You, the case study says, are a workaholic.
"Arrives at the office early; stays late... Dines with family (or housemates) rarely... Works hard, plays hard... An achiever, quality oriented, a perfectionist but with little time for outside activities."
You work hard to lead an interesting life, too. Of course, you'd like to have time to read more.Annually, you promise yourself you'll go to the theater or concerts more often next year. You'd like to eat better (and more regularly) but there just isn't time.
It's a shame, all those snacks out of cellophane packages and those unsatisfying late-evening leftovers for the refrigerator, because you pride yourself on your appreciation of good cooking. But there just isn't time. How do those people in the Dewar's advertisements do it all?
What you need, short of a food processor and someone to run it for you late in the evening, is a little guidance, workaholic's cookbook.
Time is a factor. (You're hungry and tired.) So, probably, is the complexity of the cooking operation and the number of utensils and dishes involved. The simpler and the fewer, the better. Even the noise level may be important if others in your house are already in bed. No sizzling rice soup after 10 p.m.
Our focus here is the evening meal. Your daily activity isn't "normal," so why should your eating schedule conform to a textbook pattern? If you are eating late, with bed to follow soon thereafter, you shouldn't plan on a big meal. Conversely, if you finish eating at 11 p.m., there is no need to bolt down a calorie-loaded breakfast at 8 a.m. Sure, the person who ate the last morsel of dinner at 6:30 the night before has the appetite to "start the day right." You might be better off to eat lightly, concentrating on necessary nutrients, and then make lunch the main meal of the day. (I know -- you are a workaholic and there's never time to get away for lunch. But somehow it becomes easier to find time if you're really hungry. If not, you're practicing the most effective of all diet techniques: eating less.)
The Riches of the Skillet
Workaholic A is a meat-and-potatoes person, but tries to skip the potatoes because for her they are like a magnet to calorie-rich toppings such as butter and sour cream. Instead, she will cook a green vegetable and flavor it with a little butter and a lot of lemon juice.
As for the meat, be it a steak or chicken breast, the thinner it is, the faster it cooks. She has learned to place the meat between 2 pieces of plastic wrap and pound it with the flat side of a cleaver so it becomes thinner and wider.
She heats a tablespoon of oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, lets it become quite hot, then adds the meat. It sears on one side for about 1 1/2 minutes, is turned to the other and cooked until it just gives to a push from the forefinger. Salt and pepper are added after the meat is turned. It goes onto the plate, but she is not done.
Any fat left in the pan is poured out: Into the pan goes 1/4 cup red wine or water and (sometimes) a finely minced scallion or a tablespoon of chopped onion or 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. With heat high, she scrapes the bottom with a wooden spoon until the coagulated brown residue comes free and the liquid has cooked down. She tastes and may add salt and pepper. This almost instant sauce goes over the steak, the vegetable is spooned onto the plate and some of the remaining wine goes into a glass.Dinner in 15 minutes.
For a special treat, 1/2 tablespoon of butter or brandy may be added to the sauce. Cheese, a piece of fruit and maybe another glass of wine provide a trouble-free dessert.
The Wonderful Work
Workaholic B has turned to the Orient to find happiness in the kitchen.
He purchased a good-quality, carbonsteel work, a set of low-lipped bowls and a few Oriental spices.
Now he regularly prepares and cooks a satisfying one-dish meal in 15 to 20 minutes and has only the wok, the bowl, a kitchen knife, a spatula, fork or chopsticks and a glass or teacup to clean. Sometimes he will prepare some rice separately, or stir-fry leftover rice in the wok. The promise of an exotic meal cooked by a "guest" chef sometimes prompts his wife to feed the children, nibble to forestall her hunger and join him for the late meal.
The "recipe" he follows depends not so much on the number of ingredients, or the amounts, as the method. Its variety is almost infinite, although he prefers that vegetables dominate the meat ingredient, a choice that makes sense both economically and nutritionally.
Here is the master formula. It can be done in a large skillet as well, but stirring and mixing is easier in the work.
Cut the meat from 1 or 2 pork chops (or chicken breast halves) from the bone and slice it into thin strips. These may be raw or already cooked. Or slice up some leftover steak or beef.
Push down on a clove or two of garlic with the side of your knife, peel away the skin and slice the garlic into pieces. (If the cloves are large, cut them in half before slicing.) Peel and onion -- or half an onion, or 2 or 3 scallions -- and slice.
Decide on the vegetables you want. This is a fine way to recycle family leftovers or to use up vegetables that might otherwise go bad. Try to mix something firm, such a broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or green peppers, with softer vegetables such as spinach (or even lettuce), mushrooms or bean sprouts. If someone in the house who is dining earlier will cut up the firm vegetables for you and even steam or boil them until just crisp-tender, so must the better.
Have on hand cooking oil, soy sauce, a chicken bouillon cube or bouillon itself, salt and pepper and any of the following optional ingredients: ginger root or powder, sesame oil, dried red peppers or pepper flakes, 5 spices powder, sherry, cornstarch.
Heat the work. If you like food spicy, add the hot peppers and a few grinds of black pepper. When they start to char, add 2 tablespoons oil. Stir-fry (toss around with a spatula or slotted spoon) the garlic, onions and ginger for 30 seconds. Don't let them burn. Add the meat when the garlic begins to darken and toss it around until browned on all sides. Sprinkle on a tablespoon of soy sauce, remove wok from the heat and spoon everything into the bowl. (You've been cooking 2 to 3 minutes. The less time you take, the better.)
Return the wok to the heat and add a tablespoon or 2 of fresh oil. Add the firm vegetables, cut in thin strips, and toss them to coat with oil. Add half a cup of water, a tablespoon or so of soy sauce and, if you wish, a bouillon cube or grains. Fit a cover over the vegetables and let them steam for 3 minutes, or until just crisp-tender (check with a knife point or fish out a piece and eat it.)
Now add the soft vegetable (spinach, lettuce or bean sprouts), any special seasoning such as 5 spice powder or a tablespoon of sherry and the meat. Toss, re-cover the wok and allow another minute or so. If you want to thicken the pan juices, mix 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water or sherry. Uncover the wok and remove the food to the bowl with a slotted spoon. Stir the liquid cornstarch and half a tablespoon of sesame oil into the liquid. Keep stirring until the mixture thickens, 15 seconds or so, and pour it over the food. Eat!
Everyone knows how handy pasta is, how easy to cook. Yet Workaholic C is one of the few people not studying Italian cooking who has learned that pasta can be served without tomato sauce. This has made him popular beyond belief and he frequently entertains fellow workaholics at late-evening soirees, thus enabling him to use a jug of wine that would spoil before he drank his way through it alone.
He has learned, too, that imported pasta is available at assorted, out-of-the-way food shops and that its texture when cooked is far superior to domestic brands. The most time-consuming aspect of cooking pasta is the time it takes for a large pot of water to boil (and always cook pasta in a large pot of water. If there is someone in your house to set the pot to boil before you arrive, so much the better. You will hardly have time to hum part of a Verdi aria before the meal is ready.)
When cooked, the pasta is drained in a colander (but never rinsed) and tossed into a bowl atop a tablespoon or two of butter or olive oil. The sauce is added, along with salt and grindings from a pepper mill, and everything is tossed together. Then it goes onto the plate or plates. Doing it this way provides an extra item to wash, but the sauce and pasta are much better mixed.
Serve a salad, slices of Italian bread, wine or beer and finish with a shot glass of Amaretto or Strega poured over a scoop of ice cream.
From the vast repertory of sauces, here is one using clams that is as delicious as it is quick.
Heat the pasta water. Wash a dozen cherrystone clam shells (with the clams inside) or drain a can of minced clams. While the water is coming to the boil, finely chop 1 or 2 cloves of garlic, enough parsley to make 1/2 a tablespoon and toast a couple of tablespoons of fresh bread crumbs. (The bread crumbs have been lurking in your kitchen, hoping this recipe would come along.)
Add salt to the boiling water, then half a pound of thin spaghetti. Quickly heat 1/4 cup olive oil in a frying pan. Add the garlic, parsley and a few red pepper flakes. Add the minced clams and stir for about a minute. (If using clams in the shell, cover the pan until the shells steam open.)
Drain the pasta, turn it into a bowl. Add the contents of the frying pan, plus the breadcrumbs and salt and pepper to taste. Mix and serve. Don't add cheese.
Our final case study, Workaholic D, is somewhat fastidious and has an eye for color and design. She resorts to composing salads when dining alone at home.
As with the wok formula, the trick is not so much to follow a recipe as to realize the potential combinations available. As a beginning artist, your model should not be that dreary shredded iceburg wearing a coating of blue cheese dressing, but such Fashion Hall-of-Fame salads as the Nicoise, the Caesar, the Cobb and the Waldorf.
There is room on your plate for vegetables, fruits and nuts along with the entire spectrum of salad greens. Cheese, meat or fish will overcome any anxiety about lack of protein.
Leftovers are ideal ingredients for composed salads and often will point you in entirely new directions. Lacking leftovers, a stop at an open-late supermarket should take less time than eating anything but the speediest fast food. (Evening shopping is sometimes difficult due to poor selection, but if luck is with you, the vegetable and fruit area could be freshly restocked.)
Washing and drying lettuce is timeconsuming, too. But once washed, lettuce keeps quite well if stored in plastic bags. The lettuce for your salad can be ready when you arrive home.
Part of the trick of learning to love salads is psychological. Learn to think like an artist or decorator, to make them look appealing. The wait -- and the final result -- will stimulate your appreciation and provide a challenge in making the next one.
The only equipment you need is a sharp knife, a large bowl and a fork. No wooden spoons? No. Tossing salads with the hands is a secret sensual indulgence of many mystics and it's without any social stigma if the chef is dining alone. The bowl must be larger than the volume of the ingredients, however. While the artists may yearn for a whisk to mix the dressing, a fork is adequate for mixing a dressing and much superior as an eating tool.
First, the dressing:
Oil and vinegar is the all-purpose standby. The better the quality of both, the better the salad will be. Plan on using at least a 3 to 1 ratio of oil to vinegar and be willing to go up to 5 to 1 if the oil is olive and the vinegar is superb. Lemon juice can substitute for all or part of the vinegar. Three tablespoons of oil mixed into a tablespoon of vinegar provides enough dressing for a large individual salad.
Some flavor-adding additions to this quantity of dressing are: 1/2 teaspoon mustard or 1/4 teaspoon mustard powder; 1/2 tablespoon chopped scallion, shallots, chives or parsley; a generous pinch of curry powder; 2 or 3 drops of Worcestershire sauce; salt and freshly ground pepper. Always add them to the vinegar, then beat in the oil.
The same ingredients can be mixed into mayonnaise if that is to be the dressing. But first thin the mayonnaise with lemon juice, vermouth, sour cream or yogurt until it is of a runny consistency.
Now for the salad:
What's in the refrigerator? A left-over chicken leg? Some turkey? A piece or package of ham? Some cheese? Think of textures -- crisp offset by soft -- and colors as you work.
Cut any of the above ingredients, or roast beef or cooked pork, into julienne strips or cubes. (Swiss cheese is also very appealing if cut into shreds by a hand grater.)
Shrimps are sometimes the centerpiece of luxury salads. Sardines or mackerel are standing by in cans as you move down the price scale. Anchovies can be used to garnish the salad or pounded into a paste and be used as part of the dressing.
In the vegetable department, don't ignore leftover potatoes and, believe it or not, a current fad has chefs making salads with could pasta. Slice off buds of raw broccoli or cauliflower, or use them steamed until just tender. Slice or quarter mushrooms, with or without stems. Use bean sprouts, beets or artichokes. But don't use too many items. A good salad should not be a formless mess.
Hard cook an egg while preparing the salad, then slice, quarter or chop it. Chop the yolk fine and mix it with parsley and you have a garnish the French call mimosa.
The final suggestion is not to let the salad sit long once it has been tossed. Soggy salad tastes like... soggy salad.
The salad composer is the sort of person who might even make -- or ask a spouse to make -- a rich soup or stew on a weekend so it can be reheated in portions through the week.
But such recipes aren't made in minutes. They belong in another chapter.