Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A 30 Minute (or so) Meal

Since the 50s, the solution to making dinner fast has been to use pre-packaged meal helpers. Convenience foods have gotten so convenient, all one needs to do is tear open a package of frozen pasta, heat it in a skillet, and voila! Instant dinner. Wow - that's...lazy.

It doesn't really take all that long to make a good meal from scratch. Maybe 30 minutes. And you don't even need Rachael Ray to hold your hand if you have nifty ingredients in the fridge like...leftovers.

The other night, I tossed some bone-in skin-on chicken thighs in a bit of stock and set them to simmer. While that was cooking, I crushed up the leftover corncakes that were hanging out in the fridge. I sautéed some chopped onions and mushrooms with a bit of celery and added the cornbread crumbs, then drizzled in a bit of chicken stock to make some yummy dressing. Who needs a box of Stove Top Stuffing when it's so easy to make from scratch?

After the chicken had simmered for about 25 minutes, I drained the stock, yanked off the skin, and tossed in some minced onion, chopped ripe plum, seasonings, and a bit of half and half to make a sauce. While the sauce was thickening and reducing, asparagus went into the microwave for 3 minutes.

In about half an hour I had this:

The chicken was moist and tender, with a slightly spicy and fruity sauce, and the dressing was a nice change from the usual rice/noodles/mashed potatoes starch.

You could make things even more quickly by using boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cutting them into chunks or strips, and stir frying them in a bit of oil until lightly browned on the outside but still tender inside. Thin pork chops would work nicely too and only need 4 minutes or so per side.

Plum Sauce

1 large plum, diced (peach would work too - and the riper the fruit, the more quickly it will break down during cooking)
1 T minced onion
1 t sambal oelek (or sriracha, or a sprinkle of crushed red pepper flakes, or half a seeded, fresh jalapeno, anything to add a bit of spice)
1 t honey
1 t light soy
vegetable oil
half & half (optional)

Sauté the onion until lightly browned in a tiny bit of oil and a sprinkle of salt. Add plum, sambal, honey, and soy. Cook until plum breaks down and mixture seems "sauce-y." Add about a tablespoon of half & half if you want a creamy sauce, or omit it entirely.

Fast & Easy Dressing

leftover cornbread, crumbled
vegetable oil
salt and pepper

I eyeball everything, depending on how much bread I have to use. Dice some onion and celery, chop some mushrooms, and sauté them in a bit of oil and a pinch of salt. When the veg are soft, toss in the crumbled bread and stir well. While stirring, dribble in stock until dressing seems moist enough for your liking. Add salt and pepper to taste. Season with whatever you like - onion or garlic powder, paprika, thyme, chile powder - depending on what sort of flavor profile you're looking for. I also tossed some chopped walnuts in for crunch - it would also be good with other nuts, and chopped dried fruit (apple, cranberry, cherry, apricot, raisin) as well. The sky's the limit, really.

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