Post # 260 Simple Is Best

May 30, 2014 at 3:52 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Post # 260 Simple Is Best

I’m sitting here eating a PBJ.  For those not in the know, a PBJ is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  It’s one of the simplest sandwiches to make.  Take two pieces of bread and slather peanut butter on one side and your favorite jelly or jam or preserve on the other side and put them together.  Voila!  A great sandwich with all the components of a healthy meal.  When I lived on my own for a few years, many times when I got home late, or was just too tired to cook, PBJ was my go to meal.

Last night, I watched a cooking show that created a gourmet cake involving well over a dozen different steps.  It boiled down to a chocolate cake with fudge frosting, but it took hours to get there.  It looked delicious, and extravagant, but no more delicious than the chocolate cake I make from scratch in just minutes.  I’ve seen meals that took hours to prepare and were over in the same amount of time I ate my PBJs.

So the question is, which is better?  For my money, the simpler the better.  But the major caveat is it has to be GOOD!  Years ago, one of the major mac and cheese manufacturers developed an “instant” bowl of mac and cheese.  Being such a fan, I bought one immediately and it was awful.  It was simple, just add hot water and microwave for a few seconds.  But it tasted like trash.  On the other hand, I know of a Wild Rice Soup mix where you add it to 8 cups of boiling water and simmer for ten minutes and it’s ambrosia, the food of the gods!  I sometimes add some chicken chunks and mushrooms to it, but mostly just eat it plain.

Other people must feel the same way because there are a growing number of television shows and cookbooks on the theme.  Ten Ingredients and Less; Meals Under $10; The Five Ingredient Cookbook.  With time constraints and budget concerns facing every home cook, the challenge to feed the family, even just yourself, can seem almost insurmountable.  Every cook answers that challenge in their own way, but many are going for simple meals that are quick and easy.

Years ago, I used to have one of those major monster juicers.  This thing was so powerful, it could make juice out of wood.  It used a grinding technique.  You put the thing you were juicing into the top, and juice flowed out a spout in the front.  Beneath it was a hopper that collected all the pulp.  I used to juice ripe tomatoes and add the pulp to sautéed onions and garlic, heating it just lightly.  I’d toss angel hair pasta into that and have a simple meal in about ten minutes.  If I wanted garlic toast, it would take twice as long.  Nowadays I can mimic the same meal by either chopping the tomatoes very small, or putting them in a blender for a very short period.

Another simple go to meal for us is grilled animal flesh and fresh salad.  Usually it’s steak cuz we’re the worst vegetarians on the planet.  But, if we’re in a different mood, or don’t have a steak at hand, we also grill chicken, pork, sausages, etc.  In the heat of an Arizona summer, cooking outside is always a good idea, but a cool, fresh tossed salad paired with the grilled whatever is wonderful.  Sometimes we’ll use salad kits and other times we’ll use whatever fresh veggies we have on hand.  For the grilling, sometimes we’ll go simple with no seasonings, and other times we’ll marinate them for an hour or so, experimenting with flavors.

Another favorite simple meal is tossed pasta in a simple sauce.  Usually the simple sauce is olive oil and garlic.  But that’s a base to build on.  Throw one tablespoon of olive oil per serving of pasta into a wide pan and heat over VERY low heat.  Add minced garlic to taste and allow the flavor of the garlic to infuse the oil.  That’s it.  When the pasta is done, use a basket scoop and drain the pasta over the pan it was cooked in.  Add the wet pasta to the oil and toss to mix.  Serve hot or warm.  Sometimes I put parmesan over it.  That base can be used for all kinds of stuff.  Add lemon to it.  Or add vinegar and chopped tomatoes.  Add fresh basil.  Add onions or shallots.  Add chopped leeks.  Add ginger.  Use different pasta lengths and shapes.  One important step is adding the wet pasta to the warm oil.  The starches in the pasta will act as a binder for the sauce.

One nice thing about simple meals that taste good is that they nearly always impress people.  Most people will taste the simplicity in the flavors and think you’ve cooked for hours to achieve that balance.  One of those simple recipes is Fettuccini Carbonara.  It’s so easy, but you do have to have all your ingredients ready ahead of time and serve it immediately.  Here’s what I do.  I take one egg for every serving of pasta and whisk it in a large bowl.  I add a quarter cup of grated parmesan cheese per serving and mix them together.  I set the fettuccini to boiling.  Since fettuccini is thicker, it takes longer to cook.  While the pasta is cooking, I chop two slices of bacon per serving and cook it to crispy in a large pan.  When the bacon is done, I drain it and add 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil.  I heat the olive oil and add garlic and shallots if I want them.  When the pasta is done, I use a wire basket to strain it and add the wet pasta directly to the olive oil.  I coat the pasta evenly and dump all the pasta, oil, bacon, and garlic etc. to the large bowl with the egg and cheese.  I very quickly start tossing the pasta throughout the egg mixture.  The residual heat will cook the egg and cheese to the point that a nice flavorful sauce develops.  The bacon and garlic flavor permeates the sauce.  I sprinkle parsley or basil over the top and serve it hot.

See?  Simple.  But people are so impressed by it.  Enjoy!

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