Love and Cooking, Two Ways
How to cook for the people you love the most
The “team” that runs The Bittman Project — and Food with Mark Bittman — is a small (but mighty!) team. Because of this, whenever we think about getting an intern, we become overwhelmed. Do we have time to mentor? Will our mentee get anything good out of working with a happy but somewhat frazzled team?
So when I was approached by one of the co-directors of college counseling at Holden’s school about bringing on an intern from the senior class, I was nervous and hesitant. But I have a hard time saying no to anything related to our beloved school, so I said … yes.
Callum Bohn has been wonderful to work with over the last five weeks, and I think he’s actually learned some stuff from us, which is gratifying (and a relief). I … was not as together as he was as a high school senior, especially not in the final weeks of school. I asked him to write a Monday piece for us — his last bit of work on the team! — and the results are below. I can’t imagine that you won’t enjoy it.
We’re also including some recipes inspired by Callum’s piece:
Super-Crisp Mediterranean Meatloaf with Balsamic
Rice with Cabbage, Scrambled Eggs, and Scallions
Pepperoni Pan Pizza
You’ll see why — read on.
On Saturday I will be graduating from high school. In August, I will move away from home to attend the University of Virginia. Saying goodbye to high school the past few weeks has been surreal and very hectic. But, amidst all the moving parts, I have found myself feeling more gratitude than ever for my parents, reflecting on all they have done for me. They show their love for me in big ways, like hugs and kind words or supporting me at my baseball games, and in more subtle ways, like the delicious meals they cook for me every day.
As I reflected on this, I began thinking about my Mom and Dad’s individual approaches to cooking; their distinct styles as chefs. If you were to lay out 100 dishes, half from each parent, I am confident I could sort them with perfect accuracy. My Mom’s cooking is everything I could ask for — her food is consistently nutritious and balanced and always very tasty. She makes great pastas, rice bowls, and meatloaves that can be enjoyed day after day. She also cooks a lot faster than Dad — at 8:00 pm, the kitchen will either be completely cleaned and done for the night, or still in a waiting stage, as Dad is finishing up Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune and about to open the fridge for the first time.
But my Dad makes up for his less-developed cooking time-management skills with his creativity and resourcefulness. He likes to incorporate leftovers and create unusual combinations that make dinner exciting after a long day. He loves to make his own pizzas, with dough from scratch and new toppings each time, or a pork roast with roasted vegetables, fruit, and nuts. To illustrate this dynamic further, here are outlines of dishes I strongly associate with each of them.
For my Dad, what stands out to me most are his breakfast creations. On weekends, or whenever I am not rushing out of the door in the morning, my Dad is always happy to whip up what he would call “egg breakfast variation #300.” The essentials for this are:
Leftovers from dinner, whether that be a little meat or some veggies;
Some sort of carb — could be toast, a flour tortilla, or leftover rice;
Condiments like hot sauce, ketchup, salsa, or even jam;
Whatever else you want!
Assemble your ingredients however makes you happy — you scramble an omelet with the rice, or place a tortilla on top of the eggs as they are cooking and make delicious quesadillas, or build the classic breakfast sandwich with bread. The fun of this format is your breakfast never has to be the same thing twice. I love eggs but I can’t eat them consistently if they are prepared the same way every time; my Dad’s creativity as a cook means that this is never a problem.
My Mom does less ad-libbing in the kitchen, sticking to tried and true favorites that comfort me when I need them most. One of my favorite dishes of hers is a chicken rice bowl, which she makes by:
Seasoning chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and garlic, and breading them in panko;
Pan-searing the chicken with olive oil;
Preparing rice and other add-ins like corn, onion, carrots, and other vegetables;
Building a bowl with whatever ingredients you want, and adding additional sauces to your liking, such as sriracha or Japanese BBQ sauce.
This dish is straightforward, but it hits the spot every time. I have also come to appreciate that it is cheap – a perfect example of how my Mom thoughtfully saves money on food without sacrificing taste. She is always able to put together a great meal when the fridge is empty.
Reflecting on my parent’s cooking has helped me see the love and energy they devote to me day in and day out. Now, I look ahead and think about what I’ll be eating in college. I don’t think I’ll be able to tell which chef at the dining hall is responsible for my plate, and that’s okay. But I know that when I come back home for breaks, I’ll be very happy to dig into my parents’ cooking.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
4 tablespoons good-quality vegetable oil
12 ounces boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1/2-inch slices
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped, or to taste
4 scallions, chopped
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or more as needed
1½ to 2 cups grated Mexican melting cheese (like Oaxaca, Asadero, or Chihuahua; 6 to 8 ounces)
Four 10- or 12-inch tortillas
1. Heat the oven to 450°F and position 2 racks toward the middle. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, add the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the chicken is cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Add the chili powder and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Taste, adjust the seasoning, and remove from the heat.
2. Put the tomatoes, jalapeño, scallions, cilantro, and lime juice in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to combine; taste and adjust the seasoning.
3. Use the remaining 2 tablespoons oil to grease 2 baking sheets. Put 2 tortillas on each pan, turning them to rub both sides with some of the oil. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the tortillas; scatter the chicken on top. Transfer the pans to the oven and bake until the cheese melts, 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Fold the tortillas in half. Continue to cook, turning once, until the tortillas are golden and crisp on both sides, about 2½ minutes on each side. Let the quesadillas sit for a few minutes, then cut them in wedges and serve with the salsa, passing the hot sauce at the table if you like.
— Recipe from Dinner for Everyone: 100 Iconic Dishes Made Three Ways
Super-Crisp Mediterranean Meatloaf with Balsamic
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 30 minutes
This easy meatloaf is baked in a square pan or skillet so there’s as much crust as insides. What’s better than that?