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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Weeknight Cooking

 I read an article today about cooking at home by my latest hero, Michael Ruhlman.  He makes the case for taking an hour at the end of the day to cook something and sit down to eat it, together.  His point is that "fast and easy" an idea pushed by popular food magazines, tv shows and the 'big food' industry is not really what the goal should be.  And I agree, to a point...

We all have those days.  I had one this week.  You know the ones where you're just simply tapped out by the end of the day?  Drained of energy, the thought of creating a meal is the furthest thing from your mind.  It's exhausting in and of itself.  Just the thinking part.  Familiar, right?  That's when "fast and easy" comes into play.  The way I try to get around the exhaustion is by picturing what I'd love to have someone (umm, that person will most likely be me...) put on a plate in front of me.  What am I hungry for?  What do I crave?  Just the act of picturing what I'd like to eat is usually enough to get me thinking...and then calculating what we have in the refrigerator or pantry...and then whether I should swing by the store for supplemental ingredients on the way home.  And before you know it, I've successfully avoided the dreaded Trader-Joe's-Frozen-Pizza trap.  No shame in that.  We've all been there.  But we can do better.

So, here's some 'fast-and-easy' and I'm not embarrassed to tell you about it, because I've had it in restaurants.  For those of you who live and die by the microwave.  Listen up.
You WILL NOT be needing Mr. Wave tonight.  Walk right past and put a small saucepan of water on the stove over medium heat and keep reading.

Lately, we seem to always have asparagus in the refrigerator.  (A sure sign that it's spring.)
You can too, if you store it the way I do.   I think I remember seeing this on an episode of  Julia Child years ago.  (I searched for it, but couldn't find it, so here's one that is just plain fun to watch.)  Depending on how large your bunch of asparagus is, use a small mixing bowl, or glass measuring cup and fill with an inch of water.  Prop up your asparagus in the water, like a bouquet of flowers and cover loosely with the plastic veggie bag you brought them home in.  They will keep like this, in your refrigerator, for at least a week.

This next part perhaps says more about us than I'm comfortable with, but what the heck.  We almost always have some prosciutto in the fridge...or, even better in my opinion, Serrano ham.  I can't explain the direct correlation between being a happy person and having prosciutto at the ready, but that's the eternal mystery of the joy of cured pork products.  They just bring Happy into the house.

So, now we have asparagus, some kind of ham deliciousness and the third component is even easier.  Eggs.  The ultimate super food.  I LOVE eggs.  Or, as Woody Allen says to Diane Keaton at some point in Annie Hall..."I luuuuurve you".   I mean 'them'.  Eggs.  You know what I mean...

These are your three main ingredients.  What you will do is roast the asparagus in a super hot oven (after tossing them with a teaspoon of olive oil and some salt and pepper) for a mere seven to eight minutes.  (If you'd like to get fancy, you may toss a small handful of chopped shallot over the asparagus in the remaining minute or two of roasting--I've talked about this before...the fragrance of roasted shallot is heavenly and totally worth keeping a couple shallots on hand at all times.)

In the meantime you will poach, or soft-boil an egg.  (My favorite methods are below.)

Open your package of ham or prosciutto and then plate things up in this order:
Asparagus.  Top with egg.  Drape the ham.  Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and then a sprinkle of balsamic or sherry or champagne vinegar.  (Don't mock me -- I am a vinegar freak and keep almost every variety of the stuff known to mankind on hand.)  Add a sprinkle salt and pepper, to taste.  Sometimes I even add a little dab of Dijon mustard, which then mixes into a little dressing almost when you break into the egg for that first bite.  Very tasty.

A nice crusty bread is delicious with this.  Or, if you're like me, you toast up the two-day old french loaf sitting on the counter and slather with butter.

Ta- dahhh.  YOU are now eating something delicious that did indeed only take but a few minutes to prepare, but is NOT a frozen pizza.  Just looking at this plate is enough to lift your spirits and those of your loved ones.

So, a definite yes to cooking at home... and if it's 'fast-and-easy' on occasion, that's okay by me.

Soft-Boiled Eggs 
adapted from David Tanis' A Platter of Figs
Heat a small pot of water over medium heat and when the water approaches a gentle simmer, slip the eggs carefully into the water.  Keep at just a bare simmer for 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, fill a medium mixing bowl with some ice cubes and cold water.  Remove the eggs and place into the bowl ice water.  Cool for a minute.  Take the eggs out and crack on all sides -- do not peel just yet -- before returning to the water for another couple minutes.  (This way the peel practically slides off.)  Quarter and place over your asparagus.

Poached Egg
(don't worry, it's not as tricky as you think)
Half fill a wide pan with about 4 inches of unsalted water.  Add a couple tablespoons of white vinegar, and bring to a boil.  Break an egg into a ramekin or small bowl and tip it gently into the pan at the point where the water is bubbling.  Repeat with your other eggs (but don't poach more than four at a time).  Poach for about 2 minutes.

Using a slotted spoon or small skimmer, lift out the first egg and press the outside edge lightly to check if it's cooked enough.

Poached eggs get those little extra swirls or strands of white on the outer edges so I usually put them on a plate and just trim the edges with some kitchen shears or a knife.  Voila.  The egg is ready to top your asparagus.
Bon Appetit Everyone!

1 comment:

Jane Kokernak said...

That looks delicious, Marcia. Perhaps I got the idea from you long ago, but my variation is to put a baked potato as a base, then the asparagus, and then a fried egg! I've never done the ham, or w/out potato. I'm going to try your elegant version. Plus, any excuse to have bread and butter lavishly is a good one.

Here's my easy meal, when I want to eat something I've cooked and not revert to take-out: cook some spaghetini. Meanwhile, open a can of good tuna, chop a little parsley, grate a little lemon peel, get out the capers and shredded parmesan. Right before you drain the cooked pasta, save 1/4 c. or so of pasta water. Put drained pasta, pasta water, and 2 T. butter back in the pot and swirl with the parsley, lemon peel, and flaked tuna. Plate, and sprinkle capers and shredded parm on top. Very pretty and tasty!