A few days of cooking in a kitchen with a meager pantry selection has reminded me that Keep It Simple Stupid can be a valuable rule when cooking. If you are easily overwhelmed by long lists of ingredients or complicated techniques, save those for special occasions or for people who like to cook more than you do.
It’s possible to make tasty food with a short list of ingredients. In the past week, I made nachos, baked tilapia, pork loin roast, mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli, several salads, and salad dressing in a kitchen that had a pantry stocked with only salt, garlic powder, paprika, lemon pepper, Emeril’s Seasoning, and honey. The refrigerator contained ground beef, tilapia, lemons, American Cheese Singles and prepared mustard. The “chip” food group was available with a sufficient supply of tortilla chips, potato chips, pretzels, and Cheetos®.
I knew none of this in advance. I only knew I was staying with a friend who recently moved and that it was important to me to eat gluten-free, eat at regular intervals, and spend as little as possible on tasty, satisfying food. With these goals in mind, I made a stop at Whole Foods on the way from the airport. It would have been a stop at The Fresh Market, but Siri and I had a fight or two after she sent me in circles through a snow covered neighborhood with no grocery stores. During one of the grand loops, I happened to notice a Whole Foods sign.
At Whole Foods I purchased an onion, broccoli, some Yukon gold potatoes, bananas, blackberries, a quart of plain yogurt, a pint of half & half, maché, feta cheese, raw almonds, a small pork loin roast, some gluten-free pretzels, and local handmade pimento cheese. This gave me foods for breakfast and snacks for several days plus at least one meal. Satisfied that I was sufficiently prepared, I headed for a coffee shop to await my friend’s return from work.
As dinnertime approached, I became the designated preparer of host-requested nachos. Looking through the cabinet, I was concerned about my ability to pull this off without chili powder, cumin, or any kind of butter or oil to keep the meat from sticking. Nonetheless, I grabbed a large nonstick skillet, the ground beef and gave it a shot. Seasoned with salt, garlic powder, a sprinkle of Emeril’s Seasoning (not sure if it was Emeril’s Essence or Steak Rum) and paprika, then topped with American cheese, the nachos turned out surprisingly tasty and satisfying. I turned mine into a salad of sorts by serving them over maché.
The next day, my friend marinated tilapia in lemon pepper and white wine. I baked the marinated fish and served it with cheesy mashed potatoes. After boiling large chunks of clean, but unpeeled potatoes in water, I drained them then took a fork and mashed them right in the pan. I added a sprinkle of salt and enough half & half to make them moist and creamy. I ripped some American cheese slices into smaller squares and mashed them into the potatoes, stirring until the cheese melted and was evenly distributed. Yukon gold potatoes have a buttery flavor, so the lack of butter in the refrigerator went unnoticed in the finished product. The potatoes weren’t perfectly smooth or whipped, but that’s how I prefer mashed potatoes so I was happy with the result.
And so it went for the rest of the week. I made a honey mustard glaze for the pork loin roast. Yogurt, lemon juice and seasoning served as salad dressing. The broccoli was adorned with only salt. Once I knew what I had to work with, I never felt limited. In fact, there was something refreshing about the simplicity of having fewer choices. And because the flavor of the fresh ingredients varied, the food all tasted different even though the seasonings were similar.
I love complex of layers of flavor, but I love simple too. It was good to have that reminder. It always comes back to a KISS, doesn’t it?
What’s your favorite way to cook simply?
Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”