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.
Sometimes I have this conversation with myself while pushing my cart down the frozen foods aisle at Trader Joe’s that goes something like this: “I should grab just a couple things for the nights I have rehearsal, or to take in my lunch…” “But if I buy this stuff, I’ll be less motivated to make food from scratch…” “But then I might just get lazy anyway and get carry-out, which is worse and more expensive…” I usually end up compromising and buying a couple items but promising myself I’ll only use them for “emergencies”. As much as I would love to be virtuous and cook fresh food every day, with a full time job as well as band practice and other obligations, it just ain’t gonna happen. However, when I do have to rely on shortcuts such as frozen food, I try to incorporate some other element to snazz it up a bit and make it my own.
Case in point: I recently discovered these really yummy vegetable patties from Trader Joe’s called Veggie Masala Burgers. The flavor of the patties is somewhat like vegetable samosa filling. They’re not really quite “veggie burgers” in my book; they don’t have the same texture (potatoes being the main ingredient, they’re too soft and mushy for my taste to eat between a bun). However, I do love to fry them up and then either eat them as an open-faced sandwich on well-toasted wheat bread, or cut them into small pieces and put them in a salad. My favorite veggies to go with this would be shredded carrot, cucumber, and cherry or grape tomatoes.
To drizzle over it all, I make a homemade salad dressing out of yogurt, olive oil, lemon, herbs and spices. This dressing is delicious AND has the added benefit of being healthier than most. I’m calling it Indian Goddess Dressing because the color reminds me of Green Goddess but the flavors are straight from India. I realize I may be leaving some people out in the cold here who don’t have a Trader Joe’s near them (or who aren’t into buying frozen prepared food), but the dressing alone is worth trying, especially to go on a green salad if you’re having other Indian food for supper.
Indian Goddess Dressing
This dressing takes its inspiration from the wonderful green cilantro chutney served at many Indian restaurants.
1/4 cup plain yogurt
2 tbs olive oil
1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (tender stems are ok too if you’re using the food processor)
optional if you have any: 5-10 mint leaves
optional: 1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp curry powder
generous pinch of coarse salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1 tbs lemon juice
a pinch of sugar
If you are using the garlic, smash it with the flat part of a knife and put it in the olive oil for 5-10 minutes to infuse its flavor while you’re getting the cilantro ready. Remove the garlic and discard before proceeding. (I do enjoy garlic, but I feel that leaving it in would overpower the more delicate flavor of the herbs here.)
Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until the herbs are reduced to flecks. Alternately, if you don’t have a processor, whisk together everything but the herbs in a bowl. Mince the herbs as finely as possible and stir them into the dressing. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary by adding more salt, sugar or lemon. Makes enough for two large dinner salads.
Simple Indian Dressing (for when you don’t have any fresh herbs in the house): Whisk together yogurt, oil, lemon juice and seasonings. You may want to slightly reduce the quantity of curry powder in this version.
As part of my cooking spree last weekend, I wanted to try a new recipe from one of my favorite cookbooks acquired in 2008, All About Braising. This cookbook is so great, I really need to do a review of it soon. I usually think of chicken as a little boring, to be honest, but this recipe, with cilantro, ginger and mint, sounded anything but dull. If that wasn’t enticing enough, the sauce includes rum and cream (but not so much as to make you feel your arteries are clogging at each bite).
I normally wouldn’t have thought to make root vegetables with this, but Marvin requested that I cook up a big pan of them so he could eat them all week. I tried to put some exotic spices on them to liven things up, but I didn’t want to overdo it so I used a light hand and in the end I think it was too light, as I couldn’t really taste much. But hey, in my book, roasted root vegetables taste pretty good au naturel. Besides, I got lots of pretty photos out of it:
Braised Chicken with Cilantro, Ginger & Mint (adapted from All About Braising) (printer-friendly version)
Molly Stevens, the author of the original recipe, called it “Goan Chicken”, because she was inspired by an article she read about Goa, a state in India that was formerly under Portuguese rule. This was her interpretation of the fusion between European and Asian influences. Her recipe calls for heavy cream, but I think that coconut cream could be substituted with a good result. If you do open a can of coconut cream for this, you can freeze the remainder. Serve the chicken with some basmati or jasmine rice to soak up the sauce.
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned or skin-on
1/3 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves and tender stems, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tbs finely minced or microplaned ginger
1 jalapeño or serrano chile, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbs vegetable or olive oil
2 tbs vegetable or olive oil
1/3 cup golden or amber rum (not dark)
3/4 cup chicken stock (low-sodium if canned)
3 tbs heavy cream or coconut cream
1/2 tsp brown sugar
freshly ground white or black pepper
1 scallion, finely sliced (white and green parts)
about 1 tbs each minced cilantro and mint leaves
Directions: If chicken thighs have skin, remove the skin and any large fat deposits. Discard or save for making schmaltz. Rinse chicken with cool water and pat dry with paper towels. Place all of the marinade ingredients in a sealable plastic bag along with the chicken, smooshing it around so that the marinade coats all the pieces. Refrigerate for 8-24 hours.
When ready to cook, remove the chicken from the bag and scrape off the herbs as best you can with a spatula, returning them to the bag. Don’t worry if some of the herbs refuse to dislodge themselves. Heat 2 tbs oil at medium-high heat in a skillet large enough to accomodate all the chicken. Sear the chicken, undisturbed, for about 4 minutes or until it gets nicely browned on the bottom. Turn with tongs and cook the other side for another 4 minutes or so. Transfer to a large plate. Pour off the excess fat from the skillet, leaving behind any browned bits.
Put the pan back on medium-high heat and add the rum, stirring to deglaze the pan. Add the reserved marinade. and boil until the rum is reduced to a tablespoon or two, about 3 minutes. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken pieces to the pan, along with any juices on the plate. Cover, reduce heat to low, and braise gently. Check afer a few minutes; if the liquid is simmering too violently, reduce the heat further. Braise for 15 minutes and then turn the chicken over and braise for another 15 minutes.
Remove chicken from the skillet and place on a platter or serving dish; cover loosely with foil. Increase the heat to medium-high to boil and reduce the cooking liquid, about 5 minutes. Add the cream and sugar and simmer a few more minutes, until the sauce coats the back of your spoon. Pour any accumulated juices from the platter back into the sauce, stir, and taste for salt, pepper and sugar, adding a pinch more if you feel it needs it. Spoon the sauce over the chicken pieces and garnish with the chopped mint, cilantro and scallion.