If I ever write a cookbook, I will call it “Cooking without Thinking.” Other titles under consideration include “How to Cook Well Without Trying too Hard,” or “Cooking Well, Cooking Urgently.” I particularly like this last one, actually. Because this is pretty much how I roll in the kitchen on an every-day, feeding-a-growing-family basis. Whatever your life is like during the day, if you do food prep for a family at the end of it, I know you are hearing me right now.
There are recipes – goodness yes, recipes abound! – but we have an open relationship. That is to say, there is very little measuring going on, there are plenty of ingredient substitutions, and, as a result, the children have no idea that today’s chicken pot pie might – in another household – be expected to taste like the one they were served several weeks ago.
It’s a beautiful thing! There are failures, I will not lie. A certain vegan cauliflower curry prepared during the first trimester of my second pregnancy comes to mind (shocker!). But a dozen years in, I’m settling into a routine of success born of practice, practice, practice and some go-to culinary habits. I sat down and brainstormed all of my maple-related habits today and – glory be – I have at least ten! That’s blog-worthy, people!
So here are ten ways I use maple without thinking about it. And a warning to the chemists, a.k.a. bakers, out there – brace yourselves, there’s going to be a whole lot of “to taste!”
Good Eating to You!
1. Secretly Wow Chili
This is my favorite. Making chili, for me, is like: (1) chop and saute what you have of the following (onions, garlic, bell pepper, uncooked meats), (2) add what you have of the following (canned beans of pretty much any kind, frozen corn, leftover meats), and (3) simmer for a while with however much of whatever canned tomato products are around, red wine if you have it, and oregano and cumin. But sometime before serving, I add three things: unsweetened cocoa powder, cinnamon, and maple syrup. To taste, of course. It’s pretty awesome.
2. Maple Pizza Sauce
The only other main-course item on this list is pizza sauce, which, for me, is a “to taste” combo of tomato paste, Italian herbs, and maple syrup. Just enough to take the edge off the tang. Love it.
3. Maple Glazed Nuts
Either for sitting around with drinks or as a salad or dessert topper, you can’t go wrong with maple glazed nuts. I’ve done almonds. I’ve done walnuts. My favorite is probably pecans. Maybe the next time the pantry is lean, I’ll give peanuts a go. Here’s how I do it: I throw some nuts into my big cast-iron pan and turn it to medium, medium-high, depending on how soon I want to have to pay attention. I Stir for several minutes until I see the nuts brown and even blacken. I pour in some maple syrup and stir like heck until all the nuts are coated. I turn off the heat, but keep stirring until the activity in the pan slackens. If I can fend off the glazed-nut fans, I let them sit in the pan for a bit, scrape them off, and serve cool.
4. Maple Mustard Vinaigrette
I credit this recipe and the next two for the fact that my kids love salad. This dressing also requires no measurements, just a vague sense of how much volume you’d like to end up with. Simply whisk one part each of maple syrup, Dijon mustard and red wine vinegar with three parts olive oil. Done and done.
5. Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
Again, no measuring here. Whisk one part maple syrup and one part balsamic vinegar (try white balsamic if you have it – it’s even better) with three parts olive oil. Bam.
6. Red Cabbage Slaw
Add shredded red cabbage to some stuff of other colors, like shredded or chopped carrot, parsnip, fennel or finely chopped fresh parsley. Add raisins if you’re into it. Douse generously with maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes. Let sit for 20 minutes and serve with slotted spoon. Mayo need not apply.
7. Chocolate Milk / Hot Cocoa
Impress the youth with your “oh but I can make that” solution when the Hershey’s / Swiss Miss runs out!
For chocolate milk – and this is clever – take a gallon jug that has only the desired volume of milk left in it, and funnel in conservative and equal amounts of cocoa powder and maple syrup. Shake vigorously. Shake again. Entertain the tots with all that shaking. (Or think ahead and just let it sit.) Taste. Adjust. Serve.
For the hot stuff, simply combine equal parts maple and chocolate over heat, add milk, cook to desired hotness, and serve.
Bottle of red wine not tasting the same as when you opened it last week? No problem. Slice up some citrus fruits and plunk in a pitcher with the dregs of the bottle. Add maple syrup to taste. Serve diluted with club soda or not. Pretty not bad.
9. Mulled Wine
Bad bottle of red wine but it’s not summer anymore? That’s cool. Let’s make it hot! Put it over low heat with whatever of the following you have (cinnamon stick, whole cloves, whole nutmeg, whole star anise, cardamom pod) and add maple syrup. Mull it, and spike it with bourbon or rum to serve.
10. Maple Whipped Cream
Next time you are making whipped cream from scratch, use a titch of maple to sweeten instead of sugar. Yummy, impresses the guests, and no sand-between-the-teeth feeling.