The worst part of cooking is menu planning.
Shopping isn't bad. It can be kind of fun, once you get to the grocery. Most of the time the produce is pretty and the meat is fresh and you can choose among chicken breasts and flank steaks and pork chops and sometimes even fish.
And cooking isn't bad because there's no decision making. The tedium of mincing scallions or trimming broccoli, even grating cheese (for some) can be rather soothing.
And the eating, of course, is never a problem.
But menu planning requires a lot of mental effort and financial commitment. There's plenty of negative reinforcement during this stage of meal preparation--complaints about this choice, high prices for that choice, unavailablility of another choice--and it forces us to retreat into a boring but comforting tedium.
One way to avoid tedium is to translate American recipes into foreign ones. Not that you should translate parsley to persil. Rather, your chicken breast should inspire you to think French (white wine and herbs), or Chinese (soy sauce and scallions), or Mexican (green chilies and tomatoes).
This helps the menu planner change quickly to avoid the overabundance of spaghetti and hamburger dinners. It is particularly easy to do with chicken breasts, which, removed from the bone with a sharp knife and cut into strips, cook in a very few minutes, no matter what approach you take.
Below are offered two variations on a theme, either of which can be prepared after a quick trip through the express lane, provided you have flour, sugar, salt, pepper and oil and/or butter in the kitchen at home.
EXPRESS LANE LIST I: chicken breast, garlic, scallions, mushrooms, white wine, thyme, rice, broccoli.
EXPRESS LANE LIST II: chicken breast, scallions, mushrooms, soy sauce, sherry, ginger, snow peas, rice. POULET PROVENCALE (4 servings) 4 chicken breasts 3 or 4 tablespoons vegetable or mild olive oil 1/4 pound mushrooms, rinsed and dried 2 cloves garlic, minced 2 tablespoons minced scallions 1/2 teaspoon thyme 1/2 cup dry white wine
Bone chicken breasts. Heat vegetable oil in large skillet. Add mushrooms and stir briefly over high heat until they have darkened a little and look glazed. This should only take 2 minutes or so. Remove to a large plate. Turn heat down and add garlic and scallions to skillet. Stir over medium heat until they begin to soften. Adding a little more oil to coat the bottom of the pan, if necessary, add chicken (skin side down) and brown. Flip chicken, sprinkle with thyme, cover the skillet and cook about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the cover and place chicken on plate with mushrooms. Add white wine to skillet and scrape the bottom of the pan. Reduce to 1/4 cup and pour over chicken and mushrooms. Serve with hot rice (cooked in chicken broth, if desired) and steamed broccoli. CHICKEN CHINOISE (4 servings) 4 chicken breasts, skinned and boned 2 tablespoons soy sauce 2 tablespoons sherry 2 teaspoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1/4 pound mushrooms 3 tablespoons minced scallions 2 tablespoons minced or grated fresh ginger
Sliver chicken. Combine soy sauce, sherry, sugar and salt. Heat vegetable oil in wok or skillet. Add mushrooms and stir-fry over high heat for about 2 minutes, until they have darkened a little and are glazed. Remove to a plate. Add scallions and ginger and stir briefly over high heat. Add chicken and, tossing constantly, cook until it begins to turn white. Add soy sauce mixture and stir to coat, tossing about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and toss another minute over high heat. Serve with steamed or stir-fried snow peas and hot rice.