At the rate things are going, there may not be many warm, dry days of summer this year, which means we have to make the most of every moment. And in the food department, that means eating well without spending hours in the kitchen. As the beloved English food writer Nigel Slater puts it, “sometimes we cook purely for the pleasure of it, understanding the provenance of our ingredients, choosing them with great care, thoughtfully taking them on the journey from shop to plate.” Other times, he says, “we just want to eat.”
Well, here’s the perfect recipe for those times when we just want to eat, and fast. This marmalade chicken, from Mr. Slater’s 2013 cookbook Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food, will have you fed and happy in no time. He slathers drumsticks – I added some bone-in, skin-on thighs – with a mixture of marmalade and grainy mustard and pops them into a hot oven for about half an hour. What comes out are lovely, burnished chicken pieces, glazed, juicy and succulent, with just the right balance of bitter-sweet marmalade and tangy mustard. Yum.
We like to cook here at Kitchen on Fourth, but like everyone else I know, we aren’t inclined to spend every day slaving over a hot stove. There are (so many) times when a quick and nutritious meal is a godsend. So when my friends in Nova Scotia shared this simple recipe for trout, which they discovered on the Epicurious website, I headed straight for the fish store and in short time was serving up a delicious dinner.
The glaze for this trout is a perfect balance of salty, sweet and tart, and it comes together in minutes. Most, if not all, of the ingredients are probably already in your pantry. It can be poured over the fish on foil, which folds into a handy packet, or it can be poured over the fish in a snugly-fitting baking pan, which is how I prepared it. The recipe makes enough glaze for a little over 2 pounds of fish and is easily halved or doubled, leaving you free to customize by choosing trout or salmon in whatever form you wish. You will just use as much glaze as you need.
This is a tricky time of year. Some days are so balmy you don’t need a coat, the snow evaporates before your very eyes, and you feel giddy at the thought of spring. Other days it’s back to the deep freeze, the long johns, and those heavy, awful boots. Yup, last week I was re-potting house plants on my back deck while the cat basked, belly-up, in the sun. This week, with daytime highs averaging -10 degrees C, I’ve lost interest in doing much of anything, especially outdoors. Such is life at the end of a long winter in Canada.
But even as the mood swings from euphoric to resigned, I have managed to cook, since mucking around in the kitchen usually results in something good to eat, and we need to eat no matter what the season. And this Parmesan Roast Chicken with Cauliflower & Thyme, from Simple, the latest cookbook by British food writer Diana Henry, is just the thing to pull us up from the doldrums while we wait for the skating rink on the driveway to melt.
The sky is grey, the wind is raw and damp, and it’s cold. Winter seems suddenly upon us. But with a little imagination, and the right food, you can transport yourself to a place far away, where the air is warm and fragrant, and soft breezes blow through the coconut palms.
That’s where this Coconut Fish Curry, from Meera Sodha’s Made in India, comes in. Straight out of Kerala, on the southwest coast of India, it is a delicate and luxurious dish, full of onions, ginger, garlic and a touch of heat, brightened with fresh tomato, and mellowed with rich and creamy coconut milk. Served with basmati rice, a sprinkling of cilantro, and a squirt of lime, it will make you forget that it snowed last night.
It’s one of the many rituals of summer, like going for ice cream on a warm evening, or eating watermelon at a cottage. When bundles of local basil start appearing, it’s time to gather up the pine nuts, some new garlic and Parmigiano, and your best olive oil, and whizz it all together into a sauce. It’s a simple but wonderful thing.
Classic pesto originated in Liguria, the northern coastal region of Italy that includes the city of Genoa. It is traditionally prepared using a mortar and pestle, as the pounding is believed to bring out the full flavour of the basil. (The word “pesto” comes from the Italian verb pestare, to grind or crush.) It is also traditionally tossed with trenette, a long slender noodle, as well as cooked string beans and sliced small potatoes. This recipe, tweaked slightly from The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, makes use of a food processor, which suits me just fine. And although her book includes the full recipe for Trenette al Pesto (with pasta, beans and potatoes), I’m giving you just the pesto recipe today.
As you will know if you like Asian food, Chicken tikka masala is one of the most popular items on Indian restaurant menus, grilled chunks of meat that have been marinated in yogurt and spices, garlic and ginger, then baked in a clay oven (tandoor) and bathed in a creamy, spicy tomato sauce.
Chicken tikka, without the masala sauce, is another version of this dish, just the yogurt-marinated meat grilled or baked in the oven, if a tandoor isn’t available, and served with various chutneys. That is how Meera Sodha presents it in her book Made in India: Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen, and that is what I offer you today, with a few minor tweaks.
There’s something appealing about a meal in a bowl, everything contained in one space, relaxed, easy eating. Think of the Vietnamese dish pho – fragrant broth, rice noodles, vegetables and herbs. Or Korean bibimbap – sizzling rice with meat and assorted vegetables, chili pepper paste and a raw or fried egg served on top. But wait, there’s much, much more. I just got my hands on Lukas Volger’s new (vegetarian) cookbook, simply titled Bowl, and realize that when it comes to this kind of eating, the possibilities are endless.
I want to cook this entire collection but for starters settled on this Vegetarian Curry Laksa, laksa being a popular noodle dish sold at hawker stalls in Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Although there are different versions of laksa, it is traditionally built on a foundation of galangal, turmeric, lemongrass, dried shrimp and garlic blended to a paste, then enriched with creamy coconut milk, prawns, chicken, tofu “puffs” and noodles.
Volger builds plenty of flavour and body in this vegetarian version with his own Asian-style vegetable stock (see recipe) and the fragrant spices from the curry paste. He makes it colourful with green beans, shredded cabbage, sliced cherry tomatoes and bean sprouts, while a firm-boiled egg (see recipe) provides protein.
I used to think bacon was the worst thing you could eat, all that saturated animal fat clogging up the arteries, bringing on heart disease. Maybe it’s dawning on me that life is short, maybe it’s the recent thinking that saturated fat is not the killer we thought it was, but I’m eating bacon now and I don’t feel bad about it.
Indeed, there is increasing evidence that the anti-saturated fat campaign underway for so many decades hasn’t worked, that the low-fat, high carbohydrate diet we’ve been advised to follow has only led to soaring rates of obesity and diabetes, while heart disease has not declined. Meanwhile, recent studies have found that saturated fats found in meat and dairy products are not as bad for us as previously thought. One study, led by researchers at McMaster University and published last year in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), found that saturated fats are not linked to an increased risk of stroke, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease or death. The real culprits appear to be trans fats and refined carbohydrates, including sugar.
If some of us are suffering from a certain end-of-winter, when-will-it-ever-feel-like-spring malaise, our usual enthusiasm for cooking, or doing much of anything for that matter, might possibly be lacking. Day after day of cold and rain, snow still on the ground, and the promise of another polar vortex bearing down – in April, of all months – can get a person down. Let’s just get take-out, we say to ourselves, sinking back into the pillows with our book.
Well, here’s a simple and delicious pasta dish that should get us back into the kitchen. It’s called Spaghetti Collins and it comes from Pascal’s Manale restaurant in New Orleans, named after a friend of the owner. The recipe is included in Saveur: The New Classics Cookbook, put out by the editors of Saveur magazine. You can make it in no time and with only a few ingredients: six bunches of scallions; garlic; white wine; chicken or veal stock; olive oil; butter and Parmigiano-reggiano cheese. My only change to the recipe was to include chicken stock as an alternative to veal stock, since it’s probably easier to round up, and easy is what we’re looking for right about now.
I know busy people who spend Sunday afternoons in the kitchen making food to last well into the week. Stews, spaghetti sauce, soups, casseroles. This is the time for relaxed cooking, letting things simmer long and slow. Then come Monday or Tuesday night, after a long day at work, dinner is just a matter of heating things up, boiling some pasta or making a salad. Food is on the table in no time and you thank yourself for making the effort in advance.
When I take a long look at meals, I often cook a pot of beans. Not the sweet pork and beans of our youth, although they can be very good, but chick peas or black beans, brown pintos or white Great Northerns, soaked overnight, then simmered for an hour or two with some aromatics for flavour – a quartered onion, some chopped carrot and celery, a head of garlic. Once done, they can become a vital ingredient in a wholesome and fortifying soup, mashed into a pâté or spread, or thrown into a salad. You feel rich with a container of soft, creamy beans in the fridge.