Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Using What You Have

I hear a lot of people say things like "I don't have time to cook," and I completely understand that sentiment.  When I used to come home late from a night of service, the last thing I wanted to do was spend time in my kitchen.  The immediacy of my hunger was often either ignored or placated with a quick fix slice. 

Pretty soon I'll be headed back to my late-night life, which means some internal adjustments.  I'm pretty sure that I've found the answer to feeding oneself well and often and it isn't as hard as I'd once believed.  The key?  Keeping lots of food in the apartment.  

I know. It sounds ridiculous.  Actually, I used to avoid buying fresh produce because it often went bad before I had a chance to use it.  Read: I was too lazy to do anything with it, which is why it so often went bad.  Last night, I got home in the evening after a trip into the city.  I was starving and I didn't want to go to the grocery store.  I decided to improvise with whatever I had in my refrigerator.  

I had one frozen chicken breast, which I was able to defrost under hot water. 

I had one bunch of leftover asparagus. 

I had a whole Texas scallion.  

I had a persimmon.  

I had a cucumber. 

I had an open can of black olives. 

I had a shallot and lemon vinaigrette from the night before.  

I put the asparagus, sliced persimmon, Texas scallion, and chicken breast on a baking sheet.  Then I poured the vinaigrette over everything, mixed it with my hands, salted and peppered the mess, made sure nothing overlapped, and threw it in a 400 degree oven.  I chopped the cucumber and black olives and put them in a bowl and ate them with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  After six or seven minutes, I flipped the chicken, but left the veggies to turn scorched at the edges.  Not too long after that, I pulled the whole roasted mess out of the oven and tossed it into one very large bowl.  Ta da.  Dinner is served. 

If you surround yourself with foods that don't require much thought or preparation, you can make a delicious and fresh meal in less than half an hour.  People think too much about ingredients, or amounts, or the time it takes to chop an onion.  But if you're lazy and hungry, like I often am, you'll take the path of least resistance, chop the onion as coarsely as you can, toss everything with a thin layer of olive oil and leave it to its own devices in a very hot oven.  

Cooking is not brain surgery.  All you have to do to make yourself decent meals is care about ad understand your product, whether it be canned olives or an overripe persimmon.  Keep your fridge stocked and force yourself to use what you have.  Nothing is more satisfying than creating something out of nothing. 

By the way, those Texas scallions char really nicely, almost like the onion bits left at the bottom of a Sunday roast pan.  

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