26 January 2011

Something Old and Something New

There's no denying it: new is sexy. And the same old thing? The old standby? Not so much. I've been thinking about this a lot ever since a friend of my neighbors' backed into my car last week, leaving a significant dent. The poor girl was already quite battle scarred and, by most accounts, OLD for her 11 years, but still runs just fine. The financially prudent thing to do would be to just keep driving her trusty wheels on into the sunset. But, instead, all I can think about now is how soon I can trade her in for a new, sleek, young thing. The temptation is too great...someday soon, I will succumb.

The appeal of the new is even stronger in my relationship with food and cooking. Though I complain about our culture of disposability, and resist it in some areas of my life (wearing old clothes, using hand-me-down furniture, repairing instead of replacing appliances), I also spend countless hours devouring information about the latest restaurant menu trends, perusing new cookbooks, seeking out new recipes, flavors, and food combinations. I very rarely cook the same thing twice.

Variety is a privilege. It is also naturally a good nutritional choice, so I'll give myself a break there. But when I think about it, I'm really not so sure that so much 'new' in my food-filled life has made me a better cook or a happier eater. It's really the time-honored and tested recipes--my dad's black bean salad, Mom's lasagna, Meemaw's latkes, to name but a few--that I find the most satisfying. And I think it's telling that some of the best cooks I know, while surely phenomenal improvisers in kitchen, also all have their signature dishes and recipes that they make time and time again. They've come to be associated so strongly with these dishes, in fact, that should they risk showing up at a pot-luck dinner without them in tow, all hell breaks loose.

Missy is one of those cooks. She's a natural, and is constantly inventing tasty new things, but she's also, thankfully, devoted to her old standbys. Viennese almond crescent cookies sound good? You haven't lived until you've tasted hers. The Indonesian Rice Salad from one of the original Moosewood cookbooks? Not just hippy food--her version is killer. I could go on but thinking about Missy's food just makes me hungry for a second dinner.

My long-winded point, I think, is simply to try more often to remember that though it may not always be the sexiest option, something old or routine can often be the most satisfying in the end. With that in mind, I hope to resist the pull of uncharted food territory and refine a few standby, signature dishes of my own in the coming year. I'll share them here with you when they're ready.

Meanwhile, for your cooking and tasting pleasure, here's Missy's Cheese Bread. It's spectacularly good, and quick and easy to make too. A slice of this and a bowl of soup and you'll never want to eat anything else again. Well maybe not never again...

Missy's Cheese Bread

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 egg mixed with enough milk to make 1 cup
2-3 tablespoons oil or butter (melted and cooled)
1/4 of an onion, diced
1 cup grated sharp cheese (Missy uses a blend of Asiago and sharp Cheddar)
small handful of parsley, chopped
2-3 tablespoons caraway seeds
poppy seeds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Saute chopped onions, cool, and mix into liquids. Mix together dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Add liquids and mix until just blended (if batter seems dry, add a little more milk). Scrape batter into prepared 9 inch cake pan or ceramic baking dish, sprinkle poppy seeds on top, and bake 20-30 minutes (it's done when a toothpick comes out dry).

(photo credit: the one and only Emilio Scoti)