Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The In-A-Pinch Meal

I was planning on making my Mexican meal of the week tonight when Wife called to tell me she's so sorry but her meeting was catered with Mexican food. Of course, she didn't find this out until after I'd gone shopping, so now I have to come up with dinner with the food in the house.

This happens all the time, but not her fault.

These days, I'm trying to use fresh food while still maintaining a budget. I found that I can get ground beef at just above the Costco price and in small quantities from the butcher counter at Jewel (the price fluctuates . . .) and at Strack and Van Til. So I bought some ground beef Friday for burgers on Saturday but ended up at Uncle Julio's Hacienda for lunch (soooo good.)

What to do with the ground beef?

So I was planning on making beef enchiladas tonight but that was foiled.

My next thought was meat lasagna. I looked up recipes on the Food Network website but they all required a couple of ingredients that I didn't have and a prep/cook time that wouldn't work.

The problem with having championship sleepers is that once I'm home from shopping, there's no going back. I'm not complaining, I'm just saying.

Well, I had also defrosted chicken for half the enchiladas. Marinaded, grilled chicken.

There were potatoes in the pantry that I've been neglecting. That would be the complex item on the menu - twice baked potatoes.

Finally, I'll steam some broccoli in the microwave and add a small side salad.

When cooking, remember to start with a clean kitchen. Then start with the items that have the longest cooking duration. In this case, the potatoes required the longest cook time. In a pinch, I do make baked potatoes in the microwave. And I've heard that the microwave is more energy efficient than the oven. Wash and pierce the potatoes and put them on the microwave-safe plate and into the box. My microwave has an automatic potato baking setting, but you can probably do around 8 minutes on high, adding 2-3 minutes for each additional potato. They're done when they're pierced with a fork without resistance.

Pound the breasts to an even thickness, around 1/4 inch, and marinade in balsamic vinaigrette (or dressing of your choice). When pounding chicken, I first rinse the chicken, then dry in paper towel. Having put a sheet of plastic wrap on the counter, place chicken with the smooth side up. Then another sheet of plastic wrap over the chicken. Easy cleanup, no salmonella. Use tongs for handling the chicken and the dirty plastic wrap. Chicken into a Ziploc bag. Pour marinade over till just covering chicken. Get as much air out of the bag as possible upon sealing, swish around to spread marinade, put into a plastic bowl to protect accidental leakage, and into the fridge.

Chop up lettuce, rinse and dry with a salad spinner, put into a bowl. Garnish with other veggies you like. Wife likes carrots, and I had a bag of baby carrots that I've been using slowly but surely. Combine in a salad bowl, cover with plastic wrap, into the fridge.

The potatoes were done in the microwave, tested for tenderness with a fork (should go in and out easily when pierced through the middle.) Cut lengthwise through the short side. Scoop the insides into a bowl, leaving a nice border to maintain the skin as a bowl. Today for 2 potatoes, I used about 1/4c caramelized onions chopped, 2-3T plain yogurt, 1T unsalted butter, 2T grated parmasiano reggiano, about 1/4t kosher salt, 1/4t black pepper (all measurements are estimated, as they were done by sight). Stir till smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste; add yogurt for a smoother texture. Fill the skins with the creamy potatoes. (I didn't do this, but you could probably use this trick to make the potatoes look fancy: make the potato mixture extra creamy, cool down, put into a baggie and cut off the tip to make like an icing dispenser to squeeze into the skins. Fancy!) Skins onto a broiler pan, cover loosely with foil, and let them sit. Considering the ingredients, I would be comfortable with their room-temp exposure for 60-90 minutes.

The chicken takes about 20 minutes total to cook. 5-10 minutes to preheat the GAS grill, 5-6 minutes on the front side, 4-5 minutes on the back side. Because you've pounded them, they'll cook evenly.

While the grill is heating, go to the oven and put the top oven grate to the second from the top slot and preheat the broiler, take the salad out of the fridge, and the frozen veggies out of the freezer. Put the veggies into your microwave steam dish and the remaining veggies from the bag back into the freezer. Toss the salad with dressing then divide onto plates or just divide the dry salad.

By this time, the grill will be ready. Adjust the heat from high to medium high. Put the chicken on, smooth side down, and close the lid. Go inside and put the potatoes on the broiler pan into the oven. Then set the table.

After flipping the chicken, turn on the microwave to steam the veggies. Check the potatoes. You want them golden, not burned! Check the chicken. Plate the salad.

After taking the chicken off the grill, allow the chicken to rest for five minutes before serving. Drain the veggies and plate. Plate the potato. Plate the chicken. Dinner time!

Keys to the In-A-Pinch Meal. Make sure things that take the longest time go first. This includes cooking time as well as marinading. If something will take 2 hours to marinade, you don't want to first put something in the oven that only takes an hour. Salad can be made any time that day. Marinading can be done overnight. If you do marinade overnight and you don't use the meat the next day, just pour out the marinade and put back into the same bag. Otherwise, you run the risk of over-marinading. In a pinch, being creative can be fun, but may not make sense. I could have (and probably should have) made baked potatoes. But they sure were yummy!