It’s nine thirty when I turn the key in my door. I can hear the cat yowling — she starts as soon I step off the elevator — indignantly reminding me that she is more than ready for food.
Open door, light switch on, jacket and shoes off, drop briefcase on the office floor. I also am tired and hungry. Check out the refrigerator. Moldy piece of green pepper in the crisper, small bowl of leftover chicken soup, lots of little bottles containing various mustards, chutneys and pepper sauces, cat food (Praise the Lord!) — and, thank goodness — eggs. Looks like warmed up soup and scrambled eggs with hot sauce for dinner again.
Okay. Cooking for one can be annoying, expensive, tedious and generally difficult. I often get home late from work. I determinedly ignore the fast food circuit on my drive home and hate to eat pre-prepared stuff from the supermarket freezer because I’m trying to avoid the huge amounts of sodium and fat. On my good weeks I do have a plan. It centres on what I call my “Sunday morning cooking spree” in which I make a huge mess in my tiny kitchen, cooking up a storm while I listen to “Backstage with Ben Heppner”, trying to get three or four things ready that I can either pop into the microwave during the week or just heat up in the oven.
All of this preamble was instituted by the fact that a good friend recently turned me on to a new cookbook that I am finding so helpful. It’s called “The Make Ahead Cook” and is published by America’s Test Kitchen. The book is designed to present strategies for pre-preparing food so that it can be re-heated and served still tasting fresh, without getting dried out or generally ruined. The recipes are not all for freezer dishes — there are chapters on ready to cook meals that can be prepped a few days ahead, slow cooker favourites, oven ready casseroles and even good ideas for using leftovers so that you can make one dish taste like something new on another night.
The recipes are very detailed, comprehensive and clearly stated and there is information on everything to freezing times and temperatures to storage containers. So far, I have tried the stuffed chicken breasts, braised pork chops and creamy shrimp salad, with great results. Am looking forward to trying the sesame noodle chicken. If the book has a down side, I guess you could say that it’s not a gorgeous “coffee table” type book with splendid photography and incredibly exotic recipes. It’s more of a workaday reference book that I think I will be using a lot.
And since I seem to be in a literary mindset this morning, I also want to tell you about a very funny, gritty memoir that I have just finished reading. It’s called “Blood, Bones and Butter” and is written by Gabrielle Hamilton the executive chef of a quirky New York restaurant called Prune. I have never eaten at Prune but know that it requires many month-long reservations and has been very highly rated by well known food reviewers.
The book is not a cookbook, although there are lots of mouth-watering descriptions of food in it. Hamilton is a writer who ended up in the food industry through the unconventional pathway of catering. Mimi Sheraton calls her “a writer in cook’s clothing.” The book does start out with Hamilton’s childhood in the country and her father’s lamb roasts, but don’t expect any kind of sweet, nostalgic reminiscences. Hamilton lays bare all of the nitty gritty, from her parents bitter divorce, being left on her own, her experiments with drugs, backpacking around Europe and gaining independence and self reliance. The “romance” of the restaurant industry is deftly skewered — this is an account of stark honesty and there are chilling tales of everything from pest infestations, dealing with messes left by wandering street people and seven day weeks of grueling 14 hour work days. Still, the story rings true and I think I believe anyone in the restaurant business or — maybe — anyone wanting to be in the food industry might find it a fascinating read, but also a chastening tale.
Anyway,here’s something to try from the “Make Ahead” book.
Easy Lemon-Goat Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts
from The Make Ahead Cook
4 bone-in chicken breasts, trimmed and halved crosswise
salt and pepper
3 oz softened goat cheese
2 oz softened cream cheese
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1) Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.
20 Stir goat cheese, cream cheese, thyme, garlic, lemon zest, 1/8 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper together in bowl until combined.
3) Using fingers, carefully loosen centre portion of skin covering each breast. Place about 1 1/2 tbsp filling under skin, directly on meat in centre of each breast half.
4) Brush skin with oil and transfer to large plate.
Cover and refrigerate chicken for up to 24 hours.
1) Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees.
2) Set wire rack in aluminum foil lined rimmed baking sheet. Place chicken skin side up on prepared rack and bake until chicken registers 160 degrees, 35 to 40 minutes.
4) Let rest for 5 to 10 minutes and serve.
You’ll need to cut through bone in order to split the chicken breasts in half, so use a good strong knife and rock it back and forth with the heel of your hand. These actually freeze quite well after cooking and can be reheated in a 350 degree oven for half an hour.