Sunday, August 5, 2007

The problem with "quick" cooking

30 minute meals? Hah! Quick fix meals? Hrmph. Quicker, maybe. I don't know if you've noticed, but it's almost impossible to make a Rachael Ray meal in half an hour, even if you DID prep all the veggies when you came home from the market. Robin Miller has lots of good ideas for getting meals on the table quicker, but for the most part, it still takes more time than many of us have--especially if you're making more than a single dish. I don't know about you, but I want something on the plate besides steak or chicken. It's not that each dish, individually, couldn't be put together quickly, but you can only stir so many pots at one time, no?

What I am taking from Robin Miller, though, is some new thinking about putting things aside for later. Instead of leaving extra portions for "hope-overs" (as in, "I hope somebody eats that before it grows green fuzzy stuff,") I'm taking leftovers from the plate to the freezer. Today, I cooked brown rice pilaf and coconut rice, and put four 2-cup portioms of each in the freezer.

I did do something today that is certainly not the norm--I cooked lunch and dinner. Usually, it's every man for himself for all but one meal. However, I hadn't gotten to the Chicken Enchiladas with Refried Beans and Jack Cheese from Quick Fix Meals. This is the meal I've been planning to cook since Thursday. (Don't worry; it's been hours since we ate, and no signs of food poisoning yet.) Instead of using raw strips of chicken and sauteeing them as the recipe calls for, I diced two precooked chicken breasts (the leftover Unbelievable Chicken), mixed them with sauteed onions, garlic, and green chiles, then mixed in some refried beans, enchilada sauce, and cilantro. The mixture was folded into whole wheat tortillas, topped with a bit more sauce and some cheese, and popped into the toaster oven for only about 15 minutes to bake. I'll be honest--I didn't love these. However, they work. They're honest, straightforward food that is healthy and, truly, quick. The Husband asked for me to make two more for his lunch tomorrow, and I put enough filling in the freezer to make probably four more.

This brings me to an interesting point about Miller's recipes. I don't think she has any true concept of yield. I didn't have to make the recipe to know that an onion, 1 1/4 pounds of chicken, and an entire can of beans was too much filling for four 8-inch tortillas. I don't know where she comes up with some her numbers. I saw this again when I made the Red Potatoes with Capers, Tomatoes, and Onions for tonight's dinner. She called for 6 small red potatoes to make 4 servings. Um....not where I live. So, if you use her book, use her time estimates and yields as rough estimates, at best.
These potatoes were very good, and could become my favorites. To reach that culinary height, though, I need to make some changes and apply my own skills and knowledge when a recipe leaves out something I know to be important. When making a potato salad (which this is, no matter what the recipe is called), I usually cook the potatoes whole to keep them from absorbing too much cooking water and diluting the dressing. Likewise, I usually toss them back in the pot for a couple of minutes after draining, to be absolutely sure they are dried out adequately. Then, while they are still hot, I add the dressing. In this case, the piquant dressing was watered down significantly from the potatoes' residual moisture. My fault. I know better. Outside of that, though, I loved this. Capers really appeal to me for reasons I don't quite understand. In this case, they beautifully offset the ripe plum tomatoes, sweet red onion, and the classic red wine vinegar and olive oil. We ate this at room temperature, which was fine, but I think it would have really been a standout served warm, as well. It would have even benefitted from a bit of crisped pancetta or crumbled bacon.

I still had some steaks in the freezer from a large Costco package. They seemed to be just right for the Pan Seared Steaks with Garlic-Rosemary Glaze which I topped with Sauteed Wild Mushrooms. Both of these were quite good, although I don't usually pan-sear steaks. I will do it more often now, though, as it allowed me to make a pan sauce of vermouth, onion, garlic, and rosemary which cooked down to a flavorful, silky coating on the meat. The mushrooms weren't really that different from what I do without a recipe, but we love sauteed mushrooms on meat. The key, I think, is too cook the mushrooms by themselves until the moisture has cooked out and a brown crust begins to develop. Then, and only then, do you add wetter vegetables like onions, along with the recipe's salt. The recipe doesn't necessarily follow this order, but in this case, I honored my knowledge and did it right!


Erika said...

I keep meaning to try a whole "meal plan" from Robin Miller. Doing the main entree to begin with and then trying a few days of her planned-overs.

Maybe when it's more fallish and a little cooler outside.

Michelle said...

I think it's worth a try. Her recipes aren't always exciting, and the times she gives for prep, cooking, etc. are the ravings of an insane person, but there are a lot of basic quality ideas in there. I think an experienced cook can riff off of what's there to come up with something pretty good. I do agree, though, that lots of her stuff looks more like cold weather than hot, humid summer days.