Friday nights are sacrosant: they are Hubby's Poker Nights with the boys (theoretically; but since the boys are married to the girls, it ends up being co-ed anyway). On Friday nights, if I leave work on time, it will take at least 20 to 30 minutes to get home; this is assuming I don't need to make a grocery run -- so, by the time I get home, it's usually 6:45 pm. We don't have time for a lengthy dinner. This is not to say we don't cook; it simply means we have no more than an hour (if that) in which to prepare and eat dinner because the game begins at 8 pm. Hubby needs to leave at 7:30 to make the game.
For a delicious and very quick meal, I give you: Panfried Herbed Chicken and Potatoes, with Braised Leeks; and for dessert, Saffron-Vanilla Waffles with a quenelle of Mascarpone and Wildflower Honey. This dish is simply a seasoned chicken breast panfried in oil and butter. A potato is sliced thin, then fried in a generous heaping of melted butter until crisp. Concurrently, washed and trimmed leeks are wilted in butter (okay, I didn't say this meal was healthy; just fast) and broth, then tossed with white wine vinegar for an edgy bite. Total cook time from prep to finish? Right about 30 minutes. And of course, the waffle batter is poured into the iron and cooked while we are eating the entrée, so dessert can immediately follow dinner.
The trick to making meals quickly, I've discovered, is to know what you're making and have your mise en place ready to go. I know this sounds geeky, but I always write out a menu beforehand -- I've noticed that even a few sentences about the meal helps me to structure the cooking schedule, and of course, repetition will make for faster cooking because you'll know all the shortcuts.
Here's how this meal breaks down:
2 minutes: trim and chop leeks. Rinse and agitate; leave in cold water.
3 minutes: season chicken and peel 1 potato, melt butter and heat oil in respective skillets for chicken, leeks and potatoes; slice potato
5-10 minutes: add chicken to pan, then potato slices, then leeks; while the main dish is cooking, make the waffle batter and set aside.
10 minutes: finish the entrée and heat the waffle iron. Add batter to the waffle iron, serve main dish. The waffles should be ready to plate and eat by the time you've finished the entrée.
Fast food, the home cooked way.
Panfried Chicken Breast
2 chicken breast halves (if you can, use organic chicken; it really does taste better)
3 T unsalted butter
1 T olive oil
1 T dried Herbes Parisienne or mix of fragrant fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary and sage
Salt and pepper
Season the chicken breasts with the dried or fresh herbs. Be a little generous with the salt and pepper.
Pat chicken dry. Heat the oil in a heavy pan over medium heat, then add butter and melt. Add the chicken, skin side down and cook uncovered until browned, about 8-10 minutes. Turn chicken over and cover the pan. Cook about another 10 minutes, until chicken is just cooked.
3 leeks, trimmed and cut lengthwise into quarters
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup vegetable broth
2 T white wine vinegar
Remove tough outer green leaves from the leeks, trim and cut the white parts lengthwise into quarters. Separate the leaves in cold water and agitate to remove dirt. Rinse well. In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Drain (but do not dry) the leeks and add them to the skillet. Stir for about five minutes, then add the broth and vinegar. Cover and braise for about 5-7 minutes, or until tender, and season with salt and pepper.
Saffron Vanilla Waffles
1 cup flour
1 t baking powder
1 T sugar
1 T saffron threads
1 T vanilla extract
1 cup milk
(You'll need a waffle maker for this; I prefer a Belgian waffle maker. I love nice big nooks in the waffles for the melted butter and maple syrup. This recipe will make 3 large waffles; we usually save one for the next morning or for a late night snack.)
Sift the dry ingredients together. Mix the egg, milk and vanilla well. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry until just combined. Spray the waffle iron with a vegetable spray (like Pam) and ladle a generous spoonful into the mold. Cook waffles until golden brown. I like crisp waffles so my waffle iron is on the highest setting, about 4 minutes. Tear the waffle into pieces and build a nice little structure. Top with a quenelle of Mascarpone cheese and honey (or maple syrup).