Houston Chronicle

How to eat this year

The trick: Have sev­eral low-cook or no-cook small bowls of food on hand Ev­ery­day Salmon With Tangy Cu­cum­bers and Fried Shal­lots Time: 35 min­utes Yield: 4 to 8 serv­ings Cold Noo­dles with Chili Oil and Cit­rusy Cab­bage

- By Ali­son Ro­man Food · Comfort Food · Fish Dishes · Eggs · Fast Food · Seafood · Healthy Food · Lifehacks · Cooking · Healthy Living · Belgium · Iceland · Manhattan · Belarus · Somalia · Austria · Albania · Barney Greengrass

I had al­ways main­tained that I’d be the kind of per­son who makes time for cook­ing, re­gard­less of how busy I be­came. It is, af­ter all, my job, my hobby, my cre­ative out­let and how I con­nect with peo­ple.

Fast for­ward to 2018, and it be­came painfully clear that while that was a nice thought and all, it was also highly and in­cred­i­bly un­re­al­is­tic. The gen­eral idea that Life Is Over­whelm­ing and There’s No Time for Any­thing is hardly new, but my re­ac­tion to it has ad­justed from re­sis­tance to ac­cep­tance.

The way my friends and I spend our time has changed as fam­i­lies grow and ca­reers take off and life gets more de­light­fully clut­tered, and to me that has shown it­self most ob­vi­ously in the kitchen. Sure, I still en­joy the oc­ca­sional elab­o­rate, mul­ti­hour cook­ing af­fair, but th­ese days, there’s a lot more “come over for cheese and crack­ers be­cause it’s all I have en­ergy for” than there used to be.

This is also partly be­cause of a re­al­iza­tion I had: When I did in­vite peo­ple over for a meal, I would spend all my time alone in the kitchen work­ing, without re­ally fo­cus­ing on what any­one was say­ing, or en­gag­ing in any mean­ing­ful way. (I am a lot of things, but a mul­ti­tasker is not one of them.) Even­tu­ally, we would all sit down, quickly eat what­ever it was I’d pre­pared, and then the evening would come to a close.

Nearly ev­ery time, I’d think, “But we all just got here!” I mean, sure, I just got there, but every­one else had been there for hours.

Sev­eral weeks ago, one of my dear friends in­vited an­other close friend and me over for lunch. Her hus­band was out of town, and she had a 1-year-old to take care of, so my other friend and I of­fered to bake or make, bring in­gre­di­ents or shop — ba­si­cally cater the en­tire af­fair — con­cerned about the bur­den of pre­par­ing a meal when you have a tod­dler learn­ing to walk. She de­clined, as­sur­ing us that it re­ally “wasn’t a big deal,” and not to worry.

We showed up to a spread that looked like it was, well, kind of a big deal. There was smoked fish from the leg­endary shop Bar­ney Green­grass in Man­hat­tan, sim­ply cooked rice, jammy eggs, veg­eta­bles tossed with scal­lions, a bowl of greens dressed with lemon, and a creamy yo­gurt dip for spread­ing on crack­ers. Blown away by how beau­ti­ful and thought­fully done ev­ery­thing looked, I felt guilty know­ing she had taken the time to treat us to such an in­cred­i­ble af­ter­noon when her ev­ery free minute is so valu­able. (She could have been nap­ping, maybe?)

Sens­ing this, she men­tioned that it had taken all of 15 min­utes to throw to­gether, and that the se­cret to the im­pres­sive look was hav­ing sev­eral tiny bowls filled with things that didn’t re­quire cook­ing. We spent the next few hours not in the kitchen but at the ta­ble, snack­ing and graz­ing, talk­ing and catch­ing up. The whole af­ter­noon was truly novel to me, some­one who could not

imag­ine “hav­ing it all” — as in, a de­li­cious, well-cho­sen, sat­is­fy­ing meal and the time to linger over it.

It dawned on me that I could lessen that bur­den of feel­ing so busy and ac­tu­ally get more out of cook­ing for friends if I flipped the ra­tio of time spent work­ing to time spent eat­ing.

I be­gan mak­ing sure my kitchen has the in­gre­di­ents that al­low me to ef­fort­lessly — and at a mo­ment’s no­tice, if need be — put to­gether a meal that feels like an ac­tual meal, rather than unwrapped nubs of left­over cheese mas­querad­ing as one. I pick one very

sim­ply pre­pared star of the show, and dress it up with more than a few tiny bowls (I own close to a mil­lion tiny bowls) filled with low-cook or no-cook items.

My spreads are mostly com­posed of what­ever I’m try­ing to use up in the re­frig­er­a­tor (any rogue veg­etable that can be sliced and quickly pick­led is a pop­u­lar choice) and the freezer (a whole cut-up chicken), food from my pantry (tinned fish and hot pick­led pep­pers are big in my house), and some­thing that I ac­tu­ally pur­chased for the oc­ca­sion — a nice piece of fish, a whole chicken, or some good pasta or noo­dles I hap­pened across.

In the mag­i­cal tiny bowls, there’s some­thing salty, some­thing tangy, some­thing spicy. Herbs, let­tuces or both are nearly al­ways present. There’s prob­a­bly a dish of some­thing creamy, like sea­soned sour cream, or maybe a tahini dress­ing. A crunchy el­e­ment like bread­crumbs or fried shal­lots is non­nego­tiable. Noth­ing takes more than a minute or two to throw to­gether.

Es­sen­tially it’s all the things I want to eat, some­times served on their own, some­times piled on top of one an­other, all on my ta­ble for a very ca­sual and cus­tom­iz­a­ble eat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Be­low you’ll find three ideas for re­laxed meals that fol­low that ba­sic tem­plate, rather than for­mal recipes for din­ner: bowls of spicy, sim­ply dressed spicy cold noo­dles with cit­rusy cab­bage and gar­licky tahini; slow-roasted salt-and-pep­per salmon with just-set eggs and salty salmon roe; and a six-in­gre­di­ent chicken to be served over but­tered toast and crunchy let­tuces.

Feel free to take just one cue from th­ese ideas, im­pro­vis­ing with what you have and what you like. Or repli­cate them fully. You won’t be sorry, I prom­ise.

Through this com­bi­na­tion of un­fussy cen­ter­pieces and re­laxed, snacky sides and condi­ments, you’ll find your­self spend­ing less time in the kitchen and more time at the ta­ble. Life may not ac­tu­ally get less busy. But for a few glo­ri­ous hours, it can feel that way. For the salty fried shal­lots: 3 large shal­lots, peeled and thinly sliced 1⁄3 cup canola, veg­etable or grape-seed oil

Kosher salt

For the salmon:

1 1⁄2 to 3 pounds skin-on salmon fil­let Kosher salt and ground black pep­per

1⁄3 cup olive oil, plus more as needed 1 lemon

Flaky sea salt, for serv­ing For the spicy, tangy cu­cum­bers: 4 small Per­sian cu­cum­bers or 1 large hot­house cu­cum­ber, thinly sliced or coarsely chopped 3 ta­ble­spoons rice wine vine­gar or

white wine vine­gar

2 tea­spoons Aleppo pep­per or 1⁄2

tea­spoon red-pep­per flakes Kosher salt and ground black pep­per 2 ta­ble­spoons olive oil If serv­ing the shal­lots, com­bine shal­lots and oil in a small pot or skil­let. Heat over medium and cook un­til shal­lots be­gin to siz­zle and fry in the oil, 3 to 4 min­utes. Con­tinue cook­ing, swirling the pot or skil­let oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til the shal­lots be­gin to siz­zle less and brown more, an­other 3 to 4 min­utes. Once they’re just start­ing to turn a nice golden brown, re­move from heat. (They will con­tinue to brown in the oil, so pull them be­fore you think they’re ready.) Use a slot­ted spoon or mesh strainer to trans­fer shal­lots to a pa­per towel-lined plate. Im­me­di­ately sea­son with lots of salt and set aside to cool.

Heat oven to 325 de­grees. Sea­son salmon with salt and pep­per and place in a large bak­ing dish. Driz­zle with olive oil and place in oven. Roast un­til the edges are opaque and the fish is just cooked through in the cen­ter, 10 to 12 min­utes for medi­um­rare, 15 to 18 min­utes for more well done. Mean­while, thinly slice half the lemon and pick out any seeds. (Save the other half of the lemon for serv­ing along­side.)

If serv­ing the cu­cum­bers, com­bine cu­cum­bers, vine­gar and Aleppo pep­per in a small bowl. Sea­son with salt and pep­per and let sit a few min­utes, toss­ing oc­ca­sion­ally to evenly sea­son. Driz­zle with olive oil be­fore serv­ing.

Re­move salmon from oven and trans­fer to a large serv­ing plat­ter. (Al­ter­na­tively, feel free to serve in the bak­ing dish.) Scat­ter lemon slices over and nes­tle re­main­ing lemon along­side for squeez­ing over. Sprin­kle with flaky salt be­fore serv­ing with the cu­cum­bers, shal­lots or both if you like, and per­haps quick pick­les, but­tered rice, jammy eggs or more fish. Give th­ese add-ons a try

More fish: Dou­ble down on the seafood ex­pe­ri­ence with a jar of trout or salmon roe, high-qual­ity tinned fish like sar­dines, or a smoked fish like trout or sable to snack on.

But­tered Rice: Steamed rice is good, but­tered rice is bet­ter. Stir a few ta­ble­spoons of but­ter into warm rice and sea­son with salt and pep­per be­fore set­ting out (topped with more but­ter, of course).

Jammy Eggs: I find a sev­en­minute egg to be the ideal for this dish: The yolk is jammy and just set, and the white is firm. If you pre­fer some­thing run­nier, go for a six-minute egg. If you pre­fer some­thing firmer, go for an eight­minute egg.

Time: 35 min­utes Yield: 4 to 8 serv­ings

For the noo­dles:

1⁄2 cup canola or grape-seed oil 1 ta­ble­spoon fennel seed

1 ta­ble­spoon red-pep­per flakes 2 gar­lic cloves, very finely chopped 1 ta­ble­spoon Sichuan pep­per­corns

(op­tional)

1 star anise (op­tional)

1 pound udon, soba or rice noo­dles, or

spaghetti

2 ta­ble­spoons rice wine vine­gar, or

fresh lemon or lime juice Kosher salt and ground pep­per For the cit­rusy cab­bage: 1⁄2 head red cab­bage, very thinly sliced

Kosher salt and ground pep­per 1⁄4 cup fresh lemon and-or lime juice 1 ta­ble­spoon finely grated lemon and-or lime zest

2 ta­ble­spoons olive oil For the herby tahini sauce:

1⁄3 cup tahini

1 gar­lic clove, finely grated 2 ta­ble­spoons fresh lemon or lime

juice

1 ta­ble­spoon se­same oil

1 cup pars­ley and-or cilantro, ten­der leaves and stems, very finely chopped

Kosher salt and ground pep­per For the le­mony scal­lions: 1 bunch scal­lions, very thinly sliced 1⁄4 cup olive oil

2 ta­ble­spoons fresh lemon or lime juice

1 ta­ble­spoon finely grated lemon or lime zest

1 ta­ble­spoon soy sauce Kosher salt and ground pep­per Heat oil, fennel seed, pep­per flakes, gar­lic, Sichuan pep­per­corns and star anise (if us­ing) in a

small pot over the low­est heat pos­si­ble. Cook, swirling oc­ca­sion­ally, un­til you start to hear and see the gar­lic and spices friz­zle and toast in the oil, 5 to 8 min­utes. (Ev­ery stove is dif­fer­ent and some­times the low isn’t as low as we’d like, so keep an eye on things; it may take less time.) Keep cook­ing at the low­est heat set­ting un­til the spices are toasted and the gar­lic is golden brown, an­other 3 to 5 min­utes. Re­move from heat and set aside.

Mean­while, cook noo­dles in a large pot of salted wa­ter un­til al dente. Drain and rinse un­der cold wa­ter to stop the cook­ing. (If not us­ing right away, spread onto a rimmed bak­ing sheet and toss with a lit­tle canola oil to pre­vent stick­ing.)

If serv­ing the cit­rusy cab­bage, place cab­bage in a large bowl and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Add cit­rus juice and zest, toss­ing to coat. Let sit a few min­utes to soften. Driz­zle with olive oil be­fore serv­ing.

If serv­ing the tahini sauce, whisk tahini, gar­lic, lemon juice, se­same oil and 1⁄4 cup wa­ter in a small bowl un­til a creamy dress­ing forms. (Tahini thick­ness varies greatly from brand to brand; if you need more wa­ter to achieve a smooth, creamy dress­ing, add it by the tea­spoon­ful un­til you get the de­sired tex­ture.) Add herbs and sea­son with salt, pep­per and more lemon juice, if de­sired. Al­ter­na­tively, place all in­gre­di­ents and 1⁄4 cup wa­ter in the bowl of a food pro­ces­sor and process un­til a smooth, creamy dress­ing forms.

If serv­ing the scal­lion salsa verde, com­bine scal­lions, olive oil, lemon juice, lemon zest and soy sauce in a small bowl; sea­son with salt and pep­per and let sit for at least 5 min­utes be­fore serv­ing.

When ready to eat, toss noo­dles with vine­gar and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Spoon chile oil over the noo­dles, toss­ing to coat; keep adding the oil un­til your noo­dles are evenly coated. (Keep in mind you have other sauces for the noo­dles, so you’re just look­ing for them to be coated and suf­fi­ciently spicy.) Serve any ad­di­tional chile oil along­side for per­sonal spoon­ing, with the cab­bage and other sauces if you like.

Ac­ces­sorize those noo­dles More spicy things: Jarred pick­led chiles, pick­led jalapeños, Cal­abrian chiles — any­thing of the sort that will (lightly) set your mouth on fire are wel­comed here. Blanched or roasted veg­eta­bles with gar­lic: Toss blanched or roasted veg­eta­bles like broc­coli, cauliflowe­r or car­rots with a bit of finely chopped raw gar­lic and a squeeze of lemon or splash of vine­gar. This is a per­fect use for any left­over veg­eta­bles in the fridge. Green­ery: A plate of springy herbs, such as pars­ley, cilantro, dill and/or mint to nib­ble on be­tween bites of noo­dles, or a pile of sautéed greens like spinach, kale, Swiss chard or mus­tard greens to tan­gle into the noo­dles.

Toasted seeds or nuts: Toast se­same seeds, chopped peanuts or al­monds in a dry skil­let un­til golden brown and toss with a lit­tle oil and salt; sprin­kle over ev­ery­thing.

Vine­gar Chicken with Crisp Roasted Mush­rooms Time: 50 min­utes Yield: 4 to 6 serv­ings

For the chicken: 3 1⁄2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken (use any com­bi­na­tion of legs, thighs or drum­sticks, or breasts halved cross­wise)

Kosher salt and ground pep­per 2 ta­ble­spoons canola oil

2 medium red onions, cut into 1-inch wedges 1⁄4 cup white dis­tilled vine­gar 1⁄2 bunch thyme, plus leaves for gar­nish For the hard-roasted mush­rooms: 2 pounds mixed mush­rooms, such as shi­itake, maitake, but­ton, chanterell­e or oys­ter, torn into large pieces or quar­tered 3 ta­ble­spoons olive oil

Kosher salt and ground pep­per For the le­mony Lit­tle Gems with sumac: 2 to 3 heads Lit­tle Gem let­tuces, ends trimmed, quar­tered length­wise

2 ta­ble­spoons fresh lemon juice 1 ta­ble­spoon finely grated lemon zest Kosher salt and ground pep­per Sumac, for sprin­kling

Olive oil, for driz­zling Sea­son chicken with salt and pep­per. Heat oil in a large, heavy­bot­tomed pot over medium-high heat. Work­ing in batches, add chicken skin-side down and cook un­til skin is golden brown and re­leases eas­ily from the pot, 8 to 10 min­utes. Us­ing tongs, turn chicken to brown on the other side, an­other 4 to 8 min­utes, depend­ing on what cut you’re us­ing. As the chicken browns, trans­fer it to a large plate.

Add onions to the pot and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Cook, without mov­ing them so they have a chance to brown, 4 to 5 min­utes. Add vine­gar and 1 cup wa­ter, then use a wooden spoon or spat­ula to scrape up any browned bits on the bot­tom of the pot. Bring to a sim­mer and re­turn chicken to the pot, skin­side up, nestling all the pieces in there. (They don’t need to be to­tally sub­merged.) Scat­ter thyme around and place the lid on top. Re­duce heat to medi­um­low and con­tinue to cook at a gen­tle sim­mer un­til chicken is cooked through and ten­der, 20 to 25 min­utes.

Mean­while, if serv­ing the mush­rooms, heat the oven to 450 de­grees. Toss mush­rooms with olive oil on a rimmed bak­ing sheet and sea­son with salt and pep­per. Roast, toss­ing once or twice, un­til the mush­rooms are deeply browned and crispy on the out­side but ten­der on the in­side, 15 to 20 min­utes depend­ing on the type of mush­room and strength of your oven.

If serv­ing the salad, toss Lit­tle Gems with lemon juice and lemon zest. Sea­son with salt and pep­per and ar­range on a large plat­ter. Sprin­kle with sumac and driz­zle with olive oil be­fore serv­ing.

Re­move chicken from heat and sea­son the cook­ing liq­uid with salt and pep­per as needed. Trans­fer chicken, onions and thyme to a large serv­ing plat­ter, spoon­ing cook­ing liq­uid over the top, or al­ter­na­tively, serve di­rectly from the pot, with the mush­rooms and salad along­side if you like.

A few more guests to flat­ter the chicken

Bread: Slice any good, crusty loaf of your choos­ing about 3/4inch thick and toast un­til golden brown. Rub with a cut gar­lic clove and driz­zle with olive oil. Gar­licky or spicy bread­crumbs would also be wel­come if you’re feel­ing carb-in­clined.

Some­thing creamy: Chicken loves more fat, es­pe­cially this very tangy chicken. A bowl­ful of any sea­soned creamy in­gre­di­ent like sour cream, full-fat yo­gurt or lab­neh sprin­kled with chives is ex­cel­lent for spoon­ing onto or un­der­neath the chicken, over le­mony let­tuces and onto toast.

Quick pick­les: For a quick, light pickle, toss thinly sliced veg­eta­bles such as radishes or fennel with a lit­tle thinly sliced shal­lot and sea­son with a good splash of vine­gar, salt and pep­per.

 ??  ?? Salt-and-pep­per salmon served with tangy cu­cum­bers, fried shal­lots, hard­boiled eggs and more. Such as­sem­ble-it-your­self meals can help one get more out of cook­ing for friends by flip­ping the time spent work­ing to time spent eat­ing.
Salt-and-pep­per salmon served with tangy cu­cum­bers, fried shal­lots, hard­boiled eggs and more. Such as­sem­ble-it-your­self meals can help one get more out of cook­ing for friends by flip­ping the time spent work­ing to time spent eat­ing.
 ?? Ju­lia Gart­land / New York Times ??
Ju­lia Gart­land / New York Times
 ?? Ju­lia Gart­land / New York Times ?? Put out cold chile noo­dles with fresh herbs, cit­rusy cab­bage and veg­eta­bles. Then let guests build their own meals.
Ju­lia Gart­land / New York Times Put out cold chile noo­dles with fresh herbs, cit­rusy cab­bage and veg­eta­bles. Then let guests build their own meals.

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