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My mother used to tape copies of her most-used recipes, usually clipped from newspapers and magazines or handwritten on index cards, on the inside of a kitchen cupboard door. The recipe I remember most clearly was for pancakes, probably because it was one of the first dishes I prepared all by myself. I remember standing on a chair, opening the door, and reading through the list of ingredients. I measured and mixed the flour, broke the eggs, heated the skillet. Everything went smoothly until we took the first bites. I had used a full tablespoon of baking soda instead of baking powder.
Most of us have a handful of recipes we can rely upon and make again and again, ones we can eventually make without much thought or measure, with ingredients we have on hand. This summer, I had the pleasure of teaching some of those recipes--scaled down to single portions--to our son, who just began a study abroad term in London and is, for the first time in his life, responsible for cooking for himself.
As my husband and I left him in his apartment last week, I couldn't help worrying about all the recipes and techniques and tips we didn't get to. But it is no small comfort, as I imagine him walking each day to class over Waterloo Bridge with a spectacular view of Big Ben and the London Eye, as he looks to a future he is just beginning to create, to know that he feels enough at home in the kitchen that he won't have to rely entirely on sandwiches from Pret a Manger or Sainsbury's. I had originally planned to send with him a fistful (or Kindleful) of detailed recipes, but as the summer days wound down, it was clear he did not need them. While we didn't get around to all of the dishes I wanted to show him, we did enough.
How do I know? When we were shopping for apartment necessities and I suggested measuring cups and spoons, he said he didn't need them, that he could guestimate using drinking cups and regular spoons.
He'll be fine.
Below are two of the dishes-for-one now taped to his mental kitchen cupboard door, each requiring only one saucepan. Pasta, Peas, and Peanut Butter Sauce is a family favorite he has enjoyed since toddlerhood, filling, tasty, and easy to make. The second, which I'll call Ramen Rivero, is his own creation, after several experimentations with easy, low-cost vegetarian ramen dishes (sans salty and usually non-vegetarian seasoning packet).
What are your back-of-the-kitchen-door recipes?
Pasta, Peas (or Broccoli), and Peanut Butter Sauce
2 - 3 Tablespoons creamy peanut butter (or half peanut butter and half tahini)
1 -2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
several drops of toasted sesame oil
water as needed
1/2 cup dry elbow macaroni or other pasta
1/3 cup frozen peas or 1/2 cup chopped fresh broccoli
1. To make the sauce, combine in a medium bowl the peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. Stir or whisk until smooth. The sauce should be the consistency of tomato sauce; if necessary, add a little water a teaspoon at a time. Set aside.
2. Heat 3 cups water to boiling in a medium sauce pan. Add pasta, and cook for about 2-3 minutes. Add peas or broccoli, and cook until pasta is soft enough to eat but not mushy.
3. Drain pasta and vegetables and add to the sauce. Stir to combine. Add more soy sauce or vinegar to taste and a little more water if necessary, and eat straight from the bowl.
1 Tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon rice vinegar
1 single-serving package ramen noodles (seasoning packet discarded)
1/2 cup packaged broccoli slaw or cole slaw mix (shredded cabbage, carrots, etc.)
1/4 pound homemade or packaged baked and seasoned tofu, such as White Wave baked Thai-flavored tofu, cubed
1/4 cup fresh bean sprouts
a sprinkling of chopped peanuts and scallions, optional
1. To make the sauce, combine in a bowl the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and vinegar. Stir or whisk until smooth. The sauce should be consistency of tomato sauce; if necessary add a little water a teaspoon at a time. Set aside.
2. Heat 3 cups water to boiling in a medium sauce pan. Add ramen noodles and slaw vegetables, stir, and cook for 2 minutes. Add bean sprouts, and cook an additional minute.
3. Drain pasta and vegetables and add to the sauce. Add cubed tofu, and stir to combine. Add more soy sauce or vinegar to taste, and sprinkle with peanuts and scallions, if desired.
Pad Thai-style Version: Add a chopped, scrambled egg when you add the tofu.