Food Friday: Dinner Improv


We started the home-cooked pizza routine back when the children were in elementary school, and pizza was a big deal for them. But we could only get crummy cardboard Papa John’s pizza delivered to the house, and taking everyone to the pizza place became prohibitively expensive. And so we rolled up our thrifty New England shirt sleeves and learn how to make pizza. And maybe over the years we have saved a little money, although good ingredients are pricey. Fresh mozzarella, good pepperoni and flavorful tomatoes start to add up.

Most Friday nights we still heat up the kitchen and make an amoeba-shaped disc that we call pizza. It is a good time to share the rote duties in the kitchen as we heat the pizza stone, roll out the dough (after all these years we still can’t twirl it), slice up the pepperoni, slather the sauce, and pluck the basil from the feeble container garden. The mozzarella melts, the cool beer tastes deelish and a cloud of garlic perfume fills the air. Also, the corn meal falls all over the floor and the oven, and the smoke detector frequently alarms us. After a quick ten minutes of cutting, folding and triangulating, dinner is over. And then the clean up begins.

The empty nest yawns about us now. We could probably sashay out on a Friday night to have pizza nearby. But we do love that time when we have Alexa playing 70s Dance Music for us. And we talk about the weekend ahead, and what delightful prospects it holds. And we don’t need a recipe any more. We know how to turn out a tasty pizza.

But if I eat another pizza on Friday night, and sweep up that damn corn meal again, I will probably implode. This weekend we are going to break out of the routine and rummage in the freezer and fridge, and we are going to improvise. I have found the best outline for a no-recipe meal: steak tacos, courtesy of Sam Sifton and The New York Times. The New York Times has a pretty rigorous and alert paywall – but I assure you that I have subscribed for years, so I feel secure in sharing this radical and freeing notion of cooking without a recipe with you.

“This is a no-recipe recipe, a recipe without an ingredients list or steps. It invites you to improvise in the kitchen.
Get some fresh tortillas and a pound of skirt steak, then make salsa from mostly fresh or canned pineapple, pickled jalapeños and a healthy couple shakes of chile powder, along with plenty of chopped cilantro. Shower the steaks with salt and pepper, and broil them for 2 to 3 minutes a side until they’re perfect and rare. Warm the tortillas. Grate some Cheddar. Rest the steak, slice it, and serve with the tortillas, cheese and that awesome salsa.”

Basically we need:
small steaks: flank steak, skirt steak, Omaha steaks, hanger steak
tortilla shells (flour or corn – your call)
salsa – jarred or homemade
chile powder
fresh cilantro
salt and pepper
Cheddar cheese
bits and pieces: avocado, onion, sour cream, lime juice, garlic, guacamole, tortilla chips (lightly warmed in the oven)

We always have tortillas in the fridge, and luckily, we also have a couple of Omaha steaks in the freezer, thanks to Santa. The spindly container garden has a pale and wan cilantro plant that I haven’t killed yet. And we have a bowl of jewel-like cherry tomatoes for the salsa. I will have to re-organize the pantry to see if we have any cans of pineapple. I refuse to make one more trip to the grocery store this week. Enough is enough, and enough is as good as a feast.

Epicurious Magazine weighs in:

Food and Wine suggests serving the tacos with wine; always a serious consideration in our house:

Gimme Delicious points out the cost benefits of making steak tacos at home. Indeed!

“The only time to eat diet food is while you’re waiting for the steak to cook.”
― Julia Child

“You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces — just good food from fresh ingredients.”
– Julia Child

About Jean Sanders

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