What to cook when the
pantry is (almost) bare
You come home from work tired, hungry and with no idea of what to make for dinner. You don't even crack open a cookbook during these daily crises, because you know that somewhere in every recipe's list of ingredients is something you do not have.
Instead, you make that tried-and-true grilled chicken breast with an improvised mustard sauce.
But you could use more ideas for meals whose ingredients will, without fail, be in your head and at your fingertips.
That's where the brother-and-sister team Robert Hildebrand and Carol Hildebrand come in, with 500 3-Ingredient Recipes (Fair Winds Press, 2004, $19.95). It sounds like the answer to your prayers. And it can be, as long as you read the recipes carefully.
On the plus side, 500 recipes mean a lot of variety, with breakfast items, seafood entrees, side dishes, even desserts.
But there are a few cheats in this book, and some things that don't work as well as others.
You'll find that many of the recipes actually have four or five ingredients; the authors don't count salt, pepper, water, butter, or oil.
Cold comfort if you happen to be out of one of them, so keep these staples stocked if you want to cook on impulse with this book.
Orange-Coriander Pork Chops was my favorite dish. (It really had five components aside from salt and pepper: pork chops, coriander, orange juice, butter, and olive oil.
The oil wasn't listed in the ingredients, but is called for in the text of the recipe). The coriander gave a nice crunch to this quick entree, which was fancy enough for guests.
Tamale Pie was another winner, as long as you have a bottle of tomato-and-corn salsa on hand. But I fell into the ingredient trap here, too.
The recipe's stated three ingredients are ground beef, salsa, and corn-muffin mix. Partway through the recipe, though, you discover you'll have to mix the muffin batter following the instructions on the box.
My mix, like many others, required an egg and milk. I could easily have been halfway through the preparations only to find I didn't have an unlisted but necessary item.
Approach desserts with caution. I couldn't imagine Peanut Butter Cookies without flour or baking powder, and indeed they were unlike any I'd ever encountered. That's not to say they were bad. These cookies were strangely addictive.
Hazelnut Chocolate Torte fell apart coming out of the pan - which was just as well, because it was inedible. Maybe some things in life aren't meant to be so simple.
4 center-cut pork chops
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup ground coriander
2 to 3 tablespoons
1 cup orange juice
4 tablespoons butter
Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Thoroughly rub coriander into the meat on both sides of the chops, covering them as completely as possible. (Don't be afraid to put some elbow grease into it.)
Heat olive oil in a medium-size saute pan or skillet over medium heat until the oil is hot but not smoking. Add the pork chops. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes per side.
Remove the chops and keep them warm. Add the orange juice to the pan and bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan.
Allow the sauce to reduce by one-half. Briskly whisk in the butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it is just melted and the sauce is smooth and glossy. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
Serve the chops with the sauce spooned over.
Yield: 4 servings
Per serving: 293 calories; 12 grams protein; 24 grams fat; 10 grams saturated fat; 7 grams carbohydrate; 0 grams fiber; 68 milligrams cholesterol; 119 milligrams sodium