Cooking and the Lack of Time

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It’s not easy to cook on a weeknight, particularly when cooking for two. The tough part is in not doing the same thing over and over again. In my previous life of cooking just for me, a work night dinner tended to be noodles or leftover rice thrown together with stone soup (AKA whatever’s hanging around in the fridge). With two of us, I realise that DC may not appreciate having random bits of strange soup every time I cook. So I had to think of something different from my default dishes.

One night, I had some leftover tinned sardines in olive oil. Enough to make a pasta for one, but not enough for two. After a little rummage in the larder, I realised that we had plenty of Thai curry spice paste packets. For some reason, only the ladies fingers in the organic section called out to me and this odd sambal dish emerged. It was rich and spicy, reminiscent of the soupy gravy of Penang laksa condensed into a thick sauce and served piled high on blanched ladies fingers. This is so easy it doesn’t need a proper recipe: just stirfry in the olive oil from the sardine tin some chopped shallots, the Thai curry spice paste and some chopped chilli for more fire; then add the flaked sardines and fry till you get a smooth paste. Pile on top of the blanched vegetables and squeeze on some lime juice to taste.

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I put together a quick stirfry of cabbage and mushroom with ginger and miso sauce, and that became my second dish. All I needed to do was to combine that with reheated leftovers and rice I’d already started cooking and we were all set.

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Kitchen Sink Frittata

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I ran out of fresh vegetables one day and was too lazy to venture out for more. As usual, it was time to raid the freezer and find something fairly healthy for lunch. The freezer yielded my usual supply of chopped spinach, petit pois, minced shallots, minced garlic and bacon, and I also found some frozen (!) red chillis.  I had some spare eggs and always keep milk in the fridge, so I was pretty much set. There were parmesan cheese and brined green peppercorns in the fridge too, so that I also tossed in. As I put back the peppercorns, I noticed a bottle of anchovies lurking in one of the compartments, so no prizes for guessing what went in next. DC commented that it was a surprise he didn’t break his teeth nibbling on the kitchen sink.

This is a very useful recipe for coming up with something very delicious and fresh-looking and tasting without putting in too much of an effort. It’s also a bit like fried rice or pizza in that it uses up leftovers. Toss whatever that seems vaguely yummy in it and it should turn out fine. Other things I’d add if I had it would include boiled potato slices, peppers, cheese cubes, tomato, courgettes. Well, pretty much any vegetable really. Go easier on the meat, but if you’re anything like me I doubt you’ll have much leftover meat hanging around anyway. In my recipe I give approximate quantities, just feel free to make it up as you go along. Just make sure that there’s enough egg to barely cover the filling and you’re cool.

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Ingredients:

1 tbsp butter
2 rashers bacon, chopped
4 finely chopped garlic cloves
8 finely chopped shallots
cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed
a few tbsp petit pois, thawed
1 large red chilli, chopped coarsely
2 anchovies, coarsely chopped
1 generous tsp green peppercorns in brine
3 eggs
a good splash of milk (about 2 egg shells full)
good grating of parmesan cheese

Method:

  1. Melt the butter in a non-stick frying pan and brown the bacon till the fat is rendered. Add the garlic and shallot and saute gently till just fragrant. Don’t allow it to colour.
  2. Add in the vegetables, anchovies and green peppercorns and saute till the mixture is hot. Set aside in a bowl.
  3. In another large bowl, beat the milk and eggs together, then pour it onto the hot pan. Quickly spoon the hot spinach mixture over and spread gently. Stir very gently along the top of the frittata so that the egg and filling will mix. Turn the heat to low and cook till the middle is almost set, 5-10 minutes. Now’s a good time to preheat the broiler.
  4. When the top looks almost set, i.e. still wobbly but not liquid, transfer to the broiler and cook till set. Grate over a very generous layer of parmesan and return to the broiler. Cook till cheese is melted and brown. Remove from heat.
  5. Very carefully loosen the sides of the frittata with a spatula and invert onto a plate. Use kitchen gloves. Cut into wedges and serve with fresh brown bread.

Makes 8 generous wedges.

Chicken Poached in White Wine

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What happens when you have too much leftover white wine or (horrors!) some of your white wine goes off? Easy, if you can drink it, cook with it. I had a bottle go off from neglect: it sat in my store room for far too long. My bad. The good thing about it was that I got to make a very decadent yet simple meal out of it. It’s also quite healthy depending on your sides.

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Poached chicken really goes places when you do it in white wine. The floral and mineral flavours penetrate the chicken well and there’s little need for heavy seasoning or very much fat to help it along. If you really want to gild the lily, try adding herbs like the classic tarragon (fresh or dry both work well) to the poaching liquid.

I use chicken breast here because it is the sweetest tasting cut and the gentle poaching keeps it tender. If you have chicken fillets, use those instead, cutting down the cooking time accordingly. The results will be even more tender than chicken breast.

For the sides, you can go the healthy route by having it with apple, cabbage and caraway salad and plain rice, or you could make like me and have buttered rice (melt a knob of butter into hot rice) and grilled chicken skin (from the same piece of chicken) with the salad.

Ingredients:

½ bottle dry white wine
1 sprig tarragon, optional
2 chicken breast portions

Method:

  1. Combine the wine and tarragon in a saucepan, then lower in the chicken breast.
  2. Simmer on very low heat till small bubbles start to form. Do not allow to boil. Constantly skim foam off the surface.
  3. Keep simmering for 5 minutes.
  4. Take the pan off the heat and leave to steep for 15 minutes.
  5. Heat about one cup of poaching liquid in a frying pan. Boil till reduced to about one-fourth of its original volume. You should get a thin sauce at this point. Season to taste. If you like the sauce a bit thicker, either stir in a knob of butter or a half a teaspoon of cornstarch mixed with water (or both).
  6. Slice chicken and drizzle with the sauce.

Serves 2.

The poaching liquid freezes very well for future poaching sessions. You can also add it to your next batch of chicken soup or stock for added oomph.