Back in the Kitchen

Sometime last year, I had spent an entire weekend almost exclusively in the kitchen, something I’m wont to do from time to time. It was a good day for a stew, and to pass the 6 hours of braising, I turned lemons into lemon curd, made some kind of breakfast bread for the week, plus some carrot soup. There may have also been scones. All told, I put in a good day’s work in the kitchen and though I was on my feet for 8 hours on a Sunday, it didn’t feel like work.

The next day I was having my weekly chat with my dad, and I detailed him all the food I had cooked the day before. “Who are you cooking for?” he asked.

It was a really simple question, one he didn’t intend to have much meaning, but I started thinking about it. I’m sure on that day, I really wasn’t cooking for anyone. All the food was ostensibly just for me- I didn’t have any dinner parties planned or bakesales on the horizon (not that there generally are). I was cooking for me for sustenance, but I was also cooking for me for the fun of it. I was cooking to cook, to make it through some of my CSA backlog, to spend an entire day chopping, simmering and incorporating wet and dry ingredients. No running around, no errands, no work. Being productive, but not in the 9-5 sense in the slightest.

But there are times when I am most certainly cooking for someone. When I do the shopping with a table set for two in mind, balancing flavors and pretty presentation. Where I get the chance to show off a little of what I do. Seasonal ingredients and simple preparation. Nothing too showy, nothing too out there. It seems effortless because it is.

I’d hit the Lake Merrit Farmer’s Market on Saturday with this kind of a meal in mind, though there weren’t any plans to speak of. I’ve taken something of a break from cooking any meal beyond breakfast, especially after the great Holiday Baking Frenzy of 2008 (5 kinds of cookies, panetonne, fruitcake, stollen, and on and on). It was time to put the Kitchen-Aid away and break out chef’s knife. Prather Ranch’s board tempted me with some thick-cut pork chops, the leeks were looking good, and there were some nice looking herbs in abundance. I also found some adorable mini-cauliflower that gave me ideas. Ideas like roasting the entire mini-head whole and serving it up in one big piece.

Even though I didn’t have a recipe in mind, the flavors just seemed to build themselves, and once I started cooking at home, the techniques fell in place.
The cauliflower hit the oven whole, drizzled with oil and dusted with salt.

I mixed the herbs with garlic and salt for a simple, rustic rub for the chops. Then once I had turned on all the fans and sealed off the kitchen, seared them for about 4 minutes a side then moved them into the oven to settle alongside the cauliflower to finish. The cauliflower came out, the chops got to rest, and then all the good porky juices met some sliced leeks back in the pan to turn into a nice side.

So good, so simple. The exact kind of meal I was after. Something easy to ease me back into the kitchen and away from the Chinese food menu. Great ingredients paying off quickly and well. And even though I didn’t get to share a second portion with someone else, I do get to have an awesome meal of leftovers tonight.

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