Simple food for those trying to live a minimalistic lifestyle

By / Food / March 8th, 2018 / 10

My sister Marian has been religiously following The Minimalists, two seemingly very nice fellows who have written, filmed and lectured on the power of pursuing a minimalistic lifestyle. And now my pesky little sister can’t stop badgering me, which is nothing new, but this time around it’s all about minimalism versus consumerism. Marian is urging me to pare down my worldly possessions and live a simpler life. She sees it as a kind of freedom; I see it as the wretched life of a medieval monk. I am so not buying it. Which is funny, because I so love buying things.

Now please understand that I am not a hoarder. In fact, when I watch that hoarding show, I start throwing things away, but it’s usually old newspapers and candy wrappers — nothing sacred like my electric roasting pan or my pizza brick. My basement boasts neat rows of shelving, all lined with extra pots and pans, baking dishes, a bread machine, a wok, a spiralizer, cookie cutters, candelabra and other assorted necessities that I may, or may never, use. Marian thinks it looks like a thrift store; frankly, I take that as a compliment.

To appease my little sis, I dragged a soft-sided dog crate from the cobwebby room where I keep yucky things like dog crates, gardening stuff and exercise equipment. Marian suggested I sell it through an online neighbourhood garage sale. I’d never heard of such a thing, but apparently there are more online neighbourhood garage sales than there are neighbourhoods. I chose one that operates strictly within the eight blocks of my home.

I put the crate in the living room, snapped a few pics and was startled when 15 potential buyers jumped on it. Sadly, I was forced to choose a winner, a most stressful situation in an era when everybody is supposed to be a winner and everybody is supposed to get a trophy.

Meanwhile, my dog Molly found the crate and chewed off the zipper to ensure I would never trap her in that hellish soft-sided jail again. With a broken zipper, the crate was useless, so when the buyer showed up in the well-lit parking lot I had designated for pickup just in case the buyer was a thief or worse, I gave her the crate for free. “I’ll see if I can Velcro it,” she said unconvincingly. Last I saw, she was walking with the crate towards the dumpster at the Chinese restaurant next door.

The thing is, I’m not a good minimalist. I’m not good at selling things, either. I’m not even a good pet mommy because I never noticed Molly was destroying my chance to make $15. What I do know is that I’m a pretty good cook. So, here are a few things I’ve cooked lately. Simple food, minimalist food.

chicken gnocchi soup

Serves 4 to 6

You can make the gnocchi from scratch or you can cheat (like I do) and buy gnocchi. I’ve heard “gnocchi” pronounced many incorrect ways (my grandkids call them Gah-Notchee, for Pete’s sake) but in my dad’s Italian dialect, they are called Nyaw-kee. In this recipe, chop the vegetables about the same size as the bite-sized pieces of chicken. Change the seasonings from basil and oregano to any that suit your fancy, dried or fresh. Add peas or cut green beans for extra flavour and nutrition.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
5 cups chicken broth
1 package gnocchi

Add the oil to a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then add to the pot. Sauté for about 5 minutes, or until browned, stirring often. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.

Add the onion, celery, carrot, basil and oregano to the pot. Sauté for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until the veggies are tender. Add the chicken and stock. Scraping up any browned bits, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, cook the gnocchi in boiling water according to the package directions. Drain the gnocchi and divide among 4 to 6 bowls. Ladle soup over the gnocchi.

Match: Excellent with Sauvignon Blanc.

garlic baked shrimp

Serves 4

I don’t know why I don’t make shrimp every day. It’s more available and affordable than it used to be, it cooks quickly, it adapts to so many different recipes and it tastes awesome. This recipe is elegant enough for company, served either as an appetizer or with rice as an entrée.

450 g peeled and deveined large shrimp
4 cloves garlic, crushed then minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tsp minced fresh parsley
Paprika, to taste

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.

In a baking dish, combine the shrimp, garlic and wine. Season with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, mix the butter with the bread crumbs and parsley. Sprinkle with paprika.

Bake, uncovered, until the shrimp are cooked through, about 15 to 18 minutes.

Match: Open a bottle of Chardonnay.

the 1950s meat loaf

I got onto a kick where I just had to have a cold meat loaf sandwich (on hearty whole-wheat toast slathered with mayo) so I cooked this up. I’m happy to report it made a great dinner with a side of mashed potatoes and corn plus several soul-satisfying meat loaf sandwiches. It’s a real ’50s recipe, but it works. The flavour key is the combo of beef, veal and pork.

2 eggs
1 cup Italian-seasoned dried breadcrumbs 
1/3 cup ketchup, plus more for topping
1/3 cup water
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp onion powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
450 g ground beef
250 g ground veal
250 g ground pork

Preheat the oven to 350˚F.

In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, bread crumbs, ketchup, water and seasonings. Add the meat and mix gently with your hands until thoroughly combined. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Shape the meat mixture into a loaf shape.

Cover the loaf with a thin layer of ketchup. Bake uncovered for 1 hour, or until meat thermometer registers 160˚F.

Match: Serve with a Bordeaux.

Maple Pork Chops with Pecans

Serves 4

A simple weeknight meal that can be pulled together in no time. Uses one of Canada’s national treasures: sweet and smoky maple syrup. Omit the pecans if you’re not fond of nuts.

4 boneless pork loin chops, about 3/4 inch thick
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup softened butter, divided
1 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp maple syrup
2 tbsp chopped pecans

Season the pork chops with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, over medium heat, melt 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp canola oil. Add the pork chops.

Cook the pork chips, turning once halfway through, for about 13 minutes or until the juices run clear and a meat thermometer registers 160˚F. Transfer the pork chops to a serving platter.

While pork chops are cooking, stir together the remaining butter and maple syrup in a small bowl. Set aside.

Spread the butter mixture over the cooked pork chops. Let stand until melted, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with pecans.

Match: Chenin Blanc would be a good accompaniment here.


Quench Food Editor, Nancy Johnson, minced, sliced, chopped, sautéed and sipped her way through George Brown College’s culinary program with a focus on food writing and wine. Nancy cooks by the code her Italian grandmother taught her: For the best results, always use the freshest, best ingredients. She writes for Ohio-based Wine Buzz Magazine and recently published a short story in Woman’s World Magazine. She is always on a diet.

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