PARIS -- The funny thing about being a food writer and cookbook author is that people think since I'm in the kitchen all day long, dinner must be a snap.Right.Thing is, I'm not always in the kitchen. And when I am, I may be testing appetizers or desserts all day long for something I'm working on. That doesn't get me any closer to dinner than I would be if I worked in an office. In fact, I'm at a greater disadvantage because when my day is over, the last thing I want to do is cook.But I can't just untie my apron and dash out to dinner any old time I decide I'm tired of being in the kitchen. It's expensive, for one thing, and going out also requires that an effort be made to spruce up one's appearance -- because let me tell you, it's not all Food Network gloss and shine in my cramped little kitchen, and I usually emerge at the end of the day looking like I've been to war with the oven (which I usually have, and I have the burn scars to prove it). I'm also likely to be decorated with bits of whatever I've been cooking.All of that's to say that just like you, I'm wiped out at the end of the day, and I'm usually trying to figure out what I can make for dinner that will minimize my kitchen time.I have some super-easy, go-to meals -- avocado smashed on toast with a drizzle of pistachio or hazelnut oil; scrambled eggs and chèvre in a tortilla, splashed with Valentina sauce; a heap of baby spinach or arugula topped with a poached egg and Parmesan -- but even these get a bit boring after a while.This year, I'm trying to mix it up. Make something new, something different, even when I'm tired and I just want to take off my cowgirl boots and sit in front of the TV and watch Downton Abbey reruns.These recipes, fortunately, do not require the sort of time that will put off marathon Maggie Smith viewing, if you're like me and cannot watch just one. And no servants required, either. Less than a half-hour, almost all of these, from start to finish.Dum dum dum dum dum ... I can hear the open now.Ellise Pierce is the Cowgirl Chef and author of "Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking With a French Accent" (Running Press). Read her blog and watch her cooking videos on www.cowgirlchef.com. You can also follow her on Twitter, @cowgirlchef.
Chicken tinga tacosMakes 4 to 6 servings1 pound chicken tenders1 celery stalk, halved1 carrot, halvedA couple sprigs of parsleyAbout 10 peppercornsOlive oil1/2 of an onion, diced3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced2 chipotles in adobo, finely chopped2/3 cup canned corn, rinsed and drained1 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained1 (14.5-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoesSea salt and pepper (if needed)6 to 8 tortillas (corn or flour), for serving1 avocado, chopped, for servingHandful of chopped cilantro, for serving3 to 4 tablespoons goat cheese, crumbled, for serving2 to 3 limes, cut into wedges, for serving1. Poach chicken tenders: Put chicken, celery, carrot, parsley and peppercorns in a saucepan. Cover with water, put on the stove over medium-high heat, and cover. When it boils, reduce heat to a simmer and set the timer for 10 minutes. Let the chicken cool in the pot if you have time; if you dont (and I often dont either), shred chicken and proceed to the next step. 2. Drizzle a little olive oil in a large skillet, add onion and garlic, and turn heat to medium-low. Cook just until the onion is translucent, about 5 to 10 minutes. Add chipotles, corn and black beans and stir. Add shredded chicken and let mixture cook 10 to 15 minutes. Add tomatoes and let it go for 5 minutes more. Taste and add seasonings if necessary I didnt add any additional salt when I made this because it didnt need it. Serve on warmed tortillas with avocado, cilantro, goat cheese and limes.
Red quinoa, cannellini beans and cauliflower with arugula pestoMakes 4 servings1 small head of cauliflower, florets removedAbout 2 tablespoons olive oilSea salt and pepper1 cup red quinoaHandful of wild arugula1 cup (9.25 ounces) cannellini beans, drained and rinsedFor arugula pesto:1 clove garlic, minced4.5 ounces wild arugula1/3 cup walnuts, toasted1/4 cup olive oilSea salt and pepper1. Preheat oven to broil and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper or foil. Put cauliflower florets onto cookie sheet, add olive oil, salt and pepper, and toss. Place in oven and cook until florets begin to brown, about 15 minutes, then flip them and brown other sides, about 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.2. Cook quinoa: Put 2 cups of salted water onto boil, then add quinoa, stir, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Let cook for 10 minutes, then turn off heat and let quinoa absorb the rest of the water. Let cool.3. Make arugula pesto: Put garlic, 4.5 ounces arugula, walnuts, olive oil, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse till combined.4. To assemble the salad, put quinoa in a large bowl and add handful of arugula, beans, roasted cauliflower and a tablespoon or two of pesto. Toss and serve.Cowgirl tip: Toss roasted veggies with leftover arugula pesto, or use it as a sandwich spread or whisked into vinaigrette. Pasta works, too.
Spinach stracciatella soup4 cups/1 quart vegetable or chicken stock2 cups waterSea salt and pepper4.5 ounces baby spinach1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving2 eggs, lightly beatenWarm stock and water over medium-high heat, with salt and pepper to taste. When it comes to a simmer, add spinach and Parmesan and let cook until the spinach wilts, 5 to 10 minutes. Slowly add beaten eggs, briskly stirring so they'll be streaky throughout and not cook in clumps. Taste for seasonings and serve right away with more Parmesan.
Chopped steaks with grilled radicchio1 clove garlic, minced1 teaspoon grainy mustard2 tablespoons balsamic vinegarSea salt and pepper4 to 5 tablespoons olive oil1 tablespoon vegetable oil2 chopped steaks, at room temperature1 to 2 heads of radicchio (depending on the size; I used 1), cut into fourthsAbout 2 ounces Roquefort, crumbled1. Make the vinaigrette: Put garlic, mustard and vinegar in a jam jar along with a pinch of sea salt and pepper, and give it a shake. After 5 to 10 minutes, add olive oil and shake again. Taste.3. Put vegetable oil in a cast-iron skillet, making sure it's evenly coated, and turn the heat to high. Salt and pepper the steaks, then add them to the skillet and cook 2 to 3 minutes each side, depending on how done you like them. Remove steaks and cover with foil.4. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel and add a tiny bit of olive oil -- just enough to moisten the bottom. Turn the heat to medium-high. Add radicchio wedges and cook for about 30 seconds on each side.5. Put the radicchio on two plates and top with steaks. Drizzle with vinaigrette and sprinkle with Roquefort.