When you're pressed for time, the last thing most people want to do is cook. Coming home after a hard day at the office or dealing with kids and errands, the kitchen can seem unwelcoming.
You're hungry. It's dark outside. The house is cold. You open the freezer and stare at the frozen dinner you bought two months ago but never nuked. A can of chicken noodle soup in the pantry holds the promise of a warm meal but a quick read of the label tells you that the salt content is high enough to brine a Thanksgiving turkey.
Your mind tries to convince you that you aren't all that hungry. Maybe all you really want is a glass of wine and a bowl of dry cereal.
But you are hungry and you'd feel a lot better if you had a home cooked meal.
The truth is all it takes is a little planning and a couple of easy-to-make recipes and you'll actually look forward to coming home and cooking dinner. Ok, maybe that's a little Pollyannaish, but you get the idea.
First things first.
Stop at a farmers' market or the grocery store and buy a few essentials: fresh fruit (maybe a bunch of grapes, a pear, an apple or stone fruit), a leafy green (romaine or arugula), carrots, a basket of tomatoes (if they're still in season), a bunch of Italian parsley, spinach or kale, a clove of garlic, a couple of onions, some fresh fish or organic meat, and whatever else looks good to you.
When you get home at night, don't go straight into the kitchen.
Get out of your work clothes, wash your face, and slip into something comfy. Now when you go into the kitchen, you'll be re-energized. Give yourself 30 minutes to make dinner.
Here are two ideas to help get you started.
Arugula Salad with Avocado and Croutons
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 15 minutes
2 bunches farmers' market fresh arugula, washed, pat dried, stems removed
1 carrot, peeled, ends trimmed, cut into thin rounds
1 medium sized avocado, peeled, roughly chopped
1 scallion, washed, ends removed, green and white parts thinly sliced
1/4 cup croutons, preferably home made
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper
In a small saucepan, over a very low flame, slowly reduce the balsamic vinegar to 2 teaspoons. 5-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Tear the arugula into bite-sized pieces and put into the bottom of a salad bowl. Add the other vegetables and croutons. Toss well.
Drizzle with olive oil and the reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
Add 1/4 cup chopped tomatoes
Add 4 pieces crispy bacon, chopped
Add 1/4 pound grilled shrimp, roughly chopped
Add 1/4 cup fresh grapefruit sections, peeled
Fish with a Spanish Accent
Yield: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
2 pounds white fish--sole, swordfish, halibut, flounder--washed, deboned, skin removed
1 medium yellow onion or 4 shallots, washed, skins removed, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, skins removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup green or black Mediterranean olives, pitted, roughly chopped
1/2 cup Italian parsley
1/4 cup fresh corn kernels
1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
1 tablespoon capers
1/4 teaspoon Spanish paprika
Sea salt and pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
Cut the fish into squares roughly 2" by 2". Put half the olive oil on a plate, season with paprika, sea salt and pepper, dredge the pieces of fish in the oil and put aside.
In a large frying pan saute all the vegetables and herbs, except the tomatoes, with the remaining olive oil until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Because of the capers, additional salt may not be needed. Then, push them to one side of the pan to make room for the fish.
Pour the seasoned olive oil from the plate into the frying pan. Add the pieces of fish and saute until lightly browned on one side, about 5 minutes. Carefully turn over the pieces and spoon the saute over the top of the fish while the other side cooks.
Top with the chopped tomatoes and continue cooking another 4-5 minutes.
Serve hot with a salad or a side dish of sauteed vegetables--garlic spinach or steamed broccoli for example.
Substitute fresh cilantro for the Italian parsley
Add 1/4 teaspoon pepper flakes to the saute
Finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice
Inspired by California-Mediterranean cuisines and farmers markets, I cook healthy, flavorful dishes that are easy-to-prepare yet elegant. I write for Zester Daily, One for the Table, Luxury Travel Magazine, Huffington Post & New York Daily News. My latest Amazon eCookbook is 10 Delicious Holiday Recipes. My handcrafted chocolates are available at www.dchocolates.com. "Subscribe via email" and you'll get an email whenever I post a new recipe.
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