PARIS - After spending the last month of 2011 in North Texas -- and sampling the goods at every taco stand and burger joint in DFW -- I knew I'd need to clean up my act once I got back to Paris.
Like many of y'all, I've vowed to make healthy eating a priority for the new year, and even though cooking and testing recipes is what I do nearly every day, when it's dinnertime, I'm often tired of being in the kitchen and completely out of ideas. And I reach for the first thing that I see -- a carton of eggs, which I'll either scramble, fry or poach; or an avocado, that I'll smoosh onto a piece of toast with a drizzle of pistachio oil and a pinch of sea salt.
We can all get into a rut when it comes to mealtime -- eating the same things, the same way, every single time. Especially when it's the end of the day, and we're tired, hungry and don't have a lot of time to cook.
How to break out of this pattern? By mixing and matching the individual parts, much like we do with our clothes. It's the "Garanimals" approach to eating -- everything goes with everything else. Easy.
It's a simple idea, aimed at taking the worry out of what you're going to eat each night, by: 1) making everything in advance, and 2) building in variety and a play-around factor -- i.e. this can be mixed or matched with that.
It only requires that you spend a couple of hours on a Saturday or Sunday making up a few things -- a couple of salads, a soup and a main -- and you can spend the next week mixing and matching whatever you'd like that night. For example, you might want just soup for dinner if you've had a late lunch, or if you skipped lunch altogether, you might want a salmon burger with the soup. Another night, you might want the beet salad with a cup of soup. Or a cup of soup and the couscous. Or crumble up your cooked salmon patty and toss it in with the couscous or onto a salad (you may use some of the E-Z French vinaigrette to dress it with), or into a tortilla for a taco. Mix and match, depending on what you're in the mood for. You get the idea.
This is my preferred way of pulling together a quick dinner or lunch. Like you, I just need to carve out the time to make it happen. And when I do, that looming, daily question about dinner disappears ... and I can move onto more important things, like hitting the January sales.
Salmon burgers with avocado
1/2 pound (250 grams) of salmon fillet, skin removed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
About 2 cups of stale bread, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
About 1 tablespoon of fresh chives, chopped
Zest of 1/2 lemon
A pinch of cayenne
Sea salt and pepper
1 tablespoon of olive oil
4 slices of toasted bread (if you're eating all of these at the same time)
1 avocado, halved and thinly sliced, for serving
Lime, for serving
Cilantro, chopped, for serving
1. Mix together the salmon, bread, chives, lemon zest, cayenne, egg, and salt and pepper, and form four patties (they'll be about 1 inch thick and 4 inches in diameter). Put these on a small foil-lined cookie sheet, cover with another piece of foil, and let rest in the fridge for an hour.
2. To make the salmon burgers: Simply drizzle the olive oil into a nonstick skillet, turn the heat to medium-high, and when it's hot, gently add the burgers. They'll cook for a couple of minutes on each side, or till crispy. Serve immediately, open-face, on a slice of toasted bread, with a couple of pieces of avocado on top, a squeeze of lime and cilantro.
Cowgirl tip: I like to go ahead and cook these salmon burgers and refrigerate what I don't eat the first night. That way, you've got salmon that you can add to a salad, shove into a tortilla for a taco or simply eat as is, cold.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 322 calories, 16 grams fat, 27 grams carbohydrates, 18 grams protein, 83 milligrams cholesterol, 324 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 44 percent of calories from fat.
Beet, avocado and endive salad with goat cheese and walnuts
2 large beets
1 avocado, cut in 2-inch chunks
1 endive, cut into 1/2-inch slices
4 ounces of walnuts, roasted
4 ounces of goat cheese, crumbled
About 3/4 cup E-Z French vinaigrette (see recipe)
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Trim the ends off of the beets, rinse and dry, and wrap them with heavy-duty foil. Put the beets on a cookie sheet and slide them into the oven to bake for an hour, depending on the size. To check doneness, take them out of the oven, unwrap the foil -- do this carefully so you don't burn yourself -- and slide a dinner knife into the beet. It's done if the knife easily slices through. If it doesn't, just wrap the beet back up, and put it in the oven. When they're done, let the beets completely cool in the foil before slicing -- and don't wear white when you do. (Note: You can roast the beets ahead of time and keep in the fridge till you're ready to make the salad.)
3. To assemble the salad, simply slice the beets into 1/2-inch pieces, toss them into a bowl, and add the avocado, endive, walnuts and goat cheese. Drizzle some of the E-Z French vinaigrette on top, gently toss and serve.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 664 calories, 61 grams fat, 17 grams carbohydrates, 19 grams protein, 30 milligrams cholesterol, 180 milligrams sodium, 8 grams dietary fiber, 79 percent of calories from fat.
E-Z French vinaigrette
1/4 cup of sherry vinegar
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard
Sea salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh herbs (basil, thyme, chives)
1/2 cup of olive oil
1. Put the sherry vinegar, minced shallot, mustard, a big pinch of salt and pepper, and herbs in a jam jar, and shake until combined.
2. Let rest for about 10 minutes -- this softens the intensity of the shallot's flavor and allows the salt to dissolve -- then add the olive oil. Taste for seasonings.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 244 calories, 27 grams fat, 1 gram carbohydrates, trace protein, no cholesterol, 16 milligrams sodium, trace dietary fiber, 98 percent of calories from fat.
Roasted root vegetables with couscous
3 to 4 medium carrots, peeled and chopped into fingers
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped into fingers
About 1/4 pound of sunchokes (aka Jerusalem artichokes) peeled and chopped into fingers
Sea salt and pepper
2 cups of chicken stock
1 tablespoon of butter
10 ounces of couscous (uncooked)
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
A pinch of cayenne
1/4 cup of currants
Zest of one lemon
A small handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped (for serving)
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees and line a cookie sheet with foil. Toss the veggies onto it, drizzle with a little olive oil, add some salt and pepper, and mix it up with your hands. Slide the sheet into the oven and let cook until the edges are brown, about 20 minutes or so.
2. While the veggies are roasting, make the couscous: Over medium-high heat in a medium saucepan, bring the stock and butter to a boil. When it does, add the couscous, turn off the heat, and let rest for 5 minutes, or until all of the liquid has been absorbed.
3. Fluff with a fork, pour into a large bowl and add the cinnamon, cayenne, currants and lemon zest, and mix well. Place the veggies on top, sprinkle some chopped parsley all over and serve family-style.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 460 calories, 4 grams fat, 93 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams protein, 8 milligrams cholesterol, 642 milligrams sodium, 12 grams dietary fiber, 8 percent of calories from fat.
2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of fresh grated ginger
About 5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
8 ounces of vegetable or chicken stock
1 teaspoon of cumin
Sea salt and pepper
1. Drizzle olive oil in a stockpot and add the onion. Turn the heat to medium-low, stir and let cook until the onions are translucent; this'll take about 5 minutes.
2. Now add the ginger and carrots, and let them cook for 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Pour in the stock, and add the cumin and a pinch of salt and pepper, and give it a stir. Let this come to a boil; then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes or so. Serve right away.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 149 calories, 8 grams fat, 18 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 1 milligram cholesterol, 308 milligrams sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber, 46 percent of calories from fat.