IT'S TOO mundane!" said someone near and dear to me when I expressed astonishment that without exception the great culinary references offer no guidance toward cleaning up in the wake of preparing a meal. "You could read 100 cookbooks and think your job stops when you leave the range," I continued.
She said nothing, which was not entirely fair.
I clean up in the kitchen quite often and sometimes succeed in convincing myself that I like doing it. (I should probably add that I also "like" jogging. Perhaps it's a matter of what sociologists call mind-set.) Nonetheless, there is little as forbidding at 1 a.m. as finding yourself face to face with a forest of wine glasses. Some of them you won't trust to the dishwasher. The others are too tall or too broad to fit.
When it comes to entertaining there are, it should be noted, two schools of cleaner-uppers: Those who are compelled to finish before they go to bed and those who postpone the inevitable until the next day.
When it comes to daily kitchen cleanup, there are two schools, too: Those who worship speed and those who are dedicated to efficiency. Rarely will a passionate gastronomic -- debate over, say, the exact ingredients of a sauce gribiche -- become as heated as an argument between two people who approach dishwashing from opposite tacks. Even the order of doing things takes on a magnified significance. Glasses first, royalists insist, then plates, silverware and finally utensils. Then there is the totally democratic approach: Whatever is closest to the sink goes in first.
In any case, the less to do the better. But how does one cut down on cleaning up?
The best way is to eat out. The worst way is to eat TV dinners and use throw-away utensils and paper cups. Between these two poles is the gray area where most of us dwell. When eating alone, it's between you and God whether the hash is transferred from the skillet to a plate. But at the table with family or guests options are limited. Having spent several years bending children to society's unnatural demand that they eat with forks and spoons, it makes little sense to suddenly lock the silver drawer. Salad and cheese can be served on the same plate, but your dessert will lose something if it is spooned into a puddle of leftover salad dressing. Coffee does cry out for a cup of its own.
In the kitchen, however, it is possible to improve the situation. One way, which in reality is only psychological, is to clean up as you go along. By the end you will have washed as many pots and pans or basting spoons but a clean kitchen and sink makes for a better cook -- really -- and the pile you tackle after the meal has ended won't be so high.
Take a lesson from the Chinese and use the same pan for more than one function. A simmering soup produces steam, which can cook food placed on a rack above it. Your hands, as James Beard says, are still the most valuable kitchen tool. Use them more. They're much easier to wash than utensils. It is also much faster to clean a knife and cutting board than a food processor or blender. Do as much cutting and chopping as possible by hand, especially with small quantities.
Think about the cleanup when planning a menu. If the main course preparation is complex, don't choose a dessert that requires use of all your baking equipment. (When entertaining, cooking ahead helps but you still need to reserve some energy to face your guests and the next day.) Don't bother to wash out liquid or dry measures between portioning out ingredients for a single recipe. The egg yolks and the milk are going into the same bowl, it won't hurt if a few drops of one intermingle with the other in the measuring cup.
Finally, the most obvious labor-saver is the one-pot recipe. But the frequent appearance of a convenient casserole may be appreciated more by the cook/cleaner than by the rest of the family. Examine other recipes closely. Often they contain unnecessary elaborations. For a stew or chili, you don't have to saute meat in one frying pan, vegetables in another and then combine them in a third. Rethink the recipe and add the ingredients to a single pot or pan in logical sequence.
Here, faster than you can name your favorite brand of liquid detergent, are several recipes that require a minimum of cleanup for a maximum of satisfaction.
RUSSIAN BRUSSELS SPROUTS SOUP
This is an ideal soup for a cold evening. The fresh sour cream is a must to bring out the delicate flavor of the Brussels sprouts. Be sure to pass the pepper mill.
Wash and trim: 1 pound of young Brussels sprouts. Cut crosswise incision 1/2 inch deep in bottom of sprouts and saute them for 5 minutes in 2 tablesppons butter.
Add 3 cups lamb or beef stock (heated), 3 to 4 small potatoes (approximately 3/4 pound), cut in 1/2-inch dice, lightly sprinkled with salt and pepper.
Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer 20 minutes. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper and garnish with minced fresh parsley or dill dollops of sour cream. From "The Art of Cooking For Two" by Coralie Castle and Astrid Newton
VEAL STEW WITH TARRAGON (4 to 6 servings) 2 pounds stew veal (1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes) 3 large carrots, scraped and cut into 1-inch pieces 2 medium onions, chopped very fine 1 teaspoon salt 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper 2 tablespoons flour 2 tablespoons water 3/4 pound mushrooms, sliced thin 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon 2 egg yolks 1/2 cup heavy cream or sour cream 1 teaspoon lemon juice
In a 3-to-5 quart casserole combine the veal, carrots and onions. Add enough water to just cover. Season with salt and cayenne and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and simmer gently for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours or until meat is almost tender. (Timing depends on quality of meat.)
In a cup, dissolve the flour in 2 tablespoons cold water then stir into the veal stew. Stir until liquid thickens slightly. Add the mushrooms and tarragon and simmer uncovered for another 15 minutes.
In a small cup or bowl, beat together the egg yolks and cream. Add to the stew and, stirring constantly, heat through without boiling. Stir in lemon juice. Serve in bowls with boiled new potatoes.
STIFADO (5 or 6 servings) 3 pounds top round of beef, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes Salt and freshly ground black pepper 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped 1 bay leaf, crumbled 2-inch stick cinnamon 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1/2 cup red wine 24 small white onions, peeled 1 cup tomato sauce 1/2 teaspoon sugar 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a 4-quart casserole combine the meat, salt, pepper, garlic, bay leaf and cinnamon.Cover tightly and cook over low heat 10 minutes. Add the wine vinegar and the wine. Cover tightly and place in oven to bake 1 1/2 hours.
Add the tomato sauce, sugar and the onions to the casserole. Return to the oven to bake 1 hour longer or until the meat is tender.
Five minutes before serving stir in the crumbled cheese. Serve hot. Adapted from "Mediterrean Cooking" by Paula Wolfert BLACK-EYED PEAS AND SAUSAGES WITH TOMATO SAUCE (4 servings) 2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion 1/4 cup olive oil 1/4 teaspoon chopped garlic 1/3 cup chopped carrot 1/3 cup chopped celery 1 cup canned Italian tomatoes, coarsely chopped with their juice 1 pound luganega sausage or other sweet sausage, such as bratwurst or breakfast sausage 1 cup dried black-eyed peas, soaked in lukewarm water for at least 1 hour before cooking Salt and freshly ground pepper, if necessary
Use an earthenware casserole if you have one. Otherwise, choose a heavy saucepan, preferably of enameled cast iron. Put in the chopped onion, along with the olive oil and saute over medium heat until pale gold. Add the garlic and saute until it has colored lightly. Add the carrot and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped tomatoes with their juice, turn the heat down to medium low and cook at a gentle, slow simmer for 20 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Puncture the sausage skins in several places with a fork. If you are using luganega, cut it into 2 1/2-inch lengths. Add the sausage to the pot and cook at a slow simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the peas and enough water to cover them well. Cover and bring to a steady simmer. Transfer to the middle level of the preheated oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until the peas are tender, remembering that cooking times vary according to the peas and some peas do cook faster than others. Look into the pot from time to time to make sure that there is enough cooking liquid. If there is not, you can add 1/2 cup warm water at a time, as needed. (If, on the contrary, the beans are cooked and the cooking liquid is too watery, return the pot to the stove, uncover, turn on the heat to high and boil until the liquid is concentrated.)
Tip the pot and draw off most of the fat with a spoon. Taste the peas and correct for salt and pepper. (Seasoning varies greatly, according to the sausages.)
Note: If you are not serving it immediately, you can prepare the entire dish ahead of time. It keeps in the refrigerator for several days. Reheat either on the stove at low heat or in a 250 degree oven. From "The Classic Italian Cookbook" by Marcella Hazan
CHOCOLATE SYRUP CAKE (8 servings) 1/2 cup butter 1 cup sugar 4 eggs 1 can (16 ounces) chocolate syrup 1 teaspoon vanilla 1 cup self-rising flour
Cream butter and sugar together. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add syrup and vanilla. Fold in flour. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes in a 9-by-13 inch pan, well-greased and floured. Cool. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.