Like my favorite pair of straight-cut, dark, snug — but not too tight — Rock & Republic jeans, the dishes I want to have around when I’m feeling insecure, sad, rushed or frazzled are simple, utilitarian and just slightly luxe. Sitting down at home to a nice, quiet dish that I know is going to be fantastic, in my well-worn, creased jeans that I know make my butt look good, is a pure, unsullied pleasure that never fails to re-stiffen my upper lip after it has been crushed into a pleated, crumpled sneer by various insidious and grim villains.
The key to success in my go-to comfort recipes is using fresh, seasonal, organic and / or quality ingredients that can sing alone and, together, create a symphony. I am infamous for my cost-cutting ways; I was mocked mercilessly for schlepping around Queens to buy 10-pound bags of lentils when Stephen was in law school and we were broke; my bulk-buying obsession is legion and if organic butter or good oatmeal goes on sale, watch your back because I will cut you if you think for one second that you’re getting your grubby paw on that last, gleaming tub.
However: I loosen the purse strings when I’m buying dairy and proteins. Organic, well-sourced dairy and meat not only tastes better, it helps my insomnia. On my list of late-night obsessions that stymie my REM — 401(k)s vs. IRAs, spiking oil prices, Wikileaks, climate change, the relative merits of poutine vs. disco fries, whether or not Lindsay Lohan and her latest antics signal the stomach-lurching apotheosis of American society’s vertiginous downward spiral, etc, I can tick “my contribution to the death of the local, small farmer in America” off the list of sleep-slashing thoughts. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.
But even the best organic, artisanal food will be a flop if you don’t know how to cook it.
Through countless, painful, gruesome recipe-testing sessions, I have gathered a few dozen killer recipes that are relatively cheap to make (even while using the best stuff available), are a snap to execute and please even the staunchest, pickiest critics. (And they’re relatively healthy.)
A few quick notes on techniques:
The best way to boil an egg: Cover egg(s) in cold water. Put over high heat. As soon as the water comes to a rolling boil, cover it, and turn the burner off. After 10 minutes, run cold water over the egg(s) and shake the pot to crack the shells a bit. Dump in a tray of ice. Leave for at least 10 minutes and peel. The ice water bath sounds fussy and annoying, but it’s essential if you don’t want to spend 10 minutes picking teensy egg shell bits off a clammy, studded egg. The swift temperature change causes the egg to contract, creating a little air pocket between the cooked egg and the shell. Easy!
The best way to coat goat cheese: Make sure the log is cold. Stick it in the freezer for five minutes before you cut it — it will be so much easier that way. Working quickly, dip it in the egg wash, then the bread crumbs, and using an offset spatula, move it to the baking sheet.
Click below for my favorite Waldorf Egg Salad Sandwich, Gourmet 20-Minute Pasta (Lidia Bastianich’s recipe!) and Salad for Salad-Haters.