I have to admit, it bothered me to think that I would be giving up cooking elaborate dinners for my family in order to save time, energy and sanity. It was a close call between going back to school to get my masters in teaching or to train to become a chef. But as anyone who has worked in a kitchen knows, having a family with small children makes restaurant work painful. However, cooking is magical for me, time flows differently when I am in the kitchen, measuring, tasting…it makes your family gleam with delight when they drag in after a long school day only to breathe in the comforting aroma of home cooked delights. Friends are welcomed around a table full of fresh cooked meals. Everything that I love is put into my cooking. When my life is a mess and I am reminded that I know so very little about this life, I do know that if you throw flour, fresh herbs, baking soda, salt and some milk together and deep fry it in just the right way and your taste buds dance.
So, last weekend when the kids and I bounced happily into the library (well, they bounced, I sort of Quasimodo dragged in with Bubba the baby gorilla glued to my hip) I was determined to find some help in my quest to accomplish my 3rd resolution, make great, healthy, delicious, and quick meals for my family. This felt a bit daunting. Perusing through the cooking section of any library always reminds me of sifting through used cars at the local lot. There are a lot of lemons out there and you don’t find out until it’s too late. Most of them require a ton of detail and almost always a small fortune in parts. We currently live in the Mojave desert (no, I’m not kidding). There isn’t exactly a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s within reasonable distance so if I need Kefir Limes or Teleggio Cheese last minute, I better just simply be prepared to forget the meal altogether and dig out the pasta. Thankfully, the cooking section of our library turned out smaller than expected. There was of course the expeced books on meat, pasta, veggies, and fish. I quickly ran into Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and an army of Food Network mafioso. Then, just as I began glazing over and Bubba started pulling books off shelves, an unexpected blessing slipped into my fingers. Ainsley Harriott’s Gourmet Express caught my attention with the word express. This would imply quick, simple and easy. Interest peaked, I flipped through the pages with one hand while breaking apart apple cinnamon puffs and shoving them at Bubba with the other. His interest in the cooking aisle was waning quickly since I insisted he not gnaw on the books. The recipes appeared simple, it had small ingredient lists with cooking times ranging from 30 to 45 minutes. I could do this. I snapped up the book and did something I hadn’t done in years…I planned my week of dinners out and actually felt really good about it.
I started with the recipes that included items I had the most of in the house to keep my budget intact and dove into Monday with glee. Hot Crispy Cajun Chicken Sandwich and Roasted Tomato with Creme Fraiche, all I needed was fresh boneless chicken breast and some creme fraiche. Skipping off to the commissary with Bubba in tow, we discovered that all the plain, boneless chicken was gone. Of course, why would there be plain chicken?? This is a problem. I found Foster’s Chicken had a teriyaki chicken breast hidden behind a line of wings. Could I substitute? Well, if I expected to eat anything close to what I planned, substitution was going to be imperative. I found a coupon for .75 cents off the chicken (which turned the trip into a semi score, at least I wasn’t paying full price for the chicken I really didn’t want to begin with), and hurried home. The prep time for everything took about 15 minutes. Cooking was simple. Fry the chicken (which was already seasoned so I could skip that step), roast the soup ingredients, blend, sandwich, serve. My husband reported loving the food. The kids said they would definitely want to eat it again, and only one asked if she had to finish the soup. But to the recipes defense, she dislikes tomatoes immensely, so the mere fact that she ate half of it was a testament to it’s edibility. I looked around when I finished and noticed we were done eating before 7pm, a new thing for us. The dirty dish level was moderate, but only because I had to use a food processor and could not find my strainer and ended up using a steamer basket to very inefficiently strain the seeds and pulp from my soup. This was after trying my ricer and then my fryer screen. Cooking with Ainsley Harriott is going to make my life simpler, and regardless of my husband’s extreme dislike of Indian food, we will be eating every recipe in that book. Bubba may even get a blended version.
The finished teriyaki chicken sandwich with “monster” cheese and the roasted veggies pre-blend