Saturday, May 4, 2013

Fast Food, Super Fast Food, and Lightening Fast Food

We have a few cookbooks geared toward speed, and it is a whole interesting sub-genre, as I mentioned in the last post. The sort that is called, “Ten Minute Meals” or the like generally make liberal use of ingredients we don’t really use here, like canned cream of mushroom soup or seasoning packets or the like. Not to be a snob or anything – we just can’t. But I would like to discuss the three books on our shelf that are specific to quick cooking.

If you look at my blog background, down in the left background, you’ll see the book, Twenty-Minute Menus by Marian Burros. I bought this a million and six years ago, one of my first cookbooks, when I was a single nurse working in an NICU. I had a co-worker and dear friend who brought inspiring meals to work every evening, and I wanted to learn to make something, but my priorities did not include being in the kitchen. Hence the selection of this title. It was a random selection, so I was fortunate in selecting a good author. There are a few recipes that are good from that book, but the one that became a family staple is her recipe for 5 Spice Chicken. Who doesn’t need a 5 Spice Chicken recipe, right? Oh. Vegetarians. OK, but the rest of us need one! Those of us who are paleo throw it on a bed of greens, everyone else on rice. Perfect vehicle for soooo many vegetables lightly steamed and stirred in. Leftovers very lunchable. This is a good example of fast food, too, and making the spice blend oneself allows for slight tweaking over the years until it becomes a unique family blend.

Twenty minutes? Well, yes, I suppose, but only after we’ve made it innumerable times. Which is the point with most of these books. I’m sure the author clocks in at twenty minutes, but these chefs have knife skills and often have high pressure kitchen experience behind them.

Which brings me to Exhibit B, Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Oliver's Meals in Minutes: A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast . If you know us in real life, please don’t bring up this cookbook title in Clara’s hearing :-). She really hates how the instructions are written in this cookbook. He has set up the instructions to get the complete meal to the table simultaneously, with everything warm that should be warm. So he might have you chop the onions and garlic for one dish, and set it to a low temperature, then tell you to combine ingredients for another dish and put them in the refrigerator, then come back to your first pan, add chicken broth, then chop something else. What drives The Patriarch batty about the instructions is the lack of actual times or frequently measurements. “Add oil to the pan and cook while you chop the broccoli” is not my husband’s friend. We all do get it. Especially after watching episodes of the show that went with the book on youtube, this is all meant to be enabling and instructive on how to throw together fresh, whole ingredients to make a quick meal.

Do I recommend the book anyway? Wholeheartedly, and both Clara and The Patriarch agree. Despite the fact that it annoys them both, they agree that the recipes really do produce some special food, and in a reasonable timeframe. Also, the flavors are at times a departure for us. Here is an example; we had this last Sunday. This is “Tasty Crusted Cod”, and the crust on the fish is an unusual (for us, anyway) combination: fennel seeds, garlic, anchovies, sun-dried tomatoes, Parmesan, fresh thyme, rosemary, and basil, and a fresh red chile. We all bit into it and went, “Hunh” but that slowly turned into, “This is something that tastes really different for fish”, into, “I really like this!” And quick? Yes, quick. Clara and The Patriarch served it with asparagus and some lovely quick-marinated, pan grilled shrimp:

The third book that needs mentioning is Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food: 350 Recipes Ready-to-Eat in 30 Minutes . I have discussed this book in the past. This one strikes me as a goalpost. He has a kitchen garden and his approach is the head-to-the-garden-and-the-market-and-cook-what-is-fresh approach that I think of as very European. It was much easier to cook this way when I lived in Germany – I could take a walk, not very long, through the village and pass the bakery, the butcher, and in summer the outdoor produce market, otherwise a small grocer. Here in suburbia, in our climate, this type of cooking is really only practical in, say, July through September. Still – very good recipes and we’ve never made a thing from it that we didn’t like.

Lightening food is what is grabbed on the way out the door if one has not planned ahead! I wanted to mention this, as we all have our standby grab food, but The Patriarch has found a nice one. His standby has been to take a tortilla and put Run Down, a Jamaican standby, into it. However, he has gone Paleo so tortillas are out. He does the bed of lettuce thing. The new grab food is courtesy of Costco, which now carries Bear & Wolf brand wild Alaskan salmon in a can, shown here from Amazon:

What a resource! We buy a big “Spring Mix” plastic tub, which is organic and pre-washed, and he grabs his glass container and throws in a bed of spring mix, a can of salmon, and a handful of seeds, primarily sunflower seeds. Voila! Lunch! In about 3 minutes :-).

There are so many variants of seeds and nuts and dried fruit that make good out-the-door grabs. My sister does something that I’ve stolen, which is to have a line of quart Ball jars each with a different type of seed or nut or dried fruit. Each person can grab a little bowl if they’ll be home and mix what they like, or a little bag when heading out the door.

I suppose this is sort of an endless topic, isn’t it? Just a few thoughts from the front :-)


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