Burgers and Chicken for an Unseasonably Warm Weekend

Got a bit to say about two dinners over an unseasonably warm weekend. Great golf, a long bike ride with Amy and lots of good family time (despite a late Saturday night dinner after church - 5:30 service is too late if dinner starts at 7pm). Serious winners on Saturday night, disappointing losers on Sunday, about which I should have known better. Real soon, I'll put up a more detailed analysis of "quick cooking" recipes and why they should be ignored at all costs.

Saturday Burger Night
  • Chermoula Lamb Burgers in Pita with Tapenade, Gourmet, August 2007
  • Regular Burgers for Kids
  • Tomato, Caper and Roasted Pepper Salad, Gourmet, August 2007

Sunday Chicken and Veggies

  • Tomato and Herb Stuffed Chicken Cutlets, Gourmet, August 2007
  • "Chinese Hamburger" Stuffed Chicken Cutlets
  • Crudites
  • Balsamic White Bean Dip, BonAppetit, January 2008
  • Creamy Herb Dip, ???

First the good news. Cermoula is awesome. Gourmet's first issue published under the leadership of Ruth
Reichl in the late summer of 1999 included Chermoula Lamb Chops. This dish, among others in that issue, was absolutely over the top. We served them for our final "The Mulligan" couples golf tournament in the one year we lived on Haddassah Drive in the house that backed up to the farm. Fond memory. I've made it again several times, despite the expense of obtaining a large number of Frenched lamb chops. Well worth it.

This use of
Cermoula was very good. It's not on par with the serious killer coating on lamb chops, but it was solid and easy to prepare. Lots of cilantro, a few ground spices and that magic ingredient - ground coriander. Though the coriander should be ground from seeds, it seems to be an ingredient in some of the best dishes I've had in the last few years. The Chermoula might be transferable to beef, but it seems like we can get ground lamb pretty easily now, so I wouldn't bother.

Using pita instead of other rolls was a bit wan. A grilled burger deserves a slightly bigger bread payoff. I don't want much, but a little more than pita. For
tapenade I used a regionally available Muffaletta olive dressing - Boscoli Family Italian Olive Salad, Kenner, LA. It was a nice addition, but should be used sparingly - the Chermoula can stand on it's own.

From the quick cook section of Gourmet I made a tomato and pepper salad. Thus begins the first of many diatribes you'll see in this blog concerning quick cooking. I'll save the full measure of my frustration about these recipes for a dedicate post on the subject. In a nutshell, these "cook quick" recipes often seem appealing upon scanning the ingredient list. Then your enthusiasm is piqued when you see how the preparation is simplified.

For most cooks, the preparation will take longer than the recipe calls for. As a very experienced, fast, organized cook, I'd bet I still don't make the complete recipes in the 10 minutes or whatever short time is specific. I can to
RR's recipes in 30 minutes, but they tend not always) to suffer the problems of the rest.

Tom's Maxim for Quick Cooking Recipes: invest a small amount of time and without fail, you'll get a small payoff.

Since you put each ingredient into the bowl, pot, pan or on the plate, you know you combined some good stuff. But usually these recipes end up with one dimensional taste or simple alternating flavors. That is to say, there has not been enough time for flavors to meld, or the simplistic recipe design has been pared down so much that there are no flavors to meld. You'll taste some of each ingredient / flavor, but not the unique fusion created by more ingredients, better combinations of ingredients or more time consuming techniques.

OK - for the salad. Instead of flame roasting whole bell pepper, the recipe called for grilling the pepper in slices. This is a faster technique because you can get all the exterior pepper surfaces on the heat at once. If you char the skins to black, bag them and peel; if not, you can serve with skins. Nice win. I was feeling good about this recipe. While peppers grill, seed and chop a pound of Roma tomatoes (I can do this in 2-3 minutes, but most people take 5-8). Still feeling good. Toss peppers (chopped) and tomatoes with a couple tablespoons of capers (too many), 2 T olive oil, 1 T red wine vinegar plus S&P. Well - we just lost the battle. These proportions are terrible. Far too much
vinaigrette for the volume of tomato/pepper. Red wine vinegar is generally to crude on it's own - it needs herbs, maybe onion and a good ratio to oil to be a winner.

On Sunday I decided to treat the kids to veggies and dip as their main vegetable instead of any kind of regular veggie. The balsamic bean dip from BA suffered as described above. No depth whatsoever, despite great balsamic, high
quality cannelini, very good olive oil. It was really just brown mush, mild flavor. Kids might have liked it more if it didn't look so....light brown. Herb dip better - cilantro, parsley, scallion.....a few other things (???) in sour cream and yogurt. Needed 24 hours to sit for better flavors to develop (though not specified in recipe). All kids liked it,
not a lot, except for Amy, of course.

The chicken cutlets were a total loss. Again quick cook. Again, poor flavor development, poor balance of flavor (not to mention poor basic ingredient proportions). Technique would be intimidating and time consuming to casual cooks. Chicken breast pounded to 1/4" - easy for a seasoned cook, but also easy for a novice to over pound and create tears, or spend a lot of time trying to get cutlets just so. Garlic was mashed to a paste (takes some people a lot of time to do this, right M?), mix with 1T anchovy paste, 3T parsley, S&P (a little olive oil? maybe - but I don't care '
cause this one's not getting made again). Spread on cutlet, add a Roma tomato slice, fold cutlet in half and saute. No sauce (not quick), poor flavors, very easy to over cook the tomato slice in order to cook chicken through.

Knowing kids wouldn't touch the parsley, garlic, tomato chicken, (except Amy) I took some left over Chinese Hamburger (
ooops - just went to grab the link to my post about Chinese Hamburger. There is no post for Chinese Hamburger. Well, that will have to be addressed. See how important this blog thing is). Spread a couple T of Chinese hamburger in cutlets and sautee. Wish that was dinner for all of us.

So there you have it. Did I mention that you should avoid the quick cook recipes in Gourmet. And nothing ever from Food and Wine,
Bon Appetit, not even the regular recipes - most of which have the same characteristics.

I was thinking of testing Gourmet quick cooks recipes every month an blogging about them here. But I think the success rate of finding good recipes will be around 10%. I don't want to eat that much average food. Instead, I'll continue down the path of writing about our everyday fare,
and maybe throw in a special project - like cooking anything from Cuisine Rapide (the greatest cookbook ever written) that I've never made before. Stay tuned.

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