and wring out all excess water. Meanwhile, saute onions in 2 tablespoons of butter and olive oil over medium heat. When onions are translucent, add garlic and scallions (and salt & pepper to taste). Saute for one minute. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan.
Add onion mixture to the defrosted spinach in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients (cheese, sour cream, flour and heavy cream) one at a time. Slowly stir together until thoroughly mixed. Pour spinach mixture into ungreased baking dish (glass or enamel). Bake at 350° for twenty minutes or until bubbly. If desired, you can grate additional Grueyere on top before serving.
Porkchops with Caramelized Onion Sauce
Four bone-in porkchops of medium thickness
Salt and pepper to taste
Two large white onions, sliced
8 tablespoons of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup of chicken stock
Liberally season the porkchops with salt and pepper. Set aside. Saute onions in 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes, or until browning. Add garlic and cook for one minute more. Add balsamic vinegar and chicken stock, cook over high heat until liquids have cooked down.
Once the onions are going, cook the porkchops in 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet for five to six minutes per side, less if you prefer your pork a little pink. Do not move the porkchops around in the pan except to turn them once. After cooking, set them aside and let them rest for a few minutes. Serve with caramelized onion sauce on top.