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kitchen improvisation

March 24, 2010

My kitchen has crossed a threshold: I think I’ve finally stocked up on enough staples to make weeknight cooking convenient. Although I may pick out recipes in advance sometimes, many weeknights, I just get home tired and kitchen-meh. On these nights, I consume some of my bachelor food: beige-y, processed cheese a key ingredient, Tabasco thrown on to make it taste like something. You know: pizzadillas, scrapple-on-toast, Kraft dinner. This is on some level unfortunate, especially in the age of 30 Minute Meals! and One-Pot Recipes and I Get a Feeling of Satisfaction Making a Tangible Thing from Scratch Because My Day Job is Spent at a Computer Terminal. One of the goals of impulse-buying kitchen staples — in which category I include both utensils and dry goods — has been to build up enough of a foundation of things I will use regularly to be able to be a little more spontaneous about things.

And in that respect, last night was a success. I worked late, so dinner was some half-price pre-pared food from the grocery store (50% off eliminates a lot of principled opposition to things). But then I had to take care of lunch for the rest of the week. Surprising even myself, I came to the office today with sauteed Brussels sprouts and gnocchi-with-red sauce, both quite tasty by my homecooking standards. How this was accomplished:

–I had made gnocchi from scratch (potatoes and flour — simple!) maybe two weeks ago, cooked up one serving, frozen the rest, and forgot about it. They cook up from freezing identically to fresh: just dump them in a pot of boiling water, wait til they’re floating plus three minutes, and drain. When they’re frozen, let ’em heat up a little bit and make sure they aren’t frozen together, but otherwise the only difference is how long it takes them to float.

Sauce was a can of tomato paste, some leftover premade glass-jar sauce that hadn’t gone bad yet, water, some cornstarch, a little cream, yogurt (Kim, you’re right, it goes in every sauce), sriracha, and some savory cheese (parm or asiago or something).

Even though I was really lazy when I rolled the gnocchi, so they turned out kind of oversized, they were still pleasantly puffy. And the cornstarch saved the sauce from being too runny, the dairy kept it from being too thinly acid, and the sriracha kept it from being bland. The tomato paste added glutamate, and I refuse to let anyone tell me otherwise.

–I had a bag of Brussels sprouts, which I trimmed and halved (because pretty much every b.s. recipe requires this step, so that the cooking leeches the bitter out of the center). Cooked some chopped-up bacon just long enough to render the fat off, not til it’s actually fully done (so that I could add it back in at the end and not burn it), set on a paper towel. Added some butter while the pan was hot so it would melt, then waited for the pan to cool so it wouldn’t splatter. Added the sprouts, cut-side down, turned flame to medium. Let sit, shaking occasionally to prevent sticking, adding a little olive oil when it looked a little dry. When the entire cut side of a given sprout turned dark brown, I stuck it up on the side of the skillet so it didn’t burn or anything; my pan heats unevenly, so it took a while to get all of them nice and caramelized. Tossed with reserved bacon, adobo powder, garam masala, maybe a little bit of salt? I don’t remember but they turned out very nice.

The mix of fats gave them a nice depth of flavor: bacon-smoky, butter-rich,  and a little, hm, roundedness from the oil. The sautee-til-solidly-browned gave them a nice texture, and there was just a little extra note of interesting from whatever spices I actually used. The exciting part is: I own enough spices that I no longer have to use all of them in every dish(!)

Supplies needed: pasta (potatoes, flour, pinch of salt?, but if you aren’t married to gnocchi using boxed dried pasta saves the waiting-for-potatoes-to-bake part); tomato paste, some supply of tomato puree / onion, water, cornstarch, sriracha, heavy cream, yogurt, cheese; brussels sprouts, bacon, butter, olive oil, spices.
Supplies needed unlikely to be in the kitchen on any given day: sprouts, tomato paste (maybe), heavy cream. Success!

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