Madelaine asked me what I planned to cook this week. The flop sweat began as I desperately thought through the possibilities. As much as I enjoy cooking in the event, I suffer from severe cooker's block: rarely does the idea of what to make come easily. As for intuitively knowing which "side dishes" best combine with which "main dishes" to form "meals," forget about it; I throw myself on the tender mercy of combinatorial randomness and hope for the best.
"Salmon," I blurted. "Wasabi salmon."
Uh oh. "Um... potato cakes."
"What about sweet potato cakes?"
I thus found myself making wasabi salmon and sweet potato cakes last night, the recipes for which follow. The salmon I adapted from an Epicurious page:
3/4 cup wasabi peasThe sweet potato cakes I made by following pretty much the first Google hit:
4 8-oz salmon fillets
Two or three limes
Preheat oven to 400°F. Blend wasabi peas in processor. Arrange salmon fillets skin side down on lightly oiled baking sheet. Sprinkle fish with sea salt. Press ground wasabi peas onto tops of salmon fillets to adhere, covering tops completely. Grate lime peel and sprinkle over salmon; drizzle with one tablespoon oil. Roast salmon just until opaque in center, about 10 minutes.
Transfer each salmon fillet to a plates. Serve with lime wedges for self-drizzling of fish.
1 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flourBut how palatable, I sense you dying to ask, was the combination of wasabi salmon and sweet potato? That's not for me to say, though I will admit that I ate so much of the stuff that I rendered myself nearly immobile for the rest of the evening. Res ipsa loquitur. Then again, you're talking to a guy who ate peanut-butter-and-tuna sandwiches for lunch at least once a week throughout middle school.
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups mashed cooked sweet potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
Sift dry ingredients into a mixing bowl. Combine remaining ingredients; add to flour mixture, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Drop by tablespoons onto hot greased griddle or skillet and fry, turning once, until browned on both sides. Makes one hell of a lot of pancakes, so watch out.
But deliciousness aside, it seems to me that the product of cooking matters far, far less than does the act of cooking. Permit me to gesture toward the musty old trunk of clichés about journey over destination. While putting this monstrous pairing together, it occurred to me that it probably feels good to cook because cooking is something: it's a sequence of real actions that actually involve stuff in the world and produce tangible results. This recommendation may sound weak — don't a lot of pursuits... "involve stuff?" — but it signifies the physicality, immediacy and clarity lacked by much of what we might spend our time on. I suspect it's no accident that so many people who shuffle figures around Excel sheets all day long turn to the kitchen for their only solace.