As promised, I am taking a break from my Lenten theme to concentrate on other foods. Typically, many emails I receive are for fast and simple meals. This is just the sign of the times. Most people genuinely don't have the time, except weekends and special occasions, to spend hours in the kitchen to prepare more complicated or time-consuming recipes. Truth be told, I don't either. My quick-fixes are salads and pasta, something I can quickly grill, or a deli-style sandwich.
Lately I have been craving a lot of the classics, both local and foreign dishes. A decent stew peas, a piece of well-done fried chicken with a crispy and well-seasoned crust, a creamy mac and cheese, a juicy steak, an eggs Benedict, and I could go on and on. Although I love to experiment with food at home and enjoy the burst of different flavours on my palate, sometimes simplicity is welcome. By simple, I mean staying true to the roots of the recipe regardless from which country it originates. Each nation can boast a dish which most of the population adore. Here in Jamaica I keep referring to the patty, because it is a democratic dish that everyone can afford, and its savoury, meat-filling and buttery, flaky crust delight all.
Some cooks go overboard with food. Instead of being a pleasurable activity, cooking can be competitive. While there is nothing wrong with competition, many times it manifests in an unhealthy way. I can't count the number of emails I receive from stressed-out people who want to host a dinner but are afraid the menu won't be "fancy" enough because "so and so" had "such and such" at their dinner party. I respond by inquiring of them what really is the motivation. Is it to impress or to have a good time? I think the majority would want to have a good time, so encourage them to stop pressuring themselves and cook what they are comfortable preparing. If, for example, you can only do rice and peas and chicken, do it well, and serve it with a nice side salad, buy a great dessert and serve delicious drinks. Honestly, your guests will not care unless they are not your true friends.
Yes, food will be the conversation piece and one gets excited to be invited out for a meal, but I strongly believe that you must cook with love. Your guests are already happy that you are inviting them into your home. If you do so, regardless of what you serve it will be appreciated. If you get behind the stove feeling all anxious and worried, I truly think it will affect your cooking.
Another thing I have observed is that some dishes alienate rather than attract people to try it. Many times superfluous descriptions can be intimidating, especially for those who may want to try something new. Unfortunately, there is a growing stigma that food is becoming increasingly elitist. Occasionally words used to describe a specific dish are often better than what is actually served on the plate.
Most top chefs are going back to the basics: easy, good food done well. There is evidence to support the view that certain dishes are time-honoured classics. These days we are more aware of certain health pros and cons. Some of our beloved classics can be done in "lightened" versions with less fat and salt for instance. The best foods have ingredients that are clean and fresh. I find that when food is fresh, you do not have to overdress it with seasonings or marinades because the natural taste is so wonderful. There is less need to overcompensate on flavour, instead just use a simple herb, a hint of garlic or a nice salt to showcase what is already present.
I had some leftover pistachios which I needed to use up, so I made a coating for some fish but this can easily be used for chicken or pork. Serve with a side of greens or mixed vegetables or with some mashed potatoes and gravy.
4 chicken breasts, pounded to 1cm thick
3/4 cup/170g all-purpose flour
1/2 cup/ 100ml milk
2 cups/ 400g breadcrumbs
1/2 cup pistachios (or whatever nut you choose)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 fresh thyme sprig, stripped Vegetable oil, for frying
Season the flour with salt and pepper and place on a plate.
Whisk egg and milk together and pour mixture onto a second plate.
On another plate, mix breadcrumbs, nuts, lemon zest and thyme.
Take a piece of flattened chicken and place in the seasoned flour. Shake off excess, dredge in the egg mixture, then coat in the breadcrumb mixture.
Repeat step with other pieces of chicken.
Fry over medium-high heat for 4 to 5 minutes per side.
Steak and Chips
Sometimes you simply feel for some meat and potatoes. Steak and chips are a classic combination. You can keep your steak no-fuss or add mushrooms or onions; it’s really up to you and what you crave. Serve this with your favourite condiment on the side.
Sirloin Steak, 1 per person
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper or steak seasoning
Generously season your steak with the best quality salt and pepper you have. Prepare your grill with a little oil and grill steaks rare, medium or well done, according to individual preferences.
Serve with French fries.
Thanks to my weekly sponsors MegaMart for providing the groceries for this column.
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