Not every meal is going to be an impressive work of art. Maybe no meal you ever make will be. I was told recently that my food is always presented well, but honestly presentation is almost always the last thing on my mind. I am a home cook, not a trained chef, and I am not bothered by that nor am I going to pretend like it’s not true. Nigella Lawson’s most recent book is a “celebration of home cooking,” and in an interview I heard with her I realized we share a similar cooking philosophy. Food that tastes good will look good. It will smell good, and if quality ingredients are used it will look appealing. Of course there are always items certain people will find unappealing. Presentation shouldn’t be ignored completely, but it should never get in the way of turning out a quality meal.
There are two separate, and very different, reasons that I think have changed the way we think about food presentation and cooking in general. On one end is the variety and almost omnipresence of convenience foods, whether they be packaged foods in the grocery store or fast and “fast casual” dining establishments. These products are almost always sold using pictures that are nothing like the actual product. We’re lured in by beauty but then disappointed by the actual product, and the quality is often another disappointment. On the other end is the plethora of Instagram accounts, websites, and even print magazines showing us all kinds of over-the-top food presentations. Swirls of sliced vegetables and meticulously trimmed fruits that are magically all the same size create stunning geometric designs. These are done by talented food artists, and I’m sure they taste good. What they don’t show you is the time and effort that went into creating these items. In the interview with Nigella Lawson, which was on NPR’s Splendid Table, she spoke of the fact that many untrained cooks see these pictures online and are trying to recreate them in their own kitchens with disastrous results. Restaurant cooking is different than home cooking, and there isn’t anything wrong about that. And there are now entire shows based on the idea that these types of recipes are basically impossible to replicate.
I haven’t posted in a while for various reasons, but one is my struggle with this topic. I don’t typically make food that is picture perfect and magazine-cover ready. I don’t have the time or the money to buy five times the ingredients I need so I can find the most perfect looking items. I also don’t have the time, money, or desire to make the same thing over and over again until I perfect the recipe. I don’t like eating the same thing again and again, I don’t have loads of people to eat all the trials, nor do I want to waste bunches of batches of food doing experiments.
So I will resolve to continue as I have done in the past and post about the things I am cooking and eating in my normal life. There are many things I wish I would have shared in the last few months. I will write about what is on my mind and allow others to read it if they wish. I will go with what I know and what I enjoy and not worry about whether it is groundbreaking, unique, trendy, or cover page worthy. I have always desired to share and discuss ideas and thoughts about food rather than recipes.
Pulled out of my fridge and pantry tonight were some chicken breasts, lemons, a red onion, lentils, green beans, almonds, and olives. Lemon chicken is a classic for a reason. A quick seasoning and sauteing of the chicken in olive oil starts a nice base for sauteing some slices of lemon. I like the flavors that come out in the lemons when done this way rather than juicing them and just adding that. The acid of the lemons pulls the flavors off the bottom of the pan, which is called deglazing. Layer the chicken back on top of the lemon slices, add some liquid, I just used water this time, and throw in a few olives for a mediterranean feel. Cover it, leaving a vent, so the chicken stays moist as it continues to cook through but doesn’t get the rubbery texture that boiled or steamed meat gets. Some fresh herbs could get thrown in now.
While the chicken cooks sweat an onion in some olive oil and add some tomato paste, cooking until it’s a deep brick red/maroon. Toss in some garlic and sliced almonds and let them get a little toasty. Then I added some vegetable broth, lentils, and frozen green beans, brought it to a boil, and let it simmer uncovered so the water would evaporate but the lentils would still get tender. I used French green lentils which I didn’t know about until recently, but I have fallen in love with them. They hold their shape better and don’t get as mushy as other lentils.