A finicky guy's exploits in finding gustatory (and other) satisfaction in his kitchen, his neighborhood, and beyond.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

In which Michael comes out of hibernation

I seem to have reached that threshold — about 2 weeks — at which readers begin dropping hints that it's been perhaps too long since I last posted.  I am not proud to have to admit that I am enjoying being begged to return to the spotlight.  (Well, "asked" is perhaps a more accurate word, and the only spotlight I've been in recently was at my gym, where the lighting has been designed for maximum drama.  My fellow gym members are so jaded by the over-the-top environment that I'm sure nobody even bothered to glance in my direction as I performed yesterday's perfectly lit set of single-leg squats in front of the huge mirror, while Gaga belted out how she was born this way in the background.  She may have been born that way, but I have to work hard to achieve glorious glutes.)

Seriously, it warms my heart to discover that certain of you miss my posts enough to write in when I'm silent for a time.  But one of you (Mae) has outdone herself, not only expressing her concern over my busy schedule, but also leaving a detailed comment (scroll down to her April 27 comment) about quick-and-easy cooking that practically qualifies her as a guest blogger AND giving me, as a not-so-subtle kick in the pants, a suggestion for my next post.  So, out of gratitude for Mae's information and inspiration, I am going to take her suggestion and blog about quickies.

Not that kind of quickies.  Boy, you people always seem to have sex on the mind.  I am referring to quick MEALS that can be prepared in minutes when your schedule is as crazy as mine has been lately.

For you crackpots who are here only for the titillation factor, this picture should get your juices flowing.  The rest of us will focus on the juices bubbling in our crockpots.

So what have I been up to, that — as Mae correctly surmised — has kept me out of not only the blogosphere, but also the kitchen?  Happily, it's been mostly teaching.   Even if Mariah has not yet called me for lessons, it seems everyone else has.  My student load (what an awful word — I actually adore my students and do not consider them a burden at all) is pretty much maxed out right now.  As a new teacher, I was told by mentors that a time would come when my practice would become self-sustaining, and, after 8 years, I seemed to have reached this phase.  Between returning former students, referrals from current students, and new people who find me through my website/singing blog, I have been able to maintain a comfortable volume of teaching for a while now.  (But there'll always be room for you, Mariah!  Just get my contact info from your hubby Nick, who FORGOT TO READ IT ON THE AIR.  But who's bitter?)

Besides the expanded teaching schedule, I have been occupied with working out under the guidance of my new most excellent trainer, Tom, walking the dogs more now that the weather has gone seemingly overnight from frigid to sweltering, and just indulging my mysterious affinity for sitting around with a cup of tea and perhaps a crossword puzzle.
My trainer, Tom.  He's not actually this small or this blurry in real life, but this was the only pic my Google-stalking uncovered.  Tom is also a voice student of mine and my most promising link to the magical, pleathery land of the NYC Gay Men's Chorus.  BTW, I'm still offering those free voice lessons to dancers George and Jeffrey, if they're reading.....
Down to business!  Here are my top 10 suggestions for quick meals when you've got little time to spend in the kitchen.  (Frankly, Mae's "easy" plan for 3 days of "quick" meals sounds like my preparation for Thanksgiving.  If that's her solution for throwing something together in no time, I'll bet her house is a prime place to eat.  Imagine what she can come up with when she has plenty of time.....)

  1. Leftovers!  Of course, this option depends on your having had time to cook sometime in the (relatively recent) past and having had the wherewithal to freeze a portion or two.  I've been in my non-cooking mode for long enough now to have denuded my freezer of quick meals to reheat.  Having thawed the last container of leftover kitcheree, I am now down to the not-very-promising combination of coffee beans, fish stock, and ice cubes.  Iced cod-fee, anyone?
  2. Eggs.  What a perfect food.  They are delicious, filling, versatile, and inexpensive.  (We are addicted to Whole Foods organic eggs, finding them to have a buttery intensity of which we never tire.)  If you have even a couple of tablespoons of leftover ANYTHING — from veggies to meat to jam to herbs to cheese — you can throw it in and declare that you've made an omelet or, even better, a frittata.  Everyone will swoon, and think you a genius.  Especially if you roll the r when you say "frittata."
  3. Beans.  I have blogged about this topic so much that I will just refer you to just about every previous post.
  4. Tossed salads.  This is not necessarily a quick option, but at least it doesn't require any cooking, unless you want to add a hard-cooked egg.  With just a little diced or sliced cheese and/or meat, and an accompanying bread product, you can have a satisfying and healthy meal with little fuss.  Salads taste particularly good when the weather is hot; we eat them several times a week in the summer.
  5. Prepared foods from the store.  It's not like the old days, when shoppers were limited to terrible frozen pizzas and Hungry Man TV dinners.  Within blocks of our apartment, we have access to Whole Foods and the Garden of Eden, both offering an endless variety of ready-to-eat foods of high quality and tastiness.  We often pick up lunchable things like empanadas, sushi, soups, sandwiches, rotisserie chicken, Indian food from the buffet, and tres leches cake from the dessert bar (my achilles' heel).  Downside: plastic waste.
  6. Gnocchi.  I think I've gone on about my fondness for gnocchi before on this blog.  One of its greatest appeals is its ease of preparation.  It cooks up in 3 minutes, and can be simply and sufficiently dressed with just a drizzle of olive oil and some grated cheese.  Just last night, I went relatively complex and topped some WF gnocchi ($3.99!) with some sauteed diced fresh tomatoes into which I'd stirred some store-bought pesto.  A little grated cheese, a glass of wine, and — ecco! — a meal in 15 minutes.
  7. Irma.  This option is available only to those of you who also live on our floor of Building 2B.  Irma cooks elaborate meals for her husband and herself and frequently over-estimates the amount she will need to feed her small household.  We benefit from serendipitous bags left hanging on our doorknob, which often seem to arrive at just the time I'm wondering how I'm going to feed myself between lessons.  I'm not talking tuna casserole here; last week we got a big bowl of saffron-rich paella made with imported spanish rice and chorizo and containing lobster tails, sea scallops, scampi, mussels, chicken, and crab legs.  Irma doesn't stint.  (She also gave us our stove.)
  8. Cheese.  This rich foodstuff can turn what would otherwise constitute prison fare into a glamorous and delectable pique-nique.  I've "dined" happily upon a simple apple sliced and accompanied by pieces of cheese.  Cheese is also wonderful with bread and butter or with eggs (see #2).  Perhaps my favorite meal of all is an assortment of cheeses (at room temperature) served with a crusty baguette and some good quality butter, perhaps some charcutrie like pâté or salami, a bit of fruit, and a bottle of chilled sparkling wine.  Always feels like a holiday to me when that's the menu.
  9. PB&J.  I do not completely understand my passion for this humble American tradition.  A peanut butter sandwich — a glass of milk is a mandatory complement — never palls.  I could eat them every day, varying the type of J or even branching out to honey or maple syrup or (daring!) cheese.  We try to always have one "red" jam (strawberry, raspberry, grape) and one "yellow" jam (peach, apricot) on hand to accommodate whatever PB&J mood we happen to be in.  If I had to limit myself to one version of this classic, it would be peanut butter (always organic and containing only peanuts and salt) and strawberry preserves on a good white bread.  With milk.
  10. Seamlessweb.com.  This convenient web-based food delivery service has changed my life.  With a few clicks of my mouse, I can summon food from a huge number of local restaurants to my door within minutes.  You pay the bill — including delivery tip — with your credit card.  All your payment and contact and delivery information is stored so you have to type it in only once.  Perhaps it's too easy to use this system....I find myself resorting to it more and more frequently.  But what're you gonna do when you get a hankering after babaganoush or butter dosas or bahn mi after your 7:00 student departs?  Of course, it helps if your delivery region is New York City.  Downside: plastic waste.
OK, readers, now it's your turn.  Tell us how you put food on the table when you haven't got time to cook.  And please be quick about it; otherwise, it's seamlessweb for dinner tonight......again.


  1. The trick to cooking quickly is a well-stocked pantry (pasta, rice etc) plus fresh vegetables and meats in the fridge. Pasta plus tuna in olive oil plus tomatoes and herbs is an excellent summer salad - or fresh mozzarella, grilled chicken breast, tomato basil salad with a pesto vinaigrette. Another favorite Chez Hunting Creek is Baked Potato Soup, which makes excellent Baked Potato "vichysoise" in the summer.

  2. Yay!

    I also like a baked potato dinner, cheese, sour cream, diced green onion, maybe bacon bits. They take time to bake, but practically no prep time. Wash, stick in oven, help kids with homework, dinner!

    I also like apples with cheese or peanut butter. Bananas and peanut butter are a quick breakfast.

  3. This is my second attempt to respond. Blogger apparently felt I had no business responding to you and made it disappear. You will have to take my word for it that it was a masterpiece of writing unlikely to ever be surpassed in our lifetimes. Well, maybe not. Whatever.

    Anyway, Micheal it is good to have you back, I had resorted to having Peter nag for me. I have no shame.

    Anyway, back on topic. Quick meals. For me, quick meals aren't necessarily balanced meals, speed is what matters, I am useless when my blood sugar drops. Grilled tuna and cheddar cheese on homemade rye bread. Meat pie thrown in oven, with or without baked potato (added benefit-no pots). Pasta tossed with olive oil, butter, fresh garlic, freshly grated parmesan cheese, freshly ground pepper and salt, if I have some frozen shrimp in the freezer I may toss that in too. Wolfgang Puck's Tortilla Soup (the only canned soup I will touch). I usually have some homemade frozen meals in the freezer, one of our favorites is stuffed baked potatoes. Bake large potatoes until soft and the skin is a little hard. Cut taters in half, and scoop out the innards, leaving the shell intact. Mash potatoes with a combination of milk, cream, butter, sour cream (use whatever you have on hand), fresh chives, a little freshly grated parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Put the mashed potato mixture back into potatoes, I top with a little shredded cheddar cheese. At this point you can freeze them or put them back in oven to eat now. I freeze on cookie sheet until solid, then wrap individually in foil. I usually take them out the night before and thaw them in the fridge, but you don't have to, you can heat from frozen. Anyways either way, heat until the cheese is melted. Eat. In our house we eat these as an entree with a vegetable or salad, but they are great as a side dish. Enjoy.

  4. For a quick meal, DS and I split a box of Spongebob mac and cheese, DD gets cream cheese and crackers and DH orders hot wings from the local (only one int town) pizza place. Now do you see why I read your blog?

  5. Michael, well done on being so successful as a singing teacher. It was nice to read your new post after your busy period. If anyone is interested in a quick and easy vegetarian gluten free meal here is a recipe of something that I make quite often. Apart from the fresh greens the other ingredients can be stocked in the fridge or freezer for long periods until required. This is a quick soup: chop up garlic and ginger and stir fry in olive oil, add sliced shitake, oyster or other mushrooms, tofu (cubed/sliced-firm or soft) (the tofu can be replaced with prawns or left over roast chicken for readers that prefer meat) add water (enough for a soup) and cook for 20-30 minutes. A few minutes before eating add whatever leafy greens you have available. I use coriander leaves, asian greens, watercress or English spinach leaves. Add soy sauce (or tamari) and sliced chilli (or chilli sauce). Serve soup with steamed rice. To save cooking rice separately sometimes I just add a bit to the soup (be careful not to cook the rice too long or add too much because you will end up with congee!)

  6. Last year I stopped in NYC on my way from Nova Scotia (where my parents live) to Australia (where I live) and ate The Best Meal Ever. Cheese, pate, figs and bread from Dean and De Luca, eaten on a bench in Central Park. If I lived in NYC, would I actually cook? I do contemplate researching this question.

  7. I pre-fried onions. I chopped them up, sauteed them just a little and poured the oil and onions in a bottle.

    I also have an old school pressure cooker which speeds up my cooking in the high Afghan altitude (5,900 ft above sea level). The other day, I put a small capful of vinegar, chicken breast, pre-fried onions, garlic, turmeric, LOTS of dried coriander, salt and pepper in the pressure cooker and cooked for about 10-15 minutes. Then I put the mixture in a pan and seared the sides of the chicken (and added more coriander). I then served it with fresh Afghan bread. It was really quick and tasty.

  8. Also meant to add - glad to have you back!

  9. Thanks, saro — you were one of my main motivators to getting back on the blog!

    I have a couple of questions about your recipe: Do you pre-fry the onions to the point of brownness, or just until they soften? Then, how long can you keep them in the fridge? Finally, when you say "coriander," do you mean the leaves or the seed?

    I can't wait to try this approach to preparing chicken, although I don't have a pressure cooker.

    And I might have to get you to mail me some Afghan bread.

  10. Hi Michael,

    I was just coming on to harass you about a new post.

    I pre-fry the onions until they are translucent. I think I could fry them until brown but then couldn't use them in too many Afghan dishes. I've kept the onions for about a month. Maybe longer but I used them up by then.

    Ground coriander seeds but use the leaves for a garnish at the very end. I don't like to cook with cilantro b/c I think it makes the food a little bitter if cooked for too long.

    I bet you can use this approach in a slow cooker too.

    I am sure you can get Afghan bread in NY, (maybe in Queens?).

    There are also some really awesome afghan restaurants in your area. There is a good one in Manhattan and the BEST in Teaneck NY (called Teaneck Kabob - even the elders of my family liked it). My dad used to get his Afghan bread mailed to him in Georgia (from Texas!).

  11. Also, here's a really good blog about Afghan cooking. It's a joint venture (an Afghan-American woman and an American woman) so you don't get the random cooking measurements that I get from my mom.

    "A little, I said a little. I don't know if a little is a pinch! How little are your pinches?"

  12. I got excited and forgot to add the link: www.afghancooking.net/

  13. Thanks for all the info, saro! I look forward to making my own fried onions....