Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Kitchen Magician Trick #1: Blanching

It's hard to follow a healthy diet every day when those darn $5 foot-long hoagies (subs to all you non-Philly folks) look so good. Making a meal from scratch seems so daunting when it's late, you're tired and there are still things like baths and bedtime stories, or a lawn to mow before dark. Or, there's a hammock and a glass of wine with your name on it.

It's easy enough to pop a chicken breast or a steak on the grill, but if the thought of having one more bagged salad combo on the side makes you want to dial Dominos, I have a good trick for you. The big TV food gurus always tell you to wash and prep your vegetables and fruit as soon as you bring them home, but I want you to take it one step further. Blanch your vegetables in bulk in advance. Blanching partially cooks your vegetables, and usually brightens the color. If you like them on the firm side, you can even use the blanched vegetables in salads or quick pickles.

So if your family will eat green beans twice in a week,  buy 2 pounds, trim and blanch them in boiling, well salted water for about 4-5 minutes, until just on the verge of being cooked, and then immediately shock them in ice water to stop the cooking. Now you are ready to go. This technique works for most harder, crispy vegetables like broccoli, green beans, carrots and cauliflower, though you may want to blanch sliced carrots or cauliflower a minute or two longer than beans. Tougher greens like kale and collards are great stored blanched, ready to use. You probably only think of blanching when you want to freeze vegetables, but blanched vegetables will keep well in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.  This week I did a batch of green beans and a big bunch of kale.

When mealtime rolls around, and your chicken is on the grill, or the tuna is in the broiler, all you have to do is heat some of your favorite fat in a saucepan, add some aromatics--onion, garlic or pepper, cook for a minute or two, and then add a meal's worth of your blanched vegetable. Toss it in the hot oil until heated through and as tender as you like. Less than 5 minutes to the table. There are innumerable combos to try with your vegetables. Bacon is always a favorite, it goes with virtually everything, and if you save bacon fat like I do, you already have the start of a tasty side dish.

I'm not going to tell you how to blanch your vegetables, you can Google for plenty of info on that; I am telling you to partially gook your vegetables ahead to speed getting a delectable, nutritious dinner on the table in no time flat.

Here's a favorite recipe of ours that uses blanched green beans; in our house the green beans are usually haricots verts, because I grow them and we prefer them. Feel free to use whatever bean is fresh and beautiful in your market.
Just about everything is better with bacon.
Green Beans with Bacon, Fried Onions & Tomato
Serves 4

1 lb. green beans or haricots verts, trimmed and blanched
4 slices of bacon, minced or 4 slices of cooked bacon crumbled, and 2T of saved bacon fat
1 small red onion, quartered and sliced thin
1 medium tomato, seeded and diced small
salt ,and black pepper to taste

In a 12" non-stick frying pan,  cook the bacon over medium high heat until beginning to crisp, about 2 minutes. Lower the heat and cook about a minute longer, until there is a little more than a tablespoon of rendered fat in the pan. Remove the cooked bacon and set aside. Add the onion to the bacon fat, and cook until beginning to soften. If you already have the bacon cooked, just heat the bacon fat and cook the onion. When the onion is beginning to turn golden, add the green beans and toss in the bacon fat. Cook a minute or two until heated through, then add the tomato. Toss well, season with salt and pepper to taste, and place in serving bowl. Sprinkle the reserved bacon over the top.

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