Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cooking Tips! For Busy People Only.


Things have been busy.

I mean, I wrote two columns that I haven't had time to post.

(One on the uncertainty of young adulthood, the other on almsgiving.)

If I could, some days I would spend hours upon hours in the kitchen, making four-course meal that concluded with a chocolate soufflé, rasberries, and whipped cream.

Strawberry buttermilk muffins.  I complained the entire time that muffins are never worth it... and then, they were so delicious.

Someone else would clean up.

But that hasn't happened in quite a long while.  

Curried Eggplant, in early stages
And we still have to eat, right?

Red Pepper-Shrimp Pasta Sauce
So, today I will tell you a few things I do to get dinner on the table in a flash. 

Tomorrow (okay, not tomorrow, but sometime) I might tell you secrets for getting dinner together (very quickly) in the morning or early afternoon, so you don't have to worry about it any more (preview: dump a bunch of stuff that sounds good together in a crockpot or dutch oven  Leave it alone).

Disclaimer/helpful tip: I could never be a restaurant chef.  I rarely follow recipes exactly.  Instead I add or sub or take out depending on what's in my cupboards, what was on sale, what's in season, etc.  So let's start with that idea for fast dinners.

If you want an exact recipe, check out: sausage-pasta skillet, chickpea indian bowl, or frittata.

1. Frittatas.  Easier, fancier, and more forgiving then other egg dishes.

I start with vegetables I have on hand: maybe a little onion and mushrooms, or potatoes and spinach, or zucchini and yellow squash.  Perhaps, if you're someone other than me who thinks of broccoli or asparagus, I use those. 

Then I sauté them in an oven proof pan, until their soft, stirring occasionally.  Meanwhile, I crack about ten eggs in a large bowl, add a splash of milk, buttermilk, or yogurt and cheese if I have it.  I whisk those with a fork or whisk and add herbs or spices: dill, paprika, or rosemary are good choices.  When the vegetables are ready, I pour the egg mixture in the pan, give it a gentle stir, and stick it all in the oven for about fifteen minutes, until eggs are set.

Sometimes I wish a had a crumble of bacon or ham to add with the eggs, but I never do.

Great with a simple salad of spinach, dried cranberries, and sliced almonds topped with a simple vinaigrette.

2. Pasta sauce

This pretty similar, except I have to come up with a protein source as the base doesn't have built in protein.  I start with vegetables, sautéing onion and garlic first, then adding things like squash or bell peppers.  I add Italian herbs, like basil, rosemary, parsley and whatever protein I'm using (shrimp is nice because the pre-cooked shrimp is usually the same price as raw; ground beef or sausage is great, but you'll have to cook it in a separate pan, then add to the veggies).  Usually I supplement all of this with a can or two of diced tomatoes to make it saucier.  Serve over pasta of your choice.

3. Curry, with brown rice

Start the rice first.  If you are not good at cooking rice, follow package directions exactly and set a timer.  It will work, you just have to be more exact than with pasta.

I use curry paste and coconut milk, which I suppose they sell at somewhere like Sprout's, but generally I get from the asian market.  The sweet potatoes are the heft to this dish, so have quite a few.  All other veggies can be subbed.

Sauté onion, chopped sweet potatoes, and bell pepper in a large sautée pan (one that has depth; I don't know if this is the right term).  Put a lid on it if you're really cooking a lot of sweet potatoes or in a hurry.  When softening, add green beans, okra, tofu, or broccoli, if using. When they get soft, add curry paste, stir to coat.  Add coconut milk and protein source if not tofu (leftover chicken or shrimp are great; ground beef also works; you only need a little).  Voila! You're done.

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