Gourmet cooks' shortcuts make good meals even better

September 14, 1994|By Tina Danze | Tina Danze,Dallas Morning News

On weekends, they make multicourse gourmet meals. Some of them create fabulous food for a living.

They are foodies -- people with sophisticated, opinionated palates who love good food and enjoy working hard to create it.

But after a full day (or night) of work, even foodies balk at spending an hour in the kitchen.

Like the rest of the working world, they want food -- fast. But you won't find them eating food that comes in envelopes and boxes.

With the aid of carefully stocked pantries, gas grills and herb gardens, they concoct surprisingly quick dinners that even spoiled taste buds would savor.

They rely on fresh vegetables, quick-cooking cuts of meat, rice, pasta and a select few canned goods.

"The easiest thing is [to use] canned black beans," says Joyce Roth, a lawyer and mother of two. "Just drain them, put them over steamed rice and serve with chopped cilantro, tomatoes, sour cream, grated cheese and plenty of lime."

Ms. Roth also makes a 10-minute black bean soup by pureeing a half-can of beans, heating them with a can of chicken stock and serving with the same garnishes used in the beans and rice dish.

She has even created a speedy Italian-inspired soup made solely from pantry ingredients -- a time-saver for days when a trip to the store is out of the question.

"I use a can of cannellini [Italian white beans] and three cans of chicken stock. While some pasta is boiling [two handfuls of bow-tie], heat the beans and broth together with some crushed red pepper, parsley and five minced, oil-packed, sun-dried tomatoes. Stir in the cooked pasta. Garnish it with grated Parmesan. It's wonderful."

Jasper Russo, a wine buyer, turns on the grill for a quick meal.

"Nothing's faster than a veal chop or chicken cooked on a gas grill," he says. He combines Dijon mustard, garlic and herbs from his garden to slather on the meat before grilling.

Before cooking the meat, he gets a pot of rice started inside. When the water level gets below the rice, he adds chopped vegetables and covers the pot. By the time the meat is cooked, the rice and vegetables are ready -- and there's only one pot to clean. Sometimes he flavors the rice with curry and sprinkles balsamic vinegar on the vegetables.

Kevin Rathbun, an executive chef, prefers simple food when cooking at home.

"I cook exciting stuff all day long," he says. "Sometimes I'll just make a couple of good sandwiches.

"I'll pick a great loaf of bread" -- the most important part, he notes. "I make burgers with onions, garlic, cilantro and Thai chili sauce, then grill them."

He also relies on bottled Thai condiments, such as red and green curry paste (sold in Asian grocery stores), to liven up quick stir-fry suppers.

"The best thing to do is take some grated fresh ginger, quickly saute it in sesame oil, add a tablespoon of curry paste and some chicken stock. Toss some (cooked] pasta in it, throw in some grilled chicken and fresh mint or basil from the porch," Mr. Rathbun says. "It's the perfect alter native for a low-fat meal."

Restaurateur Cathy McDaniel relies on grains, quick-cooking lentils and pastas as the basis of her quick meals.

"I've been experimenting with the barley and lentils," she says. "I combine them to make a quick stew."

She sautes onion, garlic and celery while the barley and lentils cook in canned chicken or beef broth according to the package directions. She combines the sauteed mixture with the lentils, which continue to stew, adding tomatoes or leftover vegetables and herbs.

Even quicker is a mock puttanesca sauce devised by Dana Cagle, a corporate banker and mother who entertains frequently.

"I buy bottled spaghetti sauce and add capers, imported black olives, chopped anchovies and onions to it while the pasta boils," she says, noting that the meal is ready in less than 15 minutes -- less time than it takes to order pizza or Chinese food.

*

Weekend entertaining is no problem for Rob Parks, who is manager of service planning for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. He throws together a rack of lamb dinner in less than 30 minutes, cooking the lamb in the microwave.

"You can make a rack of lamb easier than you can make a hamburger," Mr. Parks says.

Here's how:

Mr. Parks' 3-minute dinner:

Lamb

Coat a 2 1/2 -pound rack of lamb with stone-ground mustard.

Combine 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon dried rosemary and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Pat the mixture onto the lamb.

Put the lamb in a microwave-proof covered casserole, fat side down.

Microwave, covered, on medium-low (30-percent power) for 13 minutes for lamb that's cooked medium. Mr. Parks has a carousel in his microwave; a quarter-turn of the casserole halfway through cooking ensures even cooking in microwaves without carousels.

After microwaving, let the lamb sit, covered, for 10 minutes as it continues to cook.

Couscous

While the lamb cooks, add 2/3 cup couscous to 1 cup boiling water. Stir briefly; cover and remove from heat. Allow to sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Salad

Combine bottled hearts of palm, canned white asparagus and Boston or bibb lettuce.

Drizzle with a simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil.

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