Would you rather poke your eye with a sharp stick than cook?
If that is the case, oh, I feel so sorry for you. However, I may have discovered a way for you to share in the pleasure of cooking.
Portland author and cultural historian Jean Johnson believes Americans have shied away from cooking because 'cooking has turned into the equivalent of a small chemistry experiment - an exercise in measuring and following directions.' In her book, 'Cooking Beyond Measure,' she suggests we toss out our measuring cups and prepare food by trusting in our innate appreciation of the artistry of food.
Johnson told me in a phone conversation that she recalls her stunned realization that 'we didn't always have measuring cups.' Measuring cups, spoons and even written recipes were an outgrowth of the American industrialization era. Our own great-grandmothers more than likely didn't use measuring cups, but cooked great food, relying on their personal interpretation of how the food looked or felt.
The 'pinch of this, a handful of that' approach is used throughout the world, except sadly, in the United States. Johnson says her book is devoted to helping us 'busy moderns reconnect with the true pleasure of cooking. Encouraging weeknight cooks to leave their measuring cups in the drawer and use what's on hand to make meals from fresh, sustainably grown vegetables and fruits. Meals that are mostly ready in a half hour and are healthy, affordable and fabulous.'
Habits die hard and freeing yourself from the use of measuring cups and written recipes may be harder than it sounds. At a recent cooking demonstration, Johnson was repeatedly asked what quantities should be used for recipes. She replied that it was up to the individual to interpret the dish - use as much or as little as you wish. Her assistant prepare a salad that she also later made; both were different in appearance, and both were delicious.
Use what you want, in any quantity - think this method of cooking can bring pleasure in your cooking? Just for one week, create meals based on how you want the dish to look, smell, taste and feel. Pay more attention to how your food cooks and appreciate the colors, fragrances and tastes of your creations.
Creations - that's what you will be making, not dishes. And that's a lot more pleasurable than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick!
Today's recipes do not have quantities, organized lists of ingredients or procedures. From Johnson's 'Cooking Without Measure,' they are intentionally written this way: enjoy the latitude that gives you to interpret them!
Bon Appetit! Try something new!
Double Treatment Salmon
Broiling after baking turns the pink flesh of the salmon a tantalizing golden brown. Dotting the fillet with garlic butter doesn't hurt the cause either.
Encase a wild salmon fillet in a foil tent and leave fifteen minutes in a medium hot oven. Pull away the top layer of foil to expose the fish. Sprinkle with dill, paprika, salt and pepper. Dot with garlic butter and run under the broiler until gorgeous.
Tear off a long sheet of aluminum foil. Put the fish on one end and bring the rest over the top, folding and crimping the sides to seal the fish in its tent. If you want to spare the foil, use a covered roasting pan or casserole dish.
For garlic butter, put a pinch of coarse salt on your cutting board, mince three or four cloves of garlic into the salt, and work the mince into a soft cube of butter. This will leave lots of extra garlic butter for putting on vegetables, frying up some Spanish rice, or what have you.
Leave the oven door open when you're broiling. This salmon doesn't take but a couple minutes to turn the color of an Arizona sunset.
'Cooking Beyond Measure' 2008
'Cooking Beyond Measure' is available at your local bookstores, through Amazon.com and through Johnson's Web site www.measurefreerecipes.com.
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Looking for something fresh and original for dinner? I suggest you try Terrace Kitchen, which opened Wednesday in Lake Oswego - or as owner Marlene Divina likes to call it, LO sopo (Lake Oswego south of Portland). Marlene's husband Chef Fernando Divina has created an inventive menu using local, organic sustainable foods.
At the preview meal last week I sampled Cornmeal Cakes with Cuban style sofrito, Grill Bread with Beef Deshebrada and the best Pulled Pork I've had in a long time. My favorite bites were the pickled chiles, onions and mushrooms - zippy!
The gracious Divinas are both James Beard Award winners, and have big plans beyond serving dinner. They will offer cooking classes and hope the community will use their space for corporate team building, meetings or other events during the day.
And their prices? Entrees range from $12.75 to $18.50.
The restaurant, located at the corner of 2nd and B in Lake Oswego, is open Wednesday through Sunday from 5:30 to 9 p.m., with happy hour in the bar from 5 to 6:30 p.m. I'll see you there!
Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at [email protected]