Julia Child famously asserted that anyone can cook. Preach it, girl! TRUTH!
I really hate it when people try to act like cooking is hard. Time consuming, yes. Hard, no. I asked my husband what he would do if I were no longer around to cook healthy meals for him, and he said that he’d probably eat an alternating menu of takeout pizza and Taco Bell. When we first met, all he had in his fridge was a tub of Country Crock, a pound of bacon, a carton of eggs, a loaf of white bread and a pack of deli ham. The man literally lived on eggs and bacon for breakfast, ham sandwiches for lunch, and fast food for dinner. I don’t know about you guys, but that to me is akin to living like an animal. If I go too long without eating something green, the grass outside starts looking mighty tasty… Just kidding. It’s really a wonder the man didn’t have gallstones or something from all of that sodium he was eating.
Anyway, given where we live now, it’s impossible to survive on takeout because there are no fast food joints or restaurants nearby. We couldn’t live like Jerry Springer’s target audience if we wanted to. Well, actually, we could load up our grocery cart with processed convenience foods, but that shit is expensive, gross-tasting, and unhealthy. So I cook basically from scratch. Every night. And it’s not so bad! There are even a few hours of exercise time and free time left for me every evening (well, OK, not a ton of free time, b/c I have to go to bed at 8:30, but if you’re on a grown-person schedule, you’d prolly have 4 hours a night to chillax). A quick run-down of how it’s done, plus a delicious recipe for your consideration after the jump!
I’m only able to go grocery shopping once a week, so I plan every meal before I go, and I try to make all of the week’s meals have overlapping ingredients, so nothing goes to waste. Then on Sundays I take one or two hours to chop all my veg, mince or de-stem any herbs, zest or juice any citrus, marinade meats, and sometimes I even portion out the spices I’ll be using in whatever dish (especially useful time-saver when making a curry). Then everything I need (um, besides potatoes, apples, garlic, and mushrooms, because they don’t like to be sliced ahead) is ready to just toss in a skillet or pot. Dinner in 30 minutes is just that easy. But my husband plugs his ears and runs screaming from the room when I try to explain how to cook. Sigh.
My other secret, besides planning ahead, is reading food blogs. You can find simple, fresh, delicious recipes, usually sans expensive or hard-to-find ingredients on blogs like Serious Eats and Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn. The recipe sections of these sites are really well-written, and the authors usually write about their mistakes in making the dishes to help you avoid any pitfalls. If you can’t learn to cook this way, there may be no help for you indeed.
I took this recipe from Serious Eats, but as you’ll see below I made lots of changes based on what I had lying around. I plan on trying it again with actual polenta, but the couscous came out so good, that polenta had better bring it’s A game.
photo from Serious Eats. I’d provide my own pic if I had a computer at home to upload the pic to :(
Kale and Mushrooms with Creamy Polenta Couscous
– serves 2, if your husband is a huge pig like mine and eats 5x the normal potion. Otherwise, this recipe may serve 4 and even provide some leftovers.
For the Kale & Mushrooms:
2 ounces pancetta or bacon (in this case I used 6 slices of turkey bacon. That’s how I roll. Deal with it.)
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium white onion, diced (the recipe did not originally call for this, but I’m poor, onions are cheap and taste good, and they help stretch the recipe out so I’ll have leftovers for lunch the next day)
1 garlic clove, minced
2 ounces mushrooms (crimini, oyster, or shiitake, in this case I used portabella, b/c that’s all my store had besides the bland white buttons), sliced into pieces the size of a computer key chopped in half
1 big bunch kale, stemmed, and roughly chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup white cooking wine
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped (I didn’t have any thyme, so I used sage, I recommend it)
1/2 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
For the Creamy Couscous:
1 package of Near East brand roasted garlic couscous
1 cup milk
½ cup buttermilk (because I had some lying around that I needed to use up, you could just use more milk & a little butter if you don’t have buttermilk)
Any chicken broth you have left in the can after making the kale & mushrooms
*** Note: I know this dish looks complicated, but I promise it’s not at all. Each ingredient cooks fast, so we’re talking a total of 30 minutes in front of the stove.
- In a large cast-iron skillet (none of that non-stick bullshit, or the whole dish won’t taste right), cook the turkey bacon over medium heat until shatter-in-your-fingertips crisp. I only use Oscar Meyer brand turkey bacon, the one with the little blue “South Beach Diet Recommended” label on it. I find it has the most bacon flavor that can possibly be coaxed out of our feathered friend, but only if you fry it in a pan. No baking, no microwaving. Anyway, when you remove the bacon from the pan to set aside, try to let as much of the fat drip back into the skillet as possible. The only way Southern girls will touch their greens is if they’ve been baptized in bacon grease. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++
- Add the butter to the pan, because TurkBac will never have enough fat to cook this whole dish on it’s own. Once it’s melted, add the onions. In a nicely-hot cast-iron skillet, this veg will caramelize and brown so beautifully, it’ll bring tears to your eyes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++
- (notes from the original recipe:)Meanwhile, bring a medium-sized pot of water to a boil. Add the kale and cook for about 6 minutes. Drain the kale in a colander. I say, “Hell NO!” No. Skip this step, as it’ll only eat up your time, dirty a pot unnecessarily, and most folks will end up overcooking their greens this way. Instead, just tear up the kale into itty-bitty pieces while your onions are browning, this will help the kale cook through faster, and distract you from the symphony of delicious smells now building into a crescendo in your kitchen.++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++
- Once the onions are soft and brown, add the garlic, and stir it into the hot onions really fast. Don’t let it sit on the bottom of the pan or it’ll burn. Immediately add the sliced mushrooms to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they become tender, about 6 minutes.++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++
- When the shrooms are nearly done cooking, roughly chop the bacon and then add it back to the pan, along with the kale, chicken broth, and wine. You’ll have to stir the kale in quite a bit, because a half-pound of greens will surely overflow from your pan if you don’t work it in. Bring to a boil and let reduce for about 5 minutes. Then turn off the heat and add the thyme and lemon zest. I know that lemon zest is seen as one of those fussy afterthought-type ingredients to people who don’t cook like this often, but lemme tell you: put some in this dish, and it’ll make a believer out of you. The lemon plays off of the kale so well. It’s like they were made for each other. If you don’t like greens, I promise you’ll love them after you eat them this way. Season with salt and pepper to taste.++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++
- Prepare couscous according to package instructions, substituting the water and butter with larger amounts of milk, broth and buttermilk. Um, which I guess isn’t respecting the package instructions at all, but you get what I’m saying. Think of it this way: you’re cooking the couscous as you would a risotto. There. When the couscous is soft, and the surrounding sauce thick and almost like grits, it’s done.++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++
- Pop open a bottle of sweet spring Riesling and pour yourself an obscenely large glass. You deserve it. Then spoon the couscous onto a plate, top with the kale mixture, and sprinkle with shredded Parmesan cheese. Eat slowly, savoring every delicious bite while watching Valomnt, the original film version of Dangerous Liasons (starring Colin Firth what what!), and wonder how your life got to be so gorgeously decadent!++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ ++++
I hope this recipe inspires you to cook fresh, healthy meals at home! If you find any good recipes you want me to test for you, email them to buttercuppunch at gmail dot com!