Super Fast

Make Ahead: Spicy Shrimp and Mint Pasta

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Not to get off topic, but I was very moved recently by two events: the death of Adam (MCA) Yauch, of the Beastie Boys, and the news that Warren Buffet, the famed investor, has prostate cancer. It suddenly seemed to me that nothing can protect me, not fame nor talent nor wealth. Time is limited, and it’s up to us to make the most of it.

Good food is one way to enjoy each moment, but making that good food takes time, and time is always at a premium for a working parent. I’ve long been trying to figure out how to deal with this—how to have good food and still hold down a job, get the kids to school, help with their homework, etc, etc, etc.

My latest solution, and I’m sure it’s not original but I’m happy to have hit on it, is to do as much of the work as possible ahead of time. On Friday, for example, I wanted to make an old favorite, Roman Shrimp. It’s a wonderful dish, a bit spicy and unexpectedly refreshing because it’s made with mint. The sauce has a deep richness because it’s made by browning the garlic. Typically, this is a big no-no, but in this case it is a move that gives the sauce a distinct flavor.

Before I went to work on Friday morning, I sliced the garlic, and browned it with two chili peppers. I chopped the tomatoes and added them to the pan and cooked it for few minutes. Then I turned everything off and let it sit on the stovetop all day (I took out the chili peppers). When I came home from work, it was ready for me to finish. I spent fifteen minutes on it in the morning.

Later that night (I had to work late, so it was even better than I had anticipated that I had started the sauce), all I had to was cook it down a bit (which I did while I boiled water and made pasta) and add the shrimp and fresh mint. A particularly delightful dinner was ready in a matter of minutes.

Spicy Tomato Sauce with Shrimp with Garlic and Fresh Mint a.k.a. Roman Shrimp 

  •     1-2 chili pepper(s)
  •     6-8 cloves garlic, peeled and cut in half and then sliced
  •     1 28-oz. can peeled plum tomatoes, diced
  •     1/2 to 1 lb. peeled medium shrimp, sliced lengthwise into two pieces
  •     1/2 cup or more of fresh mint, chopped
  •     Spaghetti or other pasta of choice.

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the pasta.

In a large saucepot, heat olive oil and then add the garlic and the chili pepper. Cook the garlic until it is brown. This gives the sauce an intense, dark note.

Add the tomatoes and reduce.

Start to cook the pasta.

When the pasta is cooked, stir the shrimp into the tomato sauce.

Cook the sauce until the shrimp curl into spirals and are cooked through.

Add the mint to the sauce and serve.

Note: It is important to slice the shrimp lengthwise into two pieces before cooking. This accomplishes two things: it cause them to twist up into neat shapes while they cook, and it allows them to cook even faster than if they were whole, and we all know how important that is!


Super Speedy Spinach-Sausage Pasta with Truffles

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The more my children age, the more I realize that we are in a race against time. Soon, they will be teenagers, then young adults, then, perhaps, parents themselves, and I’ll be in once place and one place only, that place that Tolstoy alluded to in his story “How Much Land Does a Man Need?” (the answer, of course, is six feet).

And if the race isn’t big, it’s small—the race against low blood sugar and getting the kids in bed. The race to eek out some leisure time between work and going to sleep. The race to get food on the table.

I recently picked up a new book, “Culinary Intelligence: The Art of Eating Healthy (And Really Well)” by Peter Kaminsky. I got to know Kaminsky when I put together my book, “Man with a Pan: Culinary Adventures of Fathers who Cook for their Families,” which came out last Father’s Day. Kaminsky was one many contributors, including Mark Bittman, Jim Harrison, Stephen King, and Mario Batali, who talked about what it takes to keep their wives and children well fed. I haven’t had a chance to read “Culinary Intelligence” yet, but I’m sure it’s full of good advice. The title of one of its chapters, “It Starts With the Ingredients,” sums up my approach to cooking.

I had the right things on hand tonight when I came home from work a tiny bit earlier than usual. I put a savory dinner on the table in fifteen minutes, which gave me enough just enough time to eat a meal with my children before they went to bed, and before they’re all grown up.

Here’s how I did it (Pinta took the pictures!)

Super Speedy Spinach-Sausage with Truffles


I diced some garlic.

Garlic_hand

I sliced some D’Artagnan chicken-truffle sausages and browned them gently in a large frying pan. As soon as they were brown, I took them out of the pan and added some olive oil and sautéed the garlic in the residue from the sausages, building a flavor base. I tossed some crushed red pepper in to the pan. (Pinta tried but couldn't capture these steps).

Then I added spinach. Prewashed is key for saving time.

Spinach

My next ingredient was pre-cooked (read left-over) spaghetti. (But if you wanted to make if fresh, it wouldn't cost you any time, just make boiling water your first step, and then it can cook while you chop the garlic, brown the sausages, etc).

Old_Pasta

 Then I combined everything.

Pasta_Sausage_Spin_Pan

And then I stirred it all about and grated some Parmesan over it.

Pasta_Pan_Hand

And voila, it was all done.

Two_plates_pasta

 


Speedy Weeknight Dinner: Salmon Broccoli Fried Rice

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In a perfect world, a married couple would communicate like an ace jazz band—fluidly, intuitively, and easily. In the kitchen, the husband might solo on the saxophone-stove and the wife might hold the beat chopping vegetables on the counter. In real life, trying to coordinate cooking time in the kitchen between two working spouses can sound less like Ornette Coleman and more like your twelve-year-old nephew falling down a set of stairs with his saxophone in his mouth. Ouch.

But sweet music can be made—it just takes some planning. The other night, I knew I was going to be home late. Santa Maria served the kids salmon and broccoli while I was still at work, and I asked her to cook some extra fish and vegetable, which I whipped into a savory dish of fried rice within minutes of coming in the door. Here’s how:

  • Cook a pot of rice ahead of time (it's always a good idea to have one one hand)
  • Do the same with a head of broccoli, cut into florets
  • And cook some salmon
  • Dice a small onion
  • Dice an inch or more of peeled fresh ginger
  • Dice a couple of cloves of garlic
  • Crack one or two eggs and beat slightly
  • Juice half a lemon

Brown the onion in a large frying pan with Canola or other vegetable oil.

Add the ginger and garlic, and sauté briefly.

Toss in the rice, salmon, and broccoli, and continue to stir.

Add the egg, stirring.

Add some soy sauce and the lemon, and you’re done when the egg is cooked. Garnish with fresh basil, if you happen to have some on hand.

I recently wrote about why it’s important to undercook fish. Cook it too long, and the oils in it can oxidize and cause a fishy flavor. Undercook it, and it will keep that fresh taste. Keep that in mind if you want to make a dish like this. It takes a light touch, just like making good music. 


Salmon Fried Rice with Broccoli

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One of my go-to meals around the house is a simple combination of salmon, rice, and broccoli. It’s a go-to meal for me, but Santa Maria tends to think of it as a go-away meal—she doesn’t like it.  She can’t argue with it though, because it’s perfectly healthy, and if one is hungry enough, perfectly tasty.

Still, I see her point, and for months, if not years, I’ve been trying to figure out a way to make the salmon taste better. I tried making sauces with ginger and rice wine, ginger and red wine, ginger and soy sauce, garlic and rice wine, garlic and red wine, garlic and soy sauce. Nothing ever worked, and more often than not I would have to throw the sauce in the garbage and give up.

Tonight, though, I nailed it. I was home late from work, and Santa Maria had already cooked a piece of salmon and steamed some broccoli. That morning, I had made a pot of rice, so that was ready, too.

I wasn’t really in the mood for cold salmon, cold broccoli, and cold rice, and I cast aside my past experiences, didn’t consider the failures that had graced the frying pan recently, and started thinking.

Fried rice with ginger and garlic came to mind. A chili pepper would be a nice touch. And a bit of egg could bind things together. The broccoli and the salmon, broken into pieces, would warm in the pan with the rice. As I cooked, it looked and smelled promising. I finished the dish with a splash of white-wine vinegar, and I knew I was on to something. It tasted just great, and I’m sure I’ll be making it again soon.

 

Fried Rice with Salmon and Broccoli

  • A few florets of broccoli, steamed
  • A quarter of half pound fillet of salmon, pan fried or steamed until cooked, crumbled into small pieces
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • A piece of ginger, about a half-inch long, peeled and minced
  • 1 chili pepper
  • A cup or so of rice, already cooked
  • An egg, slightly beaten
  • Canola, or other vegetable oil
  • White wine vinegar

In a large frying pan on high heat, sauté the minced garlic and ginger for a few minutes in the canola oil, until it is fragrant.

Add the rice and keep stirring with a spatula

Add the salmon and the broccoli

Add the egg, and keep stirring

Keep it on the heat until the egg is cooked

Finish with a splash of white-wine vinegar


Kale Salad SmackDown

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When both parents work, life gets a bit like tag-team wrestling. I was home last night at 7:25, and Santa Maria had the girls ready for bed. I kissed them goodnight and started to think about dinner for myself. Santa Maria put on some makeup and headed out to a work event.

Earlier in that afternoon, she had a craving for kale. The Park Slope Food Coop was out of lacinato kale, and only had purple-stem kale. Both are fairly similar, so she bought it. Taking it home, she discovered one key difference—she didn’t need to pull the stem out before making the Fly Sky High Kale Salad.  She liked this convenience a great deal.

Santa Maria left the kitchen and the rest of the house in perfect shape. More than perfect, actually. She had grated the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, cut half a lemon, and toasted some pine nuts for me. All I needed to do was wash the kale, chop it, and start cooking.

I wanted more than a salad for dinner, though, so I added a few things to the dish. Taking a nod from Pinta, who had combined penne with her kale the first night she tasted it, I decided to pair it with a bit of leftover spaghetti. I didn’t think kale and pasta and cheese would satisfy me, so I added prosciutto  (and some garlic, for good measure).

I cooked the kale the same way as the salad, fried up the prosciutto and chopped it, and warmed the pasta in the microwave. I tossed everything in with the kale when it was finished, gave it a quick stir, and sat down to enjoy it.

Pinta had other ideas, though. She was having a hard time going to sleep, and she made a couple of curtain calls. Twice she called out. The first time I went to her, I leaned in close and asked her what she needed in a whisper (so as not to wake her sister). “You smell like Bolognese,” she said. I told her about my dinner. She said she needed water. The next time she called out, we made a trip down the hall to use the bathroom. On her way back to her room, I gave her a hug and she said, “You smell like prosciutto.” That girl was paying attention.

Software companies release beta versions of their product all the time, but I’m not going to stoop to that level. I don’t think this recipe is quite complete. I used too much of the ham (I was hungry, and I threw in four pieces), and the dish lacked balance. Though I was happy to have it while wrestling with my parenting duties, I'm going to have to go back to the mat on this one.


Gallery Opening (Almost) Over: Must Be Time to Boil Water

Last night was a “put a pot of boiling water on the minute you come in the door” kind of night. I had taken Nina and Pinta to the opening of “Eat/Art,” at the Atlantic Gallery, where I have three drawings on exhibition,  but my anxiety about a looming work deadline combined with Santa Maria’s exhaustion from a lack of sleep the night before and the children’s general state of fussiness because of lingering head colds (see lack of sleep, above), had me hightailing it out of the gallery well before the opening was over.

We got home and needed to eat. I had thought that I’d be out late, and consequently hadn’t really planned  anything. The pot of boiling water is a good anchor in times like that, and sure enough, I decided on a simple dish of pasta and jar sauce, supplemented by super-quick Hot Robot Spinach.

A friend of mine recently gave me a jar of Victoria marinara sauce, after reading in a post of mine about how  hard it is to find sugar-free commercial sauces. She said it was an old favorite of hers. I’d been holding onto it for a situation like the one last night. The sauce is clean and fresh tasting. It is quite delicious, and apparently made right here in Brooklyn. I'll be looking for more soon, I'm sure.


Quickest Indian Curry Dinner Imaginable

Sub

Santa Maria’s mother and father have returned safely to their own home, and I’m sure they are much more comfortable there than they were in our apartment. When we were crammed together, it felt as if we were stranded sailors on a Soviet-era Russian submarine that had been disabled and was running under emergency power.

After more than a week of sleeping on my daughters' floor (we gave Santa Maria's parents our bed; Santa Maria headed for the living-room couch, and I took the only room left), I was happy to be back in my own bed. Feeling somewhat better after some much needed rest, I was looking forward to trying out Marcella Hazan’s recipe for Clam Sauce with Tomatoes, but I didn’t get home in time yesterday to attempt it.

Instead, I turned to one of my super easy weeknight dinners built around a jar of Maya Kaimal's tamarind curry sauce (though I was too worn out to consider making the raita that makes this dinner whole lot better).

The clams, which I have on hand from an overly-optimistic foray to the Greenmarket this past Saturday, will have to wait (they’re patiently resting in the bottom of my refrigerator; nestled in a mesh strainer they should be okay for a few days).

Lightning Fast Indian Curry Dinner

  • 1 cup white basmati rice
  • 1 lb boneless chicken thighs
  • 1 jar of Maya Kaimal's tamarind curry sauce

Cook the rice by combining it with two cups of water in a small sauce pot with a good lid. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for about fifteen minutes, or until the water is gone.

While the rice is cooking, pour the sauce into a second sauce pot, and set on the stove over a medium flame.

Chop the chicken and add it to the sauce.

Heat until the chicken is cooked through, stirring occasionally. This should not take longer than the time it takes for the rice to cook.