Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What Does a Chef Eat on His Night Off?

This question and its cousin "Do you cook at home?" are perpetual FAQs in the dining room. The answer is that while I would love to avoid cooking on my nights off, with two hungry daughters to feed, cooking is inevitable.

On the two nights a week that I am home, dinner is a very simple affair, something that can be made and served in fifteen minutes or so, especially on Monday nights when I have been at the restaurant since 7:30am and am beat, and I am greeted at the door with "Dad, what's for supper?" The literal translation of this is "I'm a starving teenager and I want to eat now."

I do slightly, but only slightly, more elaborate dishes on Sundays when I have a chance to plan more and I can prep a little bit here and there all day long to get ready. Still, more elaborate is fairly trivial compared to what we make at the restaurant.

Not only am I tired of cooking on the weekends, I simply don't want to eat the food that I cook at the restaurant. I think a lot of chefs crave home cooking, because we don't get that much of it. One downside of our occupation is that nobody voluntarily cooks for us, thinking that their food is not good enough to serve to us!

At home, the most common things that I cook are frittatas, pasta, couscous, composed salads, and soups. Large hunks of animal protein are scarce at our house.

I'm trying to get my kids to eat better, which means more fresh vegetables and lower fat. I'm trying subtly to prepare them for when they go off to college by showing them easy, low-cost dishes that fit into a busy schedule. Whether they pick up on these lessons or not, who can say? I love it when they can help me out, but with homework and all that, I don't see a whole lot of them in the kitchen at home.

What I have found is that interactive foods seem to interest them more than other foods. Anything that has to be wrapped in a wrapper such as a tortilla, lettuce leaf, or rice paper seems to go over well. Also going over well are things such as composed salads where they are free to take what they want in whatever quantities they want.

Here's a "recipe" from last night. The quotation marks indicate that this is just an idea and there are no exact quantities; use your own judgement. The idea behind this salad is that it is fun to wrap in lettuce leaves like little burritos. You should feel free to add whatever raw vegetables you happen to like and whatever lean protein that you like. I try to use nuts as an additional protein source to let me cut back on the animal protein.

Tomato, Cucumber, and Canadian Bacon Salad

1 dry pint grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1/2 English/European/burpless cucumber, cubed
4 oz Canadian bacon, diced
1/2 c Marcona almonds
1 T extra virgin olive oil
juice of half a lemon
salt and pepper to taste
Bibb lettuce leaves

Cut up the tomatoes, cucumbers and Canadian bacon and toss in a bowl with the oil and lemon juice. Season to taste. Line a large plate or small platter with lettuce leaves. Place the salad in the center.

Canadian bacon is often called back bacon and is not true bacon at all. It is pork loin that has been cured. Loin is one of the leanest pork cuts of all. Feel free to subsitute any leftover roasted meat, grilled chicken, poached or grilled shrimp, calamari, cubed seared tuna, smoked chicken or turkey, etc.

Marcona almonds are the most amazing disk-shaped nuts from Spain. I'll write more about them in another post. Substitute any nut you like.

On another occasion I might substitute smoked turkey for the Canadian bacon and add blanched asparagus and feta cheese. Or I might add some fresh oregano, pepperoncini, and olives. The thing to note about all these salads is that they take five minutes to prepare, they are low fat, and my girls like rolling them up in lettuce leaves or rice paper.

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