Gourmet in a Hurry

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December is always a crazy time of year, is it not? When I was working full-time I was busy wrapping up projects for the end of year then meeting with family, friends, acquaintances and friends-of-friends for the holiday. As a student I am scrambling with end of term tasks and exams while trying to keep my eyes peeled open and awake. And even now I am meeting up with more people in a week than I sometimes do in a whole month!

Needless to say, my dietary habits are not the healthiest nor regular these days. I try being frugal and eat a packed lunch or wait until I make food at home. Instead, in the past few weeks I indulged more often in purchased coffee because I was desperate for a caffeine pick me up, and paid money for sub par and overly priced sandwiches. Now that it is the weekend and my boyfriend and I can share meals together, I have made the point of preparing some quick and hearty dishes for plus one.

The recipes that follow are definitely far away from ramen noodles and Kraft dinner, and much more suitable for “adult” consumption — adult in that I feel less like a poor student without breaking the bank. They also use many common grocery items found in many Canadian households, and non-perishable products such as jarred olives and capers that you can have handy in your pantry for long periods. Using oven-proof skillets for both recipes cuts down one step and dishes to be washed, but you can also just transfer items from the frying pan to a baking dish. Both can also be made for the same meal since they both cook in the oven to be at 425°F and together uses a whole package of fresh basil so that none goes to waste.

NON-BASIC PASTA

Just about everyone has pasta in the pantry and might keep frozen peas, white mushrooms, white wine, and some cheese around the house. If not, these items are easy to get here in Montréal. The ingredients render the dish to seem basic, but the taste is not and my boyfriend is a big fan. Plus, the recipe is easily customizable and simple in its methods for neophytes. I find that combining goat cheese with basil and rosemary is fantastic, but you can use grated parmesan and other herb combinations to your taste. This is adapted from one of Francis Lam’s old recipes on Salon.com.

Serves 3-4.

Ingredients:

227 grams (8 oz.) white mushrooms, sliced

Olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, minced and divided into two halves

3 Tbsp butter (or olive oil)

Pinch of saffron (optional)

300 (10 oz.) grams pasta (I used fusilli; anything chunky like penne is fine)

250 (9 oz.) grams frozen peas

1/2 cup white wine

95 grams (3.3 ounces) goat cheese [about 43 grams (1.5 ounces) of grated Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano can also be used]

1/8 cup chopped fresh basil and rosemary, or to taste (thyme, mint or parsley in any combination can also be used)

Salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. Set 12 cups of heavily salted water to boil for the pasta. (By salting the water, you are flavouring the pasta while it cooks.) Add the pasta and cook until al dente — cooked but still a bit firm — and drain in a colander. Do not pour cold water over the pasta, but keep in the colander and away from heat.

3. Mix the sliced mushrooms with salt, pepper, and a bit of olive oil to coat.

4. In a large heat-proof skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. The pan should be large enough to fit all the mushrooms without them overlapping. When the oil shimmers, add the mushrooms and seat for a minute or two. Put the pan (or transfer the mushrooms to a lightly oiled baking pan) in the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes.

5. In another large skillet that is large enough to fit the mushrooms and the pasta, heat the butter at low heat until melted. Add half the minced garlic and slowly roast. Add a pinch of saffron, being careful not to brown the garlic. Take the pan off the heat once the garlic starts to darken in colour.

6. Take the mushrooms out of the oven, stir in the pan, and return back to the oven. Keep checking on the mushrooms every few minutes to toss in the pan until they are chewy.

7. Once the mushrooms are done, bring the pan of mushrooms back to the stove over high heat. Add the white wine and cook until almost all of the wine evaporates.

8. Just before the pasta is done, put the pan of garlic back on the burner but now on high heat. Add the frozen peas, and plenty of salt and pepper. Once the peas are cooked, add the goat cheese if using, allowing the cheese to melt and mix with the peas and garlic. Pour the mushroom mix, the other half of the minced garlic, and chopped herbs to the pan. Add the drained pasta to the pan and mix well. Add the parmesan if using instead of the goat cheese, and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve immediately.

SPANISH-SPEAKING CHICKEN

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I have a few Spanish chicken recipes, but most of them require quite a bit of elbow grease. This quick dish throws a Mexican element with the salsa which matches perfectly with the capers and olives that might otherwise make the chicken of the European kind. This recipe is adapted from one that ran in the New York Times Magazine earlier this year.

Serves 4.

Ingredients:

Salt and pepper

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, trimmed of excess fat

Olive oil

1/2 cup salsa

1/3 cup canned or fresh diced tomatoes

Juice from half a lemon

2 Tbsp capers

1/3 cup olives (I used green manzanilla olives)

Handful of fresh basil, chopped

Instructions:

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F. Lightly oil an oven-proof skillet (or baking pan) that is large enough to fit all four of the chicken breasts.

2. Clean the chicken breasts and pat dry with paper towels. Salt and peppers both sides.

3. Combine the lemon juice with the salsa, chopped tomatoes, capers, and olives.

4. Add the chicken to the pan, then pour the salsa mixture over the chicken.

5. Roast in the oven for 15 minutes, then check on the chicken by piercing the thickest part of the meat. If the chicken is still raw (different ovens vary in the actual temperature it generates), return pan to the oven and roast another 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked, juicy, and not dry.

6. Remove the cooked chicken and garnish with chopped basil.

Bon appétit!

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