Yesterday I made a family meal shut-out. There were no leftovers. I was worried Dad wouldn’t like the cabbage slaw and that Mom would think the pork was undercooked (she prefers her meat extra-dry). I stressed about whether or not I should add rice or some sort of grain to the meal and if the resting pork would get too cold while I cooked the side dishes. I painfully watched spurts of oil fly off the pan as I seared the meat and anticipated the considerable cleaning effort to follow. As Dad jammed away in the next room (Love Shack) and Mom picked out the wine (a disappointing Cotes de Provence), I nervously set out the meal and shouted over Dad’s Fender, “Dinner!”
The troops dutifully marched in and filled their plates with the bright purple and orange slaw, slick with a sweet and smoky dressing. They each slapped a burnished pork cutlet on the heap of vegetables and scattered chopped cashews over the final product. They dug in. “I’m going to eat all of this,” predicted Mom. A few agonizing seconds passed before I got Dad’s reaction: “Yumbonie, Sam.”
While cooking dinner is the best part of my day, it is often the most stressful. The pressure of providing sustenance to three adults from different generations with different tastes can be overwhelming, even though I willingly make this my mission. I’m not here to offer advice on how to make dinnertime less taxing, I’m simply acknowledging the fact that it always is, every night, and that’s okay. Many people will tell you not to worry about cooking dinner because if you’re cooking for friends or family, they will love whatever you serve them! They will be grateful just for your effort! Well, I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t be too happy with someone serving me a crappy meal when I could just make it myself.
Serving food to capable adults is a challenge that tests your ability to please specific palates and create dishes that people are actually grateful to be served. It’s about creating a special experience out of something mundane, and elevating people’s daily routines. It’s a challenge well worth the effort. Dinner is like a performance; acting on stage in front of an audience will always be stressful, but if you succeed in entertaining the crowd, you’re left with an amalgam of pride, compassion, and satisfaction. That feeling is just enough to inspire me to cook dinner again tomorrow, and the next night. See you there?
Pork Cutlets with Spicy Slaw
What you need
- 4 pork chops, cut in half to make 1/2 inch thick cutlets
- 4 teaspoons granulated garlic
- 4 tablespoons ketchup
- 4 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar
- 4 teaspoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
- 4 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ½ medium head purple cabbage
- 1 medium carrot
- ½ cup fresh cilantro or parsley (Mom and Dad can’t stand cilantro)
- ½ cup roasted cashews, chopped
What you do
-If you have extra time and a good playlist, place the pork between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and pound out to even thickness. This will help them cook more evenly. I do not usually do this and end up with some meat overcooked but Mom and Dad do not care. This step is only necessary if you’re out to please higher standards.
-Mix the granulated garlic, ketchup, vinegar, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and crushed red pepper flakes in a large bowl (big enough to fit all of the cabbage). Transfer 2-3 tablespoons of the dressing to a small bowl and lightly brush it onto the pork (take out more dressing if you’re making more pork, and just add some more of each of all the dressing ingredients to the bowl. You get to decide how much dressing you want on the cabbage.
-Thinly slice the cabbage and shred the carrot (or use the shredding blade on your food processor, that’s what I do) and place in the large bowl with the remaining dressing. Add the cilantro/parsley, 1 tablespoon canola oil, and the sesame oil and toss to combine.
-Heat 1 TB canola oil in pan over medium heat.
-Cook the pork until just cooked through, about 2-3 minutes per side. I start off with 3 minutes on one side and reduce to 2 for the second side if I think it’s cooking too quickly. I like my pork on the pinker side so I look for golden brown edges and a plush center (give it a poke). If you like it more cooked, you’re looking for a firmer center.
-Serve the cutlets with the slaw and scatter chopped cashews over everything.