On the weekends, I am all about those hours-in-the-kitchen types of dishes; trying new things; looking at cooking as a “project”. During the week, however, because of my schedule, I’m lucky if I can make myself a big salad or scramble a couple eggs and call it dinner. Much has been made lately over “having time” to cook- Michael Ruhlman wrote an op-ed in the Huffington Post “calling bullshit” on people who claim not to have the time, and others have been recycling the quote (I think it was originally attributed to Marcella Hazan) that “saying you don’t have time to cook is like saying you don’t have time to bathe”. I could go on at length about this topic*- the short version being that I mostly agree with Ruhlman but think he comes off as elitist and unrealistic (uh, he’s a writer, he makes his own hours, most of us do not!). But instead, let me tell you about someone who does live up to what I’ll call “the Ruhlman Standard”.
My friend Amanda is a role model for all of us who would aspire to prepare homemade meals on weeknights. Despite having two jobs (a full-time office job AND giving music lessons after work in the evenings), she manages to put together amazing weeknight dinners on a regular basis. Take Monday night, for example. She invited me for dinner and I was treated to a simple but amazingly flavorful dish of chorizo and potatoes in a garlicky, sherry-spiked broth. A salad, bread and good cheese rounded out the meal, and a bottle of rosé from Provence was the perfect foil to the spicy chorizo.
As if this all wasn’t enough, she was generous enough to let me take some home! I hadn’t brought my camera to her house so I have no shots of her lovely table with the cheeses, salad and wine, but I got to snap a few shots of the leftovers- I love the way the creamy potatoes look in the bright red sauce, with a scattering of cilantro for contrast of flavor and color. If you’re in need of an uncomplicated but decidedly un-boring after-work recipe, look no further: all you have to do is chunk up some potatoes, chop a little onion, and you’ll have this simmering on the stove in no time.
*Anita over at Married with Dinner had a very thoughtful response to this which pretty much sums up my feelings. She is doing a series called Dinner on a Deadline, in an attempt to provide realistic solutions for people who want to find time to cook after work. Hop on over there for more ideas. I also have a Fast and Easy category here where you might find inspiration for after-work meals.
Chorizo & Potatoes in a Sherry Broth
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
4 oz bacon or pancetta, cut in small strips or cubed
12 oz Mexican (fresh) chorizo (see note)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry sherry
1 ½ lbs small waxy potatoes, scrubbed and skin-on, halved or quartered depending on size
4-5 cups boiling water (a tea kettle is handy for this)
salt and pepper to taste
chopped fresh cilantro (if you can’t abide cilantro, substitute parsley)
Note: This recipe was originally intended to be made with Spanish chorizo, a cured, dry sausage. However, Amanda made it with fresh, and as fresh chorizo is much more easily obtained (not to mention less expensive) here, I have adapted the recipe accordingly.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400°. Put water on to boil. Heat a Dutch oven or other large oven-safe pan over medium-low heat. Add the bacon or pancetta and cook until it begins to render a bit of its fat. Add the onion and garlic. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion has softened.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the chorizo by squeezing it out of its casing in bite-size pieces (think small meatballs/coins). Let the pieces of sausage “set” for a moment so they don’t break apart when you stir them. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring gently. Add the bay leaf, sherry, and about 1 tsp salt; stir. Add the potatoes and pour over enough boiling water to cover the potatoes about ¾ of the way.
When the liquid has come to a simmer, put the dish, uncovered, in the preheated oven and cook for 30 minutes. Check it half way through that time to make sure it hasn’t dried out too much, and give it a stir (if the liquid looks low, add another splash of water and sherry).
Remove the dish from the oven and taste the broth. Season with salt and pepper if needed, or if it tastes at all watery, you can further reduce the cooking liquid by simmering on the stovetop. You’re not really looking for it to be a soup, but you definitely want several spoonfuls of the flavorful broth with each serving. Ladle into 4 shallow bowls, and garnish with some chopped cilantro.
Inspiration can strike at odd times, and this is a perfect example: I get home the other night from the bar, a little hungry, but there’s nothing ready-made in the fridge. I’m staring down a link of chorizo that I bought at Holiday Market’s Sausage Fest a few weeks ago (stay tuned for more sausage-related recipes; I have a whole freezerful!) and figured out that I could make a really easy chili with that and a few pantry items.
I’m not really a fan of ground beef in chili- I like to use steak or venison or chorizo. The great thing about chorizo is that it has a lot of flavor in it already, so for this quick chili it was perfect… keeping the ingredient list short. The only work I did besides opening cans was chopping the onion and chipotles. In my opinion, the final product tasted just as good as a chili that had simmered for hours (or maybe that was just my late-night taste buds being indiscriminate)!
Smoky Chorizo Chili
1 link chorizo sausage (about 3/4 to 1 lb)
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic (optional depending on how lazy you want to be- your chorizo should have some garlic flavor already)
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
1 14-oz can black beans or pinto beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels or small can of corn, drained
1 7-oz can chipotles in adobo
Directions: Squeeze the chorizo out of its casing and fry in a large heavy skillet (I like cast-iron) over medium heat, breaking up the chunks as it cooks. Meanwhile, dice the onion and mince the garlic. Add these to the chorizo, frying and stirring until the onions soften. While those are cooking, rinse and drain the beans, open the tomatoes. Remove the chipotles from their sauce and chop them up*. By this time, the onions should be cooked. Dump the beans, tomatoes, corn and chipotles into the pan and let everything simmer for 5-10 minutes to heat through. I ate this plain with corn chips, but a dollop of sour cream or even yogurt is always nice with chili and helps cool the spiciness. Plantain chips are a nice change of pace for a garnish as well. You can salt to taste if needed, but if your tomatoes are salted you probably won’t find it necessary.
*For the chipotles in adobo, you have some options. If you want it quite spicy, you can just use the whole can, sauce and all (chop up the chilies first though). I deseeded the chiles prior to chopping them, and froze the remaining adobo sauce for a future use. I’d say the result was “medium” heat. If you wanted it less spicy, just use a couple chiles instead of the whole can, and freeze the remainder.