I used to think that it was the pinnacle of good hosting to provide all aspects of nourishment to one’s guests, but now that I have a bit more mileage on the odometer I see what a callow youth I was. Finding enough forks is hard enough; subbing out portions of the menu only eases your pain, and expands the menu.
In my scientific study of one of humankind’s most significant advances, The Potluck, I have noticed a number of things. First of all, if you are the parent of young children and are mulling over your educational options for the future, a Waldorf school will serve you well, and I mean that. The Waldorf potluck is a superior potluck. Second, parameters are good. If you say, "bring any old thing," your menu will tip slightly or gravely to one side. But people generally like to be asked what they like to make, because they like to bring things they are happy with, and then you can shape things a bit.
Here is another scrap of data from the field: even if you put it in a container they don’t recognize, and even if you try out something grandly new (which I do not for one second recommend in a party setting), your family will be able to pick out the dish you brought with almost 100% accuracy. I can usually tell which of my friends brought what, too, even if it is not on the platter I know their cousin Penelope got for them in Majorca on the trip where she lost her passport. I think we have a food accent, each of us, even the adventurous cooks who eschew the tried-and-true.
This is part of why I read cookbooks sort of obsessively. I like to listen to how other people speak food, and I like to look for a few expressions to throw into daily conversation myself, so I do not always make the same four things, which is what I often feel is going on in the pans around here. I can get royally irritated, however, if I have had to amass a bunch of ingredients I do not usually have on hand and consign spare hours I do not possess to make something that I don’t, in the end, like to eat. So it’s a bingo bull’s-eye bonanza when something is simple, kind of familiar, and yet a total departure from Pasta Again.
Andrea Reusing’s Cooking In The Moment is the kind of cookbook that makes me think I should maybe move to wherever it is the author lives, or at least to wherever it is that I, too, could have a fig tree in my backyard, and run a small, critically acclaimed restaurant that is exclusively provisioned by local purveyors and write a book and look good in photographs.
This hot coleslaw comes from her. I never in a month of Sundays would have arrived at this preparation, but it is quite simple and no special provisions need to be acquired. The major risk factor involved here is that you may eat all the cabbage while it is in its spicy spa bath before cooking, but otherwise there are no sacrifices to be made.
From Andrea Reusing’s Cooking In The Moment
1 medium head of red cabbage, quartered, cored and thinly sliced
Juice of I lemon
Juice of 1 lime
1 ½ t sugar
2t kosher salt, plus more to taste
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded (unless you like things hot) and finely chopped
1 large red onion, cut in half and sliced lengthwise into ¼ “ slices
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1 T vegetable oil
4T unsalted butter
2/3 c coarsely chopped fresh cilantro (a large bunch, or two small ones)
[cilantro-haters can probably achieve happiness with fresh basil]
In a large bowl, combine the cabbage with the lemon and lime juices, sugar, salt and chile. Let marinate for at least 15 minutes and up to half an hour.
In a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, sauté the onion and the garlic clove in the oil for 2-3 minutes, until fragrant and just starting to color. Raise the heat to high, add the cabbage mixture and toss until very hot but still crisp, about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add the butter and cilantro, tossing well to combine. Taste and adjust salt if necessary. Serve hot.