9 recipes for when you have the stuff, but no time to fuss with it
This won’t be about fancy food. Nope, no time for that. The word of the day is expediency. About meals in a hurry. When you need to eat, when you have the stuff, but no time to fuss with it.
Unfussed meals are often the norm these days. The old order of mom-at-home all day making dinner for the rest of us long ago yielded in every way to the new rule of grab what you can, and pitch in to get it to the table. Or onto a lap, as, between bites, TVs and iPads pumping out news and/or nonsense.
All of this means there’s a lot of sameness to our menus. It has to be. No time for much else. The old favourite chicken breasts and all the rest keep popping up because we can do these meals with our eyes shut and in doing them, mostly on autopilot, more time is saved for whatever. Don’t need to spend a lot of time on prep.
What to eat? Think eggs. When it comes to quick, easy-to-prepare meals, surely the egg is an international hero. For breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anytime between, this perfect little piece of natural packaging is the start of any kind of meal-in-a-hurry magic.
Remember Fargo? What a movie! In the wee small hours, the phone rings, and very pregnant police officer Margie, in bed with husband Norm, answers the call to learn that out there in the snow, three people are dead.
“Oh my. Where?” she says. “Yah. Oh geez. Okay. Real good then. You can sleep hon, it’s early yet. Gotta go.” She begins to dress as Norm swings his legs out. “Ya gotta eat a breakfast, Marg. I’ll fix ya some eggs.”
I can’t remember if Margie actually got to eat, but ever-ready eggs were there. And less than 30 minutes later, loveable Margie was off to look for the blood-soaked bodies in the North Dakota snow — to see what “malfeasance” had shattered the winter quiet of her beloved Brainerd.
Not many of us get Margie-like calls, but in this crazy world, where we’re juggling jobs, commutes, kids and budgets, quick and easy meals are not necessarily what we always want, but more often than not, they are what happen.
Eggs? Why not for dinner? Sunny side up, over easy, scrambled, poached and boiled. When did they find their breakfast-only niche? Consider the perfection of an omelette, folded with cheese, seasoned with salsa, loaded in a perfect little envelope with shrimp. Served up with a salad, an omelette is, er, unbeatable. Quiche? Eggs again. Such quick and easy luxury.
Pasta? What a versatile invention this flour and egg mix was. Strings of spaghetti and vermicelli, ribbons of fettuccine and lasagna, tubes of macaroni. Butterflies of farfalle. A creative cornucopia of magical mouldings, that go on and on. Sure they are all just ordinary, boring flour, but drop any one of them into a pot of heavily salted boiling water, cook ‘til al dente, pair with meat, mushrooms, tomatoes or a garlic-laced sauce — just suggestions — and pasta is the making of meals in minutes that is waaay more exciting than mere mac and cheese.
How about salads? For crunch, taste and goodness, they’re addictive. Hail the Caesar! How can torn, tossed romaine, egg yolks, oil, bread, parmesan, lemon juice, anchovy fillets and not much else taste so good? Salads are a fast meal, again, and delicious. Power to the lettuce leaf, the sliced tomato and all other things that make salads a speed-meal option.
Seafood? A fresh-caught fillet flashed in the pan, a shiny trout from your favourite ‘monger. Again, those bountiful baby shrimp — forgive me if I go a bit off recipe — tossed in with your Caesar.
All of these basics for creative types like you can make meals happen in less than half an hour. If you want soups, stews, savoury pies and other dishes that need to linger longer? In my kitchen, meals in a hurry that need time to roast, bake, boil and simmer are often those that are made ahead, prepared as exotically as you wish on a weekend or whenever. Then cooked, portion packed, labelled and frozen. When you’re ready, and in a hurry, preheat the oven to 400˚F and in less than 30 minutes, your masterpiece will be ready to serve, tasting as great as when you made it.
Meals in a hurry? It is a very rare occasion that I’m trapped into buying boxed stuff in the supermarket freezer. The colours and styling of the packaging will tempt you, but what’s inside will universally disappoint. Make a sandwich or sizzle a stir fry. Start from scratch with an egg or two, a head of lettuce, a breast of chicken, a handful of spaghetti, something shiny from the sea. Sauce it up, season it up and plate it for the hungry hordes.
2 tbsp water
Salt and pepper, to taste
Grated cheese or other filling, if you wish
Whisk the eggs, water, salt and pepper together. Spray a non-stick skillet with a cooking spray. Heat over medium heat and pour in the egg mixture.
As the mix sets around the edges, gently push the cooked portions toward the centre of the pan. Tilt and rotate to allow uncooked mix to flow into the empty spaces.
When the mixture is almost set, cover half of the omelette with grated cheddar. Fold the other side onto the cheese, wait for a minute, then slide your omelette triumph onto a warmed plate.
10 large shrimps
1 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp peanut oil
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tsp baking powder
Dash of pepper
1 cup water
Oil for frying
Shell prawns, slice lengthwise into halves, remove vein, wash in warm, salted water, drain and dry, place into bowl, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp salt, mix well. Mix egg, flour, cornstarch, salt, pepper, baking powder, oil and water. Beat to a smooth batter and set aside.
Heat deep-fry oil to 365˚F. Dip shrimps one at a time into batter, deep-fry until golden brown (about 5 to 6 minutes); serve hot. Dip into lemon juice or plum sauce and hot mustard.
mr. brown’s trout triton
Show my friend Louie a babbling brook, and he will magically produce a fishing rod, flick the line a few times and catch a fish. Guys like Louie have it in their DNA to do this again and again, while the rest of us head for the supermarket. Mind you, the seafood sections these days are a sight to see. Lots of bright and shining variety, and a catch for a quick meal. Louie sent these notes, not saying who Mr. Brown was or is. Nor was triton defined, although my dictionary says it’s a mollusk that has a large aperture that lives in tropical and subtropical seas. Hmm? “First you poach a large trout in water to which vinegar and lemon juice have been added. Then take off the meat from the bone and lay it out in fillets to cool in the fridge. Next you melt some butter in a pan, adding nutmeg, a pinch of cinnamon and parsley. Pour this mixture over the cold fillets so the butter sets round the fillets. Eat it cold with salad. Delicious!” Prepare this a day ahead.
I was in a restaurant in Hollywood a few years back, and my host said it was where the Caesar salad was born. Really? I said. I got the same claim to fame at a likely-looking spot in San Diego. At the time, I had no reason to doubt either story, and Google had yet to be born, so I kept on believing both, and making hundreds of quick and delicious Caesar salads. My beliefs have stood, even though any number of sources make it pretty clear that in 1924, it was Italian-American restaurateur Caesar Cardini who tossed things together in Tijuana, Mexico, to make a salad meal that, in all of its acceptable variables, has kept us satisfied and smiling ever since.
3/4 cup croutons
1 coddled egg
6 anchovy fillets
1-2 tsp garlic, finely chopped
1 anchovy fillet, mashed
Pinch of coarse salt
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 drops Worcestershire sauce
6 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp grated Parmesan
1 head Romaine lettuce
Warm the egg to room temperature. Pour boiling water around the egg and let stand for one minute. Run cold water until the egg can be handled.
Whisk together the garlic, anchovy and salt until blended. Whisk in lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce. Whisk in the egg until the mixture is thick.
Drizzle in the olive oil as you whisk the mixture. When well combined, whisk in 2 tbsp of the Parmesan cheese.
In a large wooden bowl, add 1/3 of the dressing and toss until the croutons are well coated. Add the romaine and remaining dressing, and toss.
Sprinkle each serving with more Parmesan and coarsely ground pepper. Do all of this at the table. It’s impressive and easy.
Match: I’d say crack open a crisp, cold lager with this one.
Delightfully-ebullient friend Caren McSherry is the founder-owner of Vancouver’s Gourmet Warehouse, as fine a kitchen supply store as you’ll find anywhere. You’ll love it. Dodging down one of her over-the-top aisles, I told Caren about my “quick and easy” assignment, and asked if she might have a couple of recipes. This was the first. You will note how well the Asian marinade marries with he salmon. And the wasabi potatoes? An extra kick, and you’ll prepare it again and again. You’re not looking for St. Patrick’s Day green, simply a snappy seasoning. Wasabi is available as a powder, or as a squeeze-able paste.
600 g wild salmon fillet, skinned
2 tbsp grapeseed oil
2 tbsp roasted sesame oil
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 large cloves garlic minced
1 heaping tbsp chili paste
1 tbsp yuzu vinegar or freshly squeezed lime juice
Place all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Skin the salmon and slice into 6 portions. Place the salmon in a shallow pan, lay the salmon in the marinade, let it rest for 20 minutes then turn. (This can be marinated overnight for maximum flavour.)
Heat a non-stick pan to medium high heat. Place the salmon in the hot pan, sear for about 2 minutes on each side or until it is done the way you like it.
Remove and place on a bed of veggie stir-fry or on a mound of wasabi mashed potatoes.
Match: A light Beaujolais will tease the marinade out from the salmon.
southwest chicken with warm tortilla wedges
Another one from generous Caren. Perfectly southwest, a bit spicy, rather rustic. Keep this handy for outdoor entertaining. Roasted fresh corn on the cob makes all the difference and as always, tout est en place to keep things moving and yourself organized.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced (a heaping cup)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large red peppers, seeded and diced
2-3 cobs of corn, roasted and kernels removed
1 can black turtle beans, drained and rinsed
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
3 tbsp hot chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro
1 cup fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 fresh limes, cut into wedges
1 package 8-inch flour tortillas
Sour cream and salsa, as sides
Heat the oven to 250˚F, wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven to warm through.
Heat the oil in a non-stick sauté pan. When the oil is hot, add the onion and 2 of the garlic cloves. Cook for about 5 minutes or until soft.
Add the red peppers and cook over medium heat until soft. Stir in the roasted corn. Transfer this mixture to a bowl and set aside.
In the same pan, heat 3 tbsp olive oil, add the 2 remaining garlic cloves and the cubed chicken. Stir and maintain the heat on medium high until the chicken is cooked through and browned.
Add the chili, cumin and drained black beans. Stir in the reserved corn mixture taste for seasoning.
Add the chopped fresh cilantro and parsley. Stir and turn out onto a serving platter. Cut the warm tortillas into wedges and serve alongside.
gabrielle’s thai coconut soup
Gabrielle is the daughter of a dear friend, now in Montreal. While this soup tastes even better on the second day, you can add it easily to your evening meal. Ditch the lemongrass at some stage. It’s like wood, but the flavour is one of a kind.
1 cup chicken breast, cut-up
1 can coconut cream (400 ml)
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup mushrooms, sliced
1 fresh tomato, sliced
4 kaffir lime leaves
2 stalks lemongrass, sliced
1 chunk galangal or ginger, sliced
2 tbsp fish sauce
Juice from 1 lime
4 fresh chili peppers
Heat chicken broth in large saucepan to boil. Add chicken, galangal (or ginger), lime leaves and lemongrass, bring broth to boil and cook until chicken is cooked.
Add coconut cream, bring to boil. Add mushrooms and tomato, bring to boil. Add fish sauce, lime juice and chili. Serve hot as is, or over rice.
Match: Your go-to may be beer again but for this quick and easy meal, open a bottle of New Zealand Sauv Blanc.
porcini dusted skirt steak
Serves 6 to 8
Another one to make ahead, either for a day or to keep in the freezer after it’s been cooked. Thaw and heat for a quick dinner. Thank you again, Caren.
1/2 cup porcini powder
1/2 tsp chili paste (optional)
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
Good grinding of pepper
3 lb skirt steak
Mix the 5 ingredients together to form a paste.
Rub the paste over the meat and let it sit for at least an hour. At this stage, plastic wrap and freeze.
On the day of your dinner, thaw the meat, heat the grill to high, sear the meat and then cook to desired temp. 130˚F is medium rare for beef.
Remove, let it sit for 5 to 8 minutes to rest. Serve with your choice of vegetable(s).
honeyed carrots with sweet potatoes
The faces of Canada are changing, and so is the food. There’s a very distinctive taste to the food of the Middle East. Cumin, coriander and more. This isn’t a main, but a combo of two vegetables to brighten your meal. My source was one of the great Australian Women’s Weekly series that cover the world so well.
4 medium carrots
2 small sweet potatoes
50 g melted butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cumin seed
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Cut carrots into thick chunks, and sweet potatoes into thick slices. Pop the carrots and potatoes into boiling water and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Drain.
Combine butter, oil, cumin seeds and honey in a bowl and mix well. Place vegetables on a wire rack over a baking dish. Brush with some butter mixture.
Bake uncovered in a hot oven about 20 minutes or until tender, brushing with the remaining butter mixture throughout cooking. Serve sprinkled with a favourite main, sprinkled with parsley.