Yes, indeed. It’s quite simple to prepare an entirely delicious meal that’s sophisticated enough to serve company, but that requires virtually no planning. After a quick stop at the market to pick up fresh ingredients, you can sit down to a lovely meal in less than 30 minutes, rejuvenated just by the appetizing sight of it.
Think of this meal as a three-part composition: fish, chicken, or beef that you either saute, poach, or broil; a vegetable that you grill or steam; and starch that you bake or boil.
Following are recipes and step-by-step plans for three simple, delicious meals. Each meal serves four. Once you try the basics, it’ll be a snap to dream up your delightful compositions.
To avoid surprises, always be sure to read through the entire set of instructions before you begin. Equip your kitchen with a timer; make a note of the approximate cooking times for each part of the meal, and start cooking. You’ll find that this little bit of planning makes it possible to bring everything together correctly.
Sauteed Salmon With Butter-Lemon Sauce
1. Prepare the broiler for the vegetables. Remove the top of your in-oven broiling pan, cover it with foil, and brush with olive oil using a pastry brush. (You can also use a shallow broiling pan.) Preheat broiler, leaving container out for the time being.
2. Clean and trim the vegetables. For the squash and eggplant, slice in half lengthwise (or in 1/2-inch slices if you can only find extra-large plants). With the tip of a knife, score the cut surface with a diagonal grid pattern. Place on aluminum foil cut side up, brush lightly with oil, and sprinkle with dried rosemary or thyme. (Release the flavor of the herbs by crushing with a mortar and pestle or between your palms.) Slice endive in half, brush with oil, and place on foil, cut side up. Set aside.
2. Start the rice. Bring 2 cups water to boil with one teaspoon salt and slowly add the rice. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes (check once to be sure that rice is at an even simmer). The water should be absorbed and the rice soft. Fluff with a fork. Add butter (optional) and season with salt and pepper. (Makes three cups.)
3. After the rice has begun to cook, put the vegetables in the well-heated broiler. They will take 15 minutes to brown nicely. Depending on broiler setting and rack’s distance from the flame, they could be charred to cinders in 15 minutes.
4. While the rice and vegetables are cooking, prepare the salmon. Brush the skin with oil so it won’t stick. When you’ve got about ten minutes to go on the rice and vegetables, melt two tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the fillets skin side down. Cook without turning 6 to 10 minutes, depending on thickness and how well done you want the fish. If the salmon is thick and remains too rare in the center, cover the pan for a few minutes to hasten the cooking.
5. After you’ve started the salmon, prepare the butter-lemon sauce. Heat 4 tablespoons each butter and olive oil, lemon juice, and the capers until the butter melts. If you’re watching your fat intake and wish to avoid butter and oil, a squeeze of lemon and some capers will do very well.
6. Remove the salmon from the pan to the plate. The skin will be dark and crisp (and delicious). Pour a bit of sauce over each portion and have extra sauce at the ready. Place some rice and an assortment of grilled vegetables on each plate and serve.
Grilled Chicken With Tomato-Olive Salsa Leafy Greens (Spinach, Collards, or Kale) Boiled Potatoes
1. Wash tomatoes and herbs, pit olives and set aside.
2. Wash potatoes, scrubbing away any dirt but leaving the skin intact. Set aside.
3. Wash greens well. Trim off stems, chop roughly or break into pieces (spinach is beautiful as is). Put into a pan with water clinging to the leaves (add a little extra water for collards or kale). Set aside.
4. Preheat the broiler. Wash and dry chicken breasts thoroughly, and trim off excess fat. Place on an oiled piece of aluminum foil in a broiling pan or on a broiling rack. Brush lightly with olive oil and broil for approximately 20 minutes, until cooked through but not dry, turning once. To grill a whole chicken: Ask your butcher to butterfly it so that it is split up the back and lies flat. Heat the broiler. Lay the chicken on a broiling pan or a rack, skin side up, and broil 15 minutes. Turn over and cook another 15 minutes. Remove to a platter and cut up.
5. After you start the chicken, place whole potatoes in a saucepan with salted water to cover. Bring to a boil, covered. Reduce heat. Gently boil for about 20 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a knife (watch that they don’t get mushy). Drain well and toss with a little butter, salt, and pepper.
6. If you’re cooking spinach, set it over moderate heat when you’ve got a few minutes left on the chicken and potatoes. For collards or kale, start vegetables sooner (the more desperate the vegetable, the longer the cooking time). Cover and cook over moderate heat until wilted, about 3 minutes for spinach and about 20 minutes for collards or kale. Check after the first hour or so that the water has not evaporated, and add a little as needed. You may have to adjust the heat. When the greens are done, drain well in a colander or sieve, pressing the water out with the back of a wooden spoon. Dress the greens with melted butter or olive oil and fresh lemon juice or a simple splash of vinegar.
7. While the chicken and potatoes (and heartier vegetables) are cooking, finish preparing the tomato-olive salsa. This sauce is particularly useful in the summer when tomatoes are ripe and sweet. (It can also be arranged ahead of and will keep for two days in the refrigerator. Bring to room temperature before serving.) Chop tomatoes and olives; place in a bowl. Add parsley, basil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper. Toss. Place a bit of salsa on or next to each piece of chicken. Arrange some potatoes and leafy greens on each plate and serve.
Roast Potatoes With Rosemary
For those who like an occasional steak, there’s nothing simpler to prepare. A filet is a special treat – it costs a little more, but it’s worth it on occasion. If you have a bit more time, you can also try a roast.
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash potatoes and scrub away any dirt. Cut into bite-size chunks. Place in a large baking dish, coat (but don’t drench) with olive oil, toss with rosemary and place in oven. Roast for 30 minutes or until nicely browned, stirring the potatoes once. This dish is always a hit, so have plenty for the potato eaters.
2. While vegetables are roasting, wash and peel carrots; dry with a paper towel. Cut across on a slight diagonal into slices about 3/8 inch thick. After the potatoes have been cooking for about 15 minutes, bring water to boil in the bottom of a steamer, place carrots in the steamer basket, and steam 8 to 10 minutes at medium-high heat.
3. After you start the carrots, melt a little butter in a pan over moderately high heat, and when the container is good and hot, saute the steak 3 to 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. It’s delicious plain, with mustard, or with any leftover brown sauce you have in the refrigerator, reheated and thinned with wine as needed. Arrange on plates with potatoes and carrots.
Roast Potatoes With Rosemary
If you want to cook a roast, you’ll need to plan on about an hour to prepare your meal. So when you’ve got a little more time, try this.
3-pound rump roast (will serve four generously)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Put the roast in a roasting pan, rub with cut garlic, and push a few garlic slices into the flesh. Place in oven.
2. Wash potatoes and scrub away any dirt. Cut into bite-size chunks. Place in a large baking dish, coat (don’t drench) with olive oil, and toss with rosemary. When the roast has been cooking for about 1/2 hour, put potatoes in the oven. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, or until nicely browned, stirring the vegetables once. This dish is always a hit, so have plenty for the potato eaters.
3. While potatoes are cooking, wash and peel carrots; dry with a paper towel. Cut across on a slight diagonal into slices about 3/8%u2033 thick. When the roast and potatoes have about 15 minutes to go, bring water to boil in the bottom of a steamer. Place carrots in steamer basket and steam 8 to 10 minutes at medium-high heat
4. Slice up the roast, apportion the vegetables, and serve.
Any of these meals can be finished off with a light dessert of refreshing sorbet and your favorite cookies. Another simple treat is a big bowl of sweet summer strawberries tossed with a splash of Grand Marnier or crème de cassis or a touch of cream.