Tag Archives: Quick

The Almost-as-Easy Way Out

This is not a sombrero.

This is not a sombrero.

It was a perfect night for takeout.

I’d had a very full day–morning in the office, followed by three rehearsals, each in a different town.  It was fun, but exhausting. I was tempted to call and ask what she might like me to pick up on the way home. But we had prepared for such a possibility. I’d grilled a skirt steak, some chicken sausages, and a pair of chicken breasts; there were plenty of things we could easily form into meals. After far too much time (and money) spent in restaurants during my summer show’s production week, we were not going to take the easy way out.

Speedy Semi-Moroccan Semi-Stew

Add 1 T oil to a non-stick skillet over medium heat.

Boil 2 cups water.

While the oil warms, do the chopping:
1/2 green pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1/2 tomato
1 pre-cooked chicken breast
A handful of salted peanuts
A handful of green beans

Obviously it would be easy–and maybe even prudent–to double all these quantities, but I’d grilled some vegetables on Sunday night to go with the sausages, and taken some thick slices out of a tomato for steak sandwiches; these  amounts were what was on hand.

Use 1 cup of the water to soak 2/3 cup whole-wheat couscous. (Adjust these quantities as necessary according to package directions.)

Use the other cup of water to reconstitute a handful of raisins and 4 or 5 roughly chopped dried apricots.

Sauté the onion and pepper, then add the tomato and beans.

Add the chicken, fruit, and 1/2 t Marrakesh spice blend. (It looked and smelled to me like chili powder, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, and salt.)

When the chicken is warmed, add a handful of baby spinach, and half of the remaining fruit-soaking liquid.  When the spinach is wilted a bit and the liquid is reduced a little, remove the skillet from heat.

Fluff the couscous with a fork. Add a little butter if you’re feeling frisky. Pack the couscous into measuring cups, ramekins, or even cookie cutters, and turn out the  molded grain into the center of 2 shallow bowls.

Spoon semi-stew around the couscous. Top with the crushed peanuts. Spoon any remaining liquid over the couscous.

Serves 2, who will probably wish you’d doubled the quantities to have leftovers for lunch.

I’d walked in the door at 9:35 PM. Dinner was on the table at 10. Not the easy way out, perhaps, but the almost-as-easy. Probably the healthier, too.

She put down her spoon. “You did take a picture, didn’t you?”

I think that was her way of saying dinner was all right.

IMG_0083

Rice, Twice

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“I’d kind of like fried chicken,” she said.

Since I had no time machine with which to go back 24 hours to put some chicken in buttermilk, any fried chicken I could offer would be second-best, and second-best would not do. We were on a late-evening train home; dinner needed to be quick, tasty, and more nutritious than a pint of ice cream and two spoons.

“What I’d really like is rice with Thai peanut sauce.”

She’d had the last of some Thai take-out for breakfast on Sunday and had really enjoyed it. “Okay, then,” I said.

Immediately she backpedaled, I guess thinking I was going to drive around looking for a Thai place that was still open–a fool’s errand in the suburbs on a Monday night.

“Well, that wouldn’t take 20 minutes,” I said, having sorted through what I imagined what other than peanut butter I might need. She asked what I meant. “It takes 20 minutes to make rice.  I can come up with the sauce in less time than that.”

“You know how to make Thai peanut sauce?” she said, as if I’d been holding out on her all these years.

“No, but I can improvise. Find me a recipe.”

She Googled. We didn’t have the exact ingredient list of any of them, but I could get pretty close.

By the time she’d changed out of work clothes, rice was in one pot, oatmeal for future breakfasts was in another, the cherries I’d bought from a fruit cart were washed and draining in a colander, and the sauce was coming together in a big measuring cup.

The timer beeped.  I turned off the stove, pitted a few of the cherries, and offered her the sauce to taste. It needed another few drops of hot sauce–easier to add more than to take some out!–and a little more lime. Easy adjustments to make. The rice was ready to fluff, bowl, sauce and serve.

Thai-ish Peanut Sauce

1/2 cup peanut butter
1 T hot water
2 t lime juice
1 t hot sauce (sriracha preferred, but if it’s 10:30 PM in the suburbs, Tabasco will do)
1 t powdered ginger (fresh would be better, but not that much better; use less if you have fresh)
1 t soy sauce
1 T cream (or, more authentically, coconut milk)
1/2 t honey
1/2 t parsley, chopped

Stir all together. Add a little more hot water if necessary to help thin and warm the sauce. Serve over rice or noodles, with vegetables or protein as desired, topped with a sprinkling of sesame seeds. Serves 2.

I had bowl of Rice Krispies, topped with a little granola and some wonderful pitted cherries. I liked the rice-and-sauce, but we didn’t have much rice–I’m sure I had forgotten to put it on the shopping list–and I wanted something a little lighter anyway.

That’s not true, in fact. We had plenty of rice, but most of it was brown. “It is a perfectly interesting grain,” she said of the brown variety, but it isn’t rice. “That’s funny,” I said, “when I have the white stuff, I think the same thing.” The case of White v. Brown may be taken up another day–or maybe it won’t. Perhaps, as in Creamy v. Crunchy, the Court will throw out the case and tell the participants that they must learn to coexist. If there is Thai Peanut Sauce, the peace will be easily won.

Still, after dropping her at the train this morning I swung by the market. IMG_0068

Duck Duck Improvise

We didn’t have long for dinner between train arrival and when we needed to leave to get to the theatre.  Grabbing sandwiches at a drive-through would have been perfectly justified, but I just didn’t want to do it.  There will be enough days coming when that really has to happen.  I stopped at the market to get half a pound of shrimp, which would take no time at all to steam (and in that no-time-at-all, I could mix ketchup, horseradish, and lemon juice to make better cocktail sauce than we’d find on any shelf). As for what else to serve, I figured I’d find something between the entrance and the fish counter.

The frozen section has a new line of international foods. A box of spring rolls presented itself.  These seemed worth a try. I’d much rather have made spring rolls, but this was a corner I was willing to cut. Cabbage, carrot, bean sprout–the vegetable course was covered.

I didn’t think about the appropriate condiments for the rolls, though. They weren’t packaged with duck sauce and hot mustard–which is just as well, considering the packaged stuff probably would have been full of ethylene this and glycol that.  She looked up a duck sauce recipe for me.

Apricot preserves, orange marmalade, fresh ginger…it was a festival of things I’d like to say were in our fridge, but they weren’t.

But we weren’t bereft.

A-Few-Days-Before-Spring Roll Sauce
2 tbsp ginger marmalade, warmed in a microwave for 30 seconds or so.
Stir in
2 tsp soy sauce
2 tsp orange juice, fresh-squeezed if you have it.
1 tsp Dijon mustard. This terrific mustard is the best I know, but whatever you have.
Sauce will thicken a little as it cools.

The result was not duck sauce, but something that went perfectly well with the spring rolls. It was a little like mixing duck sauce and hot mustard, which is what I would have done anyway. The shrimp probably would have been good dipped in the faux-duck, too.

We ate well, stowed the leftovers, started the dishwasher, and were on our way to a lovely production of a sweet, funny, romantic musical at a theatre built from converted barn. We love New York theatre, but there is something to be said for being able to have dinner at home and still make curtain. Especially when dinner was this good.

Very Meta

We didn’t have dinner at the Country House last night, but we did have dinner near the Country House.  Or, rather, near The Country House.

I finished teaching and walked downtown; she finished at the office and walked north; we met in the middle for the fall’s first “school night” trip to the theatre.

Theatre-date dinners require some strategizing.  When a show has an 8 PM curtain, there’s time for a relaxed meal before; an intermissionless play with a 7 PM curtain means it won’t be too late for dinner after; but a full-length play starting at 7 leaves just enough time to grab something nearby.

A respectable pizza-and-sandwich shop awaited us at the corner of 47th and 8th. There were two stools at the counter by the window from which we could people-watch while eating. (After she took a photo of our dinner, she realized she hadn’t been mindful of the passers-by. “That could have been Alec Baldwin!” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.)

My pepperoni-spinach-and-onion slice was remarkably tasty, a little like getting a salad along with the pizza.  She went with the cheese-only variety; a purist.  Thin but pliable NYC-style crust, hot and quick. It wasn’t the most luxurious meal we’ve ever had, but it was just right.

photo 2

Dinner, near…

THE COUNTRY HOUSE

…THE COUNTRY HOUSE

(The Country House  is a new play about a theatrical family–actors and a playwright-to-be–and contains lots of literary references, as well as a “reading” of a new play.  Since last night was only the second preview, it wouldn’t be fair to discuss the performance in detail.  The play is very self-referential.  But then, so is writing about it in a blog about dinner.)