Breaking Out of a Rut
There is perhaps nothing more damning than the feeling of being in a rut. Your cookbooks seem banal and overly-familiar, your clothes couldn’t be more boring, your routines — once so comforting and delightful — are just about choking you with their predictability.
The cruelty of ruts is how much of a betrayal they are. You are coasting along, grateful for the quotidian details in your little life, the ones you have so carefully crafted to please you, when suddenly, they turn on you, determined to be the death of the spring in your step.
This happens to me from time to time with cooking (and more often, in life, but we’re getting at the bigger issue by solving smaller problems today). I very much like putting together the weeknight evening meal, a sweet cozy spot in the day, love even more cooking on the weekend. But every once in awhile, nothing could seem more unappealing. Does this ever happen to you? You cannot imagine anything worth setting the chef’s knife to, nor worth the ignition of the stove — it’s all so bland, so predictable, and somehow, since last Tuesday, has lost the ability to transform your mood, your home, your sense of the world and your place in it. Cooking at its best can do all that and more; cooking at its worst, though, is a perfuctory assignment of uninspired proportions that merely keeps us from going to bed with a stomach aching with hunger.
Much like you never know what will send you tail-spinning into a rut, the same can be said of its cure. Its impossible to know when the salve will appear to save, reigniting your delight at the scent of onions sautéing or the appearance of light filtering through the white linen curtains in your bedroom each morning.
What broke me out of a cooking rut last Thursday was Dutch Girl Cooking, a blog that appeared like a best friend when you are heartbroken — with perfect timing. She told me what to do with the half head of chicory I had kicking around in the produce drawer. Her stamppot was a revelation, opening my eyes again to the wide world of cooking and its unpredictable pairings. Like cooking at its best, it set me right again.
adapted from Dutch Girl Cooking
serves 2-3 as a main course
Stamppot (“mash pot”) is a traditional Dutch dish of mashed potatoes and vegetables, often made with a bit of bacon. This version is vegetarian. I can’t say enough about how perfect this dish is for early spring: comforting and creamy from the mashed potatoes, rich with caramelized onions, but brighly promising with roasted red peppers and sprigs of chicory. I put a fried egg on top because, well, that’s how I roll.
5 oz cheese cubes
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and diced
1 red bell pepper
1 medium onion, diced
1 tbsp coarse mustard
1/3 head curly endive
1/2 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
In a medium-sized pot, cover potatoes with water and boil until for tender, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, roast your red pepper with your preferred method, either directly over a gas burner, or in your broiler. Once adequately charred, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to cool.
Melt one tablespoon butter over low heat and cook onions until lightly caramelized. Roughly chop your chicory. Next, peel and chop your red pepper, slipping off the charred skin and cleaning the pepper of its ribs, innards, and seeds. Add red pepper to caramelized onions sauté together.
Drain potatoes, return to pot, and add mustard, milk, and 1 tablespoon butter. Mash, then stir in cheese cubes, onions, red peppers, and chicory. Season with salt, pepper, and a little freshly grated nutmeg. Serve hot, topped with a fried egg.