Sometimes, simple is the best way to go

E-A-S-Y are the happiest four letters in cooking

3/19/2013
BY DANIEL NEMAN
BLADE FOOD EDITOR
Chicken with garlic and roasted brussels sprouts.
Chicken with garlic and roasted brussels sprouts.

The happiest four letters in cooking? E-A-S-Y.

You’ve spent a long day at the powertrain plant. You had an argument with your boss at the office. Maybe you sat down to watch a little TV and wound up irretrievably hooked on the 24-hour marathon of Shahs of Sunset.

The last thing you want to do is expend either time or energy in cooking. But you have to eat, right?

So you reach for something easy to make. Something that tastes good even though it does not take a lot of work (mathematicians would call that a high flavor:effort ratio). Nor should it require a large number of ingredients, because ingredients mean work, and work means not easy.

I recently threw together a number of relatively quick and fairly easy dishes that are perfect for after a hard day of spreading tar or drilling teeth. I got each of the recipes from the Food Network Magazine book Great Easy Meals. Why find them all in a cookbook? In keeping with the theme, that’s the easiest way to do it.

Besides, this particular book boasts a number of easy recipes that are decidedly intriguing (along with maybe more that are not so intriguing — I’m not sure pouring melted chocolate mixed with butter over a store-bought pound cake qualifies as an actual recipe).

I started with garlic-roasted chicken, which is similar in concept to the 40-cloves-of-garlic chicken dish that was so popular in the 1980s. Although it uses two full heads of garlic, the dish itself has surprisingly little garlic flavor because the separate cloves are left unpeeled.

Ice cream and waffle sandwich.
Ice cream and waffle sandwich.

Actually, it has too little garlic flavor for my taste; if you are going to use two heads of garlic, you at least ought to be able to taste it. So I remedied that problem by spreading one of the roasted cloves on the piece of toasted sourdough bread that forms the base of the presentation. Doing so gave the dish just the right amount of garlicky warmth.

The sourdough toast, with or without the spread of garlic puree, is the dish’s outstanding innovation. The mild sourdough tang adds an unexpectedly delightful layer to the familiar combination of chicken, rosemary, and garlic.

Although the roasting method is no longer new, it is worth keeping in mind for any chicken dish. Simply sear the breasts, skin-side down, in an oven-proof skillet. When they are brown, flip them over, add an assortment of aromatics (in this case garlic and rosemary), and pop them into a preheated oven until they are just done. This method keeps them plump and juicy.

An unusual application of garlic played an important role in the second easy entree I made, too. The first step in making garlic-and-greens spaghetti is cutting 16 cloves of garlic into thin slices and then frying them in olive oil until they are a light, golden brown.

That’s right. You make garlic chips. Add a little salt and they are wonderful by themselves. But because they are so small, the flavor:effort ratio skews more toward effort.

However, that is what makes them so brilliant as a garnish. They take work, but each crunchy little garlic chip adds a mighty punch to a traditional dish of winter greens — I used collard greens — sautéed with onions and added to spaghetti.

Don’t forget the pecorino romano cheese for a salty bite that makes all the difference.

I next turned to Brussels sprouts, which are currently enjoying fame as the trendiest of all vegetables, at least at restaurants. Everyone hates them because they tasted so funky and sulfurous when we ate them as kids, but it turns out the problem wasn’t with the Brussels sprouts, the problem was the fact that they had been frozen and were then boiled to an unpleasant mush.

But chefs have realized they taste great when fresh, better when cooked quickly to an al dente texture, and best of all when caramelized. This recipe for roasted Brussels sprouts accomplishes all three and then adds a twist all its own. It counters the robust flavor of the Brussels sprouts with a light sweet and sour sauce made simply by drizzling the sprouts with white wine vinegar and honey.

E-A-S-Y.

Dessert was so simple, I decided to make two. One was so ridiculously obvious I was shocked I had never heard or even thought of it before: Take two frozen waffles, toast them, and stick a scoop or two of ice cream between them.

It’s an instant cross between an ice cream sandwich and a waffle cone. It occurred to me the idea may have come from a popular dish known in some parts of the world as an American waffle: a waffle with an ice cream sundae on top. But then a colleague from Philadelphia told me they have long been all the rage on the Jersey shore.

The other dessert is much lighter; so light, in fact, it is called a cloud. The mango cloud is made by whipping together a quick mango puree (use just a pinch each of cinnamon and cloves to avoid overpowering the mango taste) and folding it gently into coconut-scented whipped cream.

You can whip the cream yourself with a whisk, as I did, or use an egg beater or a mixer. It’s almost blasphemy to say it, but if you don’t tell anyone you could even use some of that whipped cream that comes out of a can.

But that’s only if you really want to make it easy.

Contact Daniel Neman at: dneman@theblade.com or 419-724-6155.


RECIPES

Garlic-and-Greens Spaghetti

16 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium onions, halved and sliced

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or more to taste

Salt

12 cups torn winter greens, such as kale, chard, escarole or mustard greens (about 2½ pounds)

12 ounces spaghetti

¼ cup pecorino romano cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, the larger the better. Meanwhile, cook the garlic in the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. (Be careful not to overbrown the garlic or it will taste bitter). Using a slotted spoon, transfer the garlic chips to a paper-towel-lined plate. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons oil into a small bowl to use as a dip for crusty bread, if desired. Add the onions and red pepper flakes to the oil in the pan; cook, stirring, until the onions are light brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt.

When the onions are almost done, add the greens to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, until just tender, about 2 minutes. Using tongs, remove the greens, shaking off the excess water; add them to the skillet with the onions (set the pot of water aside). Cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.

Return the cooking water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes. Remove and reserve about 1 cup cooking water; drain the pasta and transfer to a serving bowl. Add the cheese and toss. Add the greens and some of the reserved pasta water and toss, adding more water as necessary to keep the pasta from clumping. Top with the garlic chips.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving: Calories 565; fat 16 g (saturated 4 g); cholesterol 8 mg; carbohydrate 28 g; fiber 4 g; protein 28g

Source: Great Easy Meals, by Food Network Magazine


Roasted Brussels Sprouts

1½ pounds Brussels sprouts, halved

¼ cup olive oil

Red pepper flakes

Salt

Pepper

White wine vinegar

Honey

Preheat oven to 450°. Toss the halved Brussels sprouts with the olive oil, and season generously with red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper. Roast cut-side down on a baking sheet until caramelized, 25-30 minutes (or less time if the sprouts are small).

Drizzle with vinegar and honey before serving.

Yield: About 4 servings

Source: Great Easy Meals, by Food Network Magazine


Ice Cream Wafflewiches

2 frozen waffles

Ice cream, any flavor

Confectioners' sugar, optional

Toast waffles and let cool. Sandwich scoops of ice cream between them. Dust with confectioners' sugar, if desired.

Yield: 1-2 servings

Source: Great Easy Meals, by Food Network Magazine


Mango Cloud

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted

¼ cup confectioners' sugar

2 teaspoons lime juice

Pinch ground cinnamon

Pinch ground cloves

¾ cup heavy cream or 2 cups canned whipped cream

¼ teaspoon coconut extract

Puree mangoes, sugar, lime juice, cinnamon, and cloves in a blender until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate.

Whip cream with coconut extract until stiff peaks form, or carefully blend extract into canned whipped cream. Gently stir into the mango puree, and spoon into glasses.

Yield: 4 servings

Source: Great Easy Meals, by Food Network Magazine