As Martha Stewart pointed out in a February 9 Huffington Post editorial, “food is the new fashion.” The rabid national interest in all things culinary—on TV, the Web, and pretty much everywhere—is, as Martha would say, “a good thing” by many measures. But for North Carolina chef and cookbook author Andrea Reusing, there is one downside to “rarefied foodie-ism,” as she calls it: “it’s made people feel they need to be experts” in order to just cook dinner.
Intimidated by Iron Chefs and paralyzed by the magnitude of options in the supermarket, everyday Americans may be feeling overwhelmed with the prospect of cooking dinner, Reusing says. It doesn’t have to be that way, though, and Reusing has written Cooking in the Moment: A Year of Seasonal Recipes (Clarkson Potter, Apr.) to remind people that dinner can be as simple as fried chicken (three ingredients, plus salt and pepper, and oil for frying) and green beans with tomatoes (ingredients: beans, tomato, bread, garlic, salt, pepper, olive oil). The recipes in Reusing’s book are arranged by season and centered on real foods, which Mark Bittman recently exalted in a New York Times opinion piece as the only way to achieve “health and sustainability.” Real foods don’t come from a can or a box. Here’s an example of Reusing’s version of real food: “an icy, spicy cucumber soup on an August night, a glass of tangerine juice on a frosty morning, or soft, braised shortribs with horseradish on a gray fall day.”
Naturally, Reusing serves real food at her restaurant, Lantern, in Chapel Hill, N.C., which opened in 2002. The menu fuses Asian flavors and North Carolina ingredients sourced mainly from local farms and fisheries. Gourmet named Lantern one of "America's Top 50 Restaurants" and "best farm-to-table restaurants," and on the day I met Reusing at the Union Square Greenmarket in Manhattan, she picked up some sunflower sprouts and Mutsu apples that she would bring back to North Carolina that night, to incorporate into the restaurant’s menu. But Cooking the Moment isn’t a restaurant cookbook. There are a couple of restaurant dishes in it, but it’s mainly a collection of favorite foods from Reusing’s childhood, quickly prepared standbys, and celebration dishes to feed a crowd.
When she’s cooking at home for her family—her husband, Mac McCaughan, of the band Superchunk, and their two young children--Reusing is so concerned with keeping things simple that she admits making a delicious meal based solely on ingredients she already has in the house thrills her. She calls it “positive frugality,” and likens making dinner out of pantry items and whatever fresh food is already in the kitchen to being a “craftsperson.” “It’s the best part of cooking,” Reusing says over coffee and pastries at City Bakery, a block away from the market. “Going to the store is for artists”—and most days, Reusing would rather focus on craft than art… at least when it comes to dinner.