jude’s culinary journey

Easy peasy

Posted 2/20/24

Before the food channels—and cooking programming in general—became the circus it is today, there existed shows that were instructional. The chefs were, for the most part, easy-going and …

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jude’s culinary journey

Easy peasy


Before the food channels—and cooking programming in general—became the circus it is today, there existed shows that were instructional. The chefs were, for the most part, easy-going and entertaining while skipping the buffoonery, hysteria and competitiveness dominating the networks today.

Techniques were demonstrated and advice was given, in a way that was easy to grasp, on the art of preparing food. Such luminaries as James Beard, Julia Child, Wolfgang Puck and Jacques Pepin, as well as Sarah Molten, Ina Garten, and others, tried to teach us to be comfortable and adept in our kitchens. 

One show that enchanted me was British. It was called Two Fat Ladies, and, indeed, the protagonists were a couple of overweight, aging ladies who delighted viewers by eschewing vegetarianism and pushing for lard, cream, butter—and animal organs and intestines called offal. They tackled game birds of all sizes, and venison was no mystery to them.

Each woman chose a few dishes to work on for each meal and they cooked simultaneously, pattering about what they were each doing and asking the occasional question of the other.

I was particularly smitten with the flamboyant and bubbly Jennifer Paterson. She wore enormous glasses perched on a button nose. As she cooked, her pudgy fingers were decked with clunky gold rings into which were embedded rubies, emeralds and diamonds. She dug her bejeweled hands with gusto into the making of a meatloaf. Upon finishing the preparation and setting a gratin or baking dish into the oven, she would often proclaim, “Easy peasy!”

The truth is that none of the food they prepared was simple. The recipes were complex, time-consuming and, more often than not, difficult. I watched anyway and, though I never replicated any of their dishes, I took great pleasure in witnessing their witty repartee and the inventive and unusual dishes brought to completion.

I have always been a cook who believes more is more. By that I mean my meals are somewhat elaborate and always seem to take longer to prepare than I anticipate. I work quickly, so it’s not that I’m a laborious cook; I simply end up choosing dishes that require a lot of steps and nothing is slap-dash. I cook every day, which means I spend a lot of time in the kitchen prepping, concocting and garnishing.

I admit there are times I feel like I need a break. It’s not that I want to dine out. I just want to prepare something truly easy peasy. Even a sandwich in my hands can become complicated. A tuna melt means opening two cans of Italian tuna packed in oil, and then dumping them into a bowl to which I add minced red onion, a tiny dab of Dijon mustard, a squirt of fresh lemon juice, finely chopped French cornichon pickles, and small cubes of celery if I have a stalk on hand. The halved brioche buns must be toasted while the broiler is heating up. They are topped with the tuna fish salad, which is topped with grated Gruyere, cheddar or Gouda, then run under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly. The sandwiches are served open-face with sliced Clausen pickles and crunchy Cape Cod potato chips. Voila! Why am I tired? 

Lately, when I want what almost constitutes a day off from cooking, I turn to store-bought fresh ravioli. Ravioli (even when frozen) cooks up in minutes, as do the simple sauces I’ve developed for them, whether the ravioli is cheese-filled or stuffed with mushrooms. I serve the ravioli with a mixed green salad and a homemade vinaigrette, which is also a snap to prepare. 

If you happen to live in Manhattan, you can get top-quality fresh ravioli at such stores as Raffetto’s on Houston Street in the Village or in many gourmet shops around the city. Upstate, there is a good selection of fresh ravioli at ShopRite. I particularly like their Bowl and Basket house brand. The jumbo-size portabella-and-fontina ravioli is a favorite with my Parmesan cream sauce, and I like the cheese-and-spinach variety with a creamy tomato sauce or simply with butter, sliced sundried tomatoes (in olive oil) and a sprinkling of grated cheese. This is a meal that is truly easy peasy. But remove your rings before proceeding so they don’t drop into the sauce.

judes culinary journey


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