Sunday, January 4, 2009

Pinch on, Pinch (or Five Ways to More Sophisticated Home Cooking)

I borrowed the funny comma placement in the headline from Lynne Truss, the Eats, Shoots, and Leaves author. I was going to title the post "Pinch on Pinch" since it's going to be a State of the Blog sort of a post. But then the command to PINCH ON! sneaked into my brain.

Anyhoo, the New Year commands me to revisit the Pinch tag line to check that I'm on course. The tag reads: Sophisticated home cooking that supports shopping responsibly and eating along practical, healthy guidelines. Over this week I'll break that down into its three parts. For now, let's consider the first part, sophisticated home cooking.

What does sophisticated home cooking look like? It looks a lot like the menu at your favorite local café -the one where everything on the menu looks great, comes from not too far away, and was made by a person with care in about sixty minutes (beware of things called 30 minute meals - they usually amount to false promises). Sophisticated home cooking is safe (no organ meats or extreme beans) but allows eaters to stretch a bit and try new things.

To be sure, sophisticated home cooking is meant for everyone at the table. Three cheers for parents like my old friend Rachel who cannot bring themselves to serve chicken nuggets to their kids. I don't have a magic menu that everyone in your family will appreciate equally. But, as Frances said, "How do you know what I'll like if you won't even try me?" Coming up with more ideas about the family dinner is on the agenda for Pinch this year.

Back to the sophisticated cooking, how do we get this kind of food to the table?

1. Accumulate recipes – supplement the Pinch cookbook by looking in the right places. Cooks Illustrated, Gourmet, and Food and Wine are all great resources, especially when you use their handy healthy indexing resources. Look for recipes that you would be proud to serve to guests. And disregard recipes with convoluted or lengthy methods. Simple prep is the key to cooking more regularly for yourself or your family.

2. Share with your friends and pick over their recipe catalog for ideas. Everyone loves new recipes, especially ones that have been vetted by other busy families.

3. A well stocked bookshelf is a great resource. Check out my Shelfari bookshelf (below right) or the Pinch store for ideas if you need an infusion of cookbooks.

4. Read menus at your favorite restaurants and remember what sounded good. Do a food blog search back at home and try to replicate entrees at home. I can't tell you how many recipes I've created this way. Love Chicken Vesuvio or French Onion Soup? Both are easy enough to recreate at home. Google may be the best menu assistant around.

5. Practice, practice, practice! Lucky thing that you'll practice eating every day, usually more than once. And if you're the Designated Cook you'll practice your cookery skills every day.

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