As the hard-working husband of a hard-working wife and father of a very busy first grader, I'm lucky if I ever get a single hour to myself. It sometimes happens, as it did one recent night when my wife took my son to music lessons and I happened to already be home from work. I had an hour all to myself, to do whatever I wanted!
As long as I made dinner.
That had me talking to a cookbook:
"OK, Ellie Krieger, show me what you've got."
I had in hand the latest by the ever-fresh-faced cookbook author, TV celebrity and registered dietitian, who's long been a favorite in our family. Her food is good for you, but it's also good. In every sense, she keeps it real.
But this book, "Weeknight Wonders" (Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt; Jan. 1, 2014; $29.99), is subtitled "Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less."
What busy family doesn't want that? It's the dinnertime holy grail.
Heck, if I could make dinner in a half hour, I'd still have a half hour all to myself, to do whatever I wanted!
But could I really make Grilled Tandoori Chicken Breasts, from start to finish, in 30 minutes?
Well, long story short, no.
Heck, it took me 15 minutes just to find the ground cloves in the boxes of spices in the basement.
But that's not Ms. Krieger's fault. I believe she sincerely tried to make these recipes work that quickly.
She writes in the introduction that she worked to "make that 30-minute window truly realistic," including writing recipes in a way that include the chopping and slicing instructions in the directions. "For maximum efficiency, I recommend that before you start cooking you read the recipe all the way through so that your have a good mental picture of what needs to happen, and so you can get all of your ingredients and tools out."
That's the thing: There are variables the come up when you're cooking at home, especially the first time you're making a recipe.
I didn't set a timer, because I had to interrupt the cooking process a couple of times, but I think it took me a little more than an hour to bring that recipe home -- and by then, of course, my wife and son were home and hungry.
My wife made the other two recipes we've tried so far, and those each took her closer to an hour to make, as well.
But we're not complaining. All three recipes were quick, interesting and quite tasty.
We're looking forward to trying many more recipes in the book, which will likely earn a spot in a bookcase with some of Ms. Krieger's other cookbooks.
She knows that while it's important for people to get it on the table quickly, there's more to dinner than just speed.
I like how she suggests that "once your are ready to eat, make a point of putting the rush and stress of the day behind you. Set the table nicely, even if you are dining solo; turn off the TV and computer and put your phone away. Put on some soothing music, sit down, and take a little time to relax and really taste each bite. If you are with friends and family, enjoy sharing the meal and conversation with them. Be sure to take a moment to fully savor your delicious weeknight wonder!"
Savory Red Lentil, Quinoa, and Vegetable Stew
"This satisfying main dish is a unique combination that cooks up like a pilaf but tastes like a wonderful, Indian-spiced chili," writes Ellie Krieger.
5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 large onion
1 large carrot
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-inch piece fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic
1/2 small bunch kale (2 cups packed leaves)
1½ teaspoons ground cumin
1½ teaspoons ground coriander
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup red lentils
1 cup quinoa, preferably red
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons packed fresh cilantro leaves
Bring the broth to a boil in a medium saucepan, then keep warm over low heat until needed.
While the broth is heating, chop the onion and dice the carrot. Heat oil in a large saucepan or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and carrot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mince the ginger and garlic. Stem the kale; discard the stems and coarsely chop the leaves.
Add ginger, garlic, cumin, coriander, salt, and cayenne to onion-carrot mixture and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add lentils, quinoa, and all but 1 cup of the boiling broth. Stir in kale leaves and cinnamon stick. Cover, decrease heat to medium-low, and simmer until the quinoa and lentils are nearly tender, about 10 minutes. Add the peas and cook until the peas, quinoa, and lentils are tender, 2 to 3 minutes more. Stir in the remaining broth as needed if the mixture seems too thick. Serve garnished with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkle of cilantro leaves.
One-Pot Dominican-Style Chicken and Rice
1 small onion
1 large green bell pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 cloves garlic
4 large pimento-stuffed olives
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, optional
2¼ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup quick-cooking brown rice
4 skinless boneless chicken thighs (about 1 pound total)
Thinly slice the onion into half-moons and chop the bell pepper. Heat the oil in a large skillet that has a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Add the onion and pepper and cook until soft and browned around the edges, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, mince the garlic and quarter the olives.
Add the tomato paste to the skillet and cook, stirring, until it is incorporated and slightly darker in color, 1 minute. Add the minced garlic, chili powder, cumin, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, black pepper, and cayenne if using, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the broth, rice, and olives, then add the chicken. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer until nearly all the liquid is absorbed, the rice is soft, and the chicken is cooked through, about 15 minutes.
Makes 4 servings.
Grilled Tandoori Chicken Breasts
Ellie Krieger describes this as "quick and easy way to introduce glorious Indian tastes at home" and suggests serving it with a warmed flatbread, such as naan, and her recipe for Indian-Style Cucumber Salad. I served it with rice, which also was quick.
1 large lemon
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
¼ teaspoon salt
2 medium cloves garlic
2-inch piece fresh ginger
1/2 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
If using a grill, spray it with cooking spray and preheat it over medium-high heat. Otherwise, wait to preheat a grill pan. Halve the lemon. Cut 1 half into wedges and set aside for serving.
Place the chicken breasts between sheets of plastic wrap and pound out to an even thickness of about ½ inch. Place the chicken in a medium baking dish (about 8 inches square). Make 4 shallow cuts into each piece of chicken, then sprinkle both sides with the salt and the juice from the remaining half of the lemon.
Mince the garlic, peel and finely grate the ginger, and place both into a small bowl. Add the yogurt and the rest of the spices and stir to combine. Pour over the chicken and turn to coat. Marinate for 10 minutes.
If using a grill pan, spray it with cooking spray and preheat it over medium-high heat. Cook the chicken until cooked through and grill marks are formed, about 5 minutes per side. Serve with lemon wedges.
Makes 4 servings.
-- "Weeknight Wonders: Delicious, Healthy Dinners in 30 Minutes or Less" (Houghton, Mifflin Harcourt; Jan. 1, 2014; $29.99)
Bob Batz Jr.: email@example.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.