Monday, June 4, 2007

Riffing on a new fave

I’m not a Nervous Nellie in the kitchen, but I’m also not like my friend Meera. In my eyes, at least, Meera is some kind of culinary genius. She can taste a dish at a restaurant and then recreate it at home. She understands how ingredients work together and is adept at coming up with her own recipes.

I, on the other hand, am no slouch on the culinary knowledge front, but I’m also a fan of a good recipe. Now, once I’ve made and understand that recipe, I’m not afraid to tweak. But let’s just say you won’t find me writing my own cookbook any time soon.

If you’re a cook like me, hoping to be one more like Meera, you’ll love my newest cookbook addiction: The Improvisational Cook by Sally Schneider. Or, if you’re just looking for some great new recipe ideas—especially basics that can be reappropriated in several different ways/as several different dishes—you’d also do well to check it out.

You’re sure to get hooked on at least one of Schneider’s simple but sophisticated offerings. Like the corn cakes that I’ve now made twice in a two-week period—and for which I’m still coming up with new variations.

Hmmm … guess I have some improvisational cook in me after all.

Corn cakes with smoked salmon
Follow the recipe for corn cakes given here, adding slices of smoked salmon, cream cheese or sour cream, and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (I like fresh chives) to finished cakes.

Corn cakes with black beans
While you’re making your cakes, throw a pot of quick black bean soup on the stove. Sauté chopped onions and garlic in olive oil along with cumin, coriander, and a minced chipotle pepper with some of the adobo sauce thrown in. Once the spices are reasonably aromatic, add two cans black beans—one drained and one undrained. Simmer for 10 minutes, until flavors absorb. Serve soup with a cake nestled into the side of each bowl, allowing diners to scoop up a bit of cake with each bite of soup. It’s black bean soup with corn “dumplings”!