Wednesday, July 05, 2017

How Bad Could it Be?

When I was a relatively new cook, I made Salade Niçoise for the first time. I think it took me about six hours, what with all the blanching, poaching, peeling, pitting, seeding, chopping, washing and whisking that the recipe called for. It was delicious, but I was a little stunned by how labor intensive it was. So, in the interests of science, the next week, I made the easiest possible version-- just to see how different it would be. I substituted canned tuna for poached salmon, iceberg lettuce for the mesclun mix, canned pitted black olives for the niçoise olives, and bottled dressing for homemade vinaigrette. It was easy, quick and cheap, and tasted like it too. There had to be a middle way. That canned tuna was a step too far, and homemade dressing is the best bang for the buck around.

In the years since then, I've continued my research (also known as "How bad could it be?"). There are some things that I have learned are worth the time and effort, and some things that are not.

Chicken thighs, being flavorful and fatty, can withstand all sorts of poor treatment. If you get the boneless skinless ones, they need no prep at all. Straight from the package to the crock pot with some curry paste and a can of coconut milk, they make a respectable chicken curry. Right onto the grill with no marinading or rubbing or other manhandling, they make a tasty Grilled Protein Item that can be applied however you like (salad, sandwich, pasta, taco, quesadilla).

Frozen broccoli can be dumped onto a cookie sheet and thrown right into a cold oven. Turn the oven to 400 degrees, and when you find yourself thinking, "Oh crap, I forgot about the broccoli!" it will likely be perfectly done, with some slightly crispy brown edges, and ready for a drizzle of olive oil and some salt and pepper. The same is true of green beans, according to one of my trusty sisters-in-law, but I haven't yet tried that one myself.

I've tried short cuts that haven't worked out, like dumping a bag of frozen berries into a puff-pastry-lined baking dish (too thick, too cold, too heavy, sad waste of both items), but generally my cooking has gotten simpler, faster, and better over time. How bad could it be?

When I make Salade Nicoise now, I use prepared white anchovies, pitted, jarred kalamatas, frozen haricots verts (blanched and cooled) and homemade vinaigrette. It's pretty easy, fairly quick, moderately cheap, and very delicious. Win.

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