Wednesday, September 23, 2015

When Dinner Proves Divisive: One Strategy, Many Dishes

[ed. See also: Best Weeknight Recipes]

Back when I cooked only to please myself and one or two other consenting adults, choosing recipes was a breeze. Nothing was off limits. Dishes with olives, stinky cheeses, bitter greens and mushrooms — sometimes all of the above — were on regular rotation. Then I began cooking for kids (picky, omnivorous and otherwise). With them came their nut-allergic friends, vegan guitar teachers and chile-fearing in-laws. Forced to adapt my NC-17 cooking style to a G-rated audience, I paged through cookbooks in search of “crowd pleasers” that proved elusive.

Eventually, I realized that the quest for a perfect recipe that pleases everyone at the table, including oneself, was fruitless.

But in the process, a workaround solution emerged: recipes that could be configured to produce many different dishes at one meal. Like Transformers or fantasy football teams, these meals are both modular and complete, constructed from parts that can be added or subtracted from at whim.

Suddenly, my weeknight repertoire increased exponentially. It’s easier on the cook when the week assumes a familiar pattern — pasta one night, a main-course salad another night, beans on a third — but to prevent boredom, the dishes themselves needn’t be exactly the same. (Unless, of course, the culinary conservative in your household demands otherwise.)

Just like taco night or baked-potato night, the meal starts with a base element: pasta, beans, fluffy greens. After that, it’s about piling on, or politely passing along, the garnishes.

The definition of a garnish may need some stretching: This is not a shy sprinkling of parsley or a scattering of sesame seeds. The garnish that makes a meal must be full-throated and filling. Half of a ripe avocado is a garnish. Likewise, a soft-yolk egg (boiled, poached or fried). Bacon lardons, shredded chicken and diced steak. Crushed chiles and leftover roasted vegetables. With enough garnishes, even the plainest of plain foods — pasta with butter and cheese — can balloon into a lively meal.

by Julia Moskin, NY Times |  Read more:
Image: Melina Hammer