I’d had my eye on Ruhlman’s Twenty, a new cookbook from Michael Ruhlman, for most of the fall, especially after seeing a post at Erin Rooney Doland’s Unclutterer about Ruhlman’s championing of organizing principles in the kitchen, better known as mise en place. “Cooking is easier, faster, more efficient, more successful, and more fun when you think first, when you prepare and organize,” Doland quoted Ruhlman:
“This is not an additional step—it’s simply doing all that you would do throughout the cooking anyway. You’re just doing it ahead of time, spending less time between cupboard and counter, refrigerator and stove. Be sure your counter or work area is completely clear. Go to the refrigerator, pull everything you’re going to need, and set it out. Go to the cupboard, and pull everything there you’ll need. Gather your tools beside your cutting board, set the pans you’ll need on the stove, and get the oven hot if you’re using it. Think about the sequence of your actions. And then being to work, and as you work while you’re doing one thing, think about what you’ll be doing next and next after that.”
This is excellent advice for cooking, but of course it’s also excellent advice for any creative endeavor, and it’s something that I’m working on incorporating more fully into my life as I undertake some major new projects in the months ahead, which you’ll be hearing about as they become ready to reveal. There’s a second, equally important component to mise en place, though: “Put away everything that you don’t need.” It’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past, hanging on to books long past the time when it’s become obvious I won’t be reviewing them any time soon; moving into a new apartment a little over a year ago gave me an opportunity to purge, but I’m still working on dealing with the creeping piles, and I’m hoping to improve a lot in this aspect of my creative life, too.
Anyway, Ruhlman’s Twenty: I love that these are all very simple recipes, grounded in teaching me fundamental techniques that I’ll be able to experiment with at my own pace. The chapter on vinaigrette is a perfect example: I’m one of those people Ruhlman talks about, who never thought about vinaigrette beyond salad dressing, so the idea that it can serve as the base as a sauce to go with all sorts of cooked dishes was a real revelation. So the first recipe I decided to make from the book was a chorizo vinaigrette that calls for equal proportions of diced chorizo, red onion, red bell pepper, and jalapeno, sauteed in canola oil (although I used olive oil) with a generous helping of salt, then tossed in sherry vinegar once it’s cooled. I had no luck finding sherry vinegar in the grocery stores in my Queens neighbhorhood, but I did have a bottle of apple cider vinegar, and that substitution seems to have worked just fine.
I confess: I’ve had my eye on this recipe from Bruce Aidells’s Complete Book of Pork for a couple years now, and was always just too lazy to do it. But last night, what with the end of the holiday season looming, and cause to celebrate in a new job, I decided it was time. I had to visit a few different stores before I found the pancetta, and I halved Aidells’ ingredients as I was only cooking for two, but otherwise…
Basically, you throw a clove of garlic into the food procesor, scrape it down the sides, then add a quarter-pound of diced pancetta, some rosemary leaves (I used dried; Aidells recommends fresh chopped), and olive oil. (Aidells also includes freshly grated parmesan, but we don’t do cooked cheese, so I left it out.) You pulse all that until you’ve got it down to a paste, and you spread that paste one half of each of four split English muffins, after which you re-unite the halves so they form sandwiches. Then you cook the muffins about 4 minutes to a side on a skillet with a thin layer of olive oil on the bottom. Get ‘em off the skillet, pad ‘em down with paper towels, then serve hot.
I didn’t get this perfect—I should have used less olive oil, and I didn’t put in enough pancetta at the start, so on my wife’s recommendation I added a few slices of diced bacon—but I got it pretty damn good. I’ll probably consider adding some black pepper the next time I make this, but that’s probably not going to be until next winter. This was delicious, but so very, very filling. (What I’d probably do, actually, is make the four muffins for me, my wife, and two guests and serve them with a salad.) If you’re looking for some serious comfort food during a particularly chilly weekend this winter, I would definitely recommend tigelle.
4 January 2010 | cooking |