Fast Food in Harlem

I’ve never considered cooking as a profession, because, as much as I like cooking, I don’t have the passion for it. I like cooking only for special occasions, say when company’s coming or for a special celebration. Then I can really get into it, and when I’m really into it, the thing I like most about cooking is the physicality of preparing it, balancing the creation of an ambiance, and the intensity of timing required to get it right.

In order to enjoy cooking on a regular basis, one needs to get the thrill I get only occasionally, all the time. So I guess you could say I’m a pedestrian cook. I know how to make a succulent dinner now and again, but on those days I’d rather be doing something else, I can make dog food!

Tonight, is an example of a time I don’t feel like cooking. It’s 7:30p already, and I haven’t thought about it. I don’t want to think about it, but I do have to do it.

So what have I got to start with? I’ll use what I can.

1 1/2 chicken breasts
an avocado
one red pepper and one green pepper
some fresh okra
some wheat bulgur
some fresh garlic
some onions, scallions (I hope)
some fresh flat parsley
some quickly rotting Campari baby tomatoes
some baby Confetti potatoes
some quickly aging lemons & lime
almost rotting sweet plantains
olive oil
an assortment of dried spices
dried nuts

And 41 minutes to feed a tight-jawed, finicky husband. What to do?

I pound the chicken breasts and season them with freshly ground black pepper and a seasoned salt (my favorite is Goya’s Adobe). Setting the breasts aside, I quickly chop 1/2 of the green pepper, crushed cloves of garlic, and rinse and chop off the inedible ends of the okra. Sautéeing the garlic, green pepper, and whole okra in about one tablespoon of olive oil, I add a bit (perhaps a teaspoon or two) of dried oregano, dried minced onions, some seasoned salt, freshly ground black pepper, about a tablespoon of curry powder in a tagine (a great cooking utensil, by the way), stir three or so minutes until the okra has softened but still not mushy and set it aside. Then go back to take care of the chicken breasts.

Sautéeing the garlic cloves in about 2 tablespoons of butter, I add the breasts. By now the sauté pan is quite hot, so hot in fact that it has turned the butter brown. The breasts cook quickly and require frequent turning. To add more flavor, I put in some sprigs of fresh tarragon and pour fresh lemon juice (of one lemon). Not having any white wine, I go with a splash of dark rum. This released the sugar cane in the rum and smelled really good, although the liquids it makes the sauce too watery.

Hmmmmm. Now the breasts are going to be overcooked. I should’ve taken them out and set them aside, while this liquid sauce reduces itself. Oh, well, next time….

So now, I have my side dish of curry okra, and I have my entree of chicken breasts, what am I going to do for the starch, since my time has been quickly eaten up?!

I go for the potatoes instead of the bulgur, because I’m not sure how long it’ll take to cook, or of the taste of plain bulgur, or how it’ll taste with the sauce, or if it’ll be okay color-wise, since everything’s looking kind of brown already. I’m thinking the potatoes are a better bet. I wrap them in Saran wrap and nuke them. The potatoes are so small,and they take maybe 4 minutes (probably more like 3 minutes) to cook.

While the potatoes are being nuked, I make an avocado salad, slicing the avocado into eighths, adding some sliced onions, quartered Campari tomatoes, a dash of salt salt and my homemade dressing of rice vinegar and olive oil.

I go back to the okra dish and add one half of a white onion, sliced lengthwise, and some of the Campari tomatoes, and let them cook about 2 minutes. The microwaved potatoes actually come out perfectly, and so very fast. The sauce of the chicken breast did reduce to a nice syrupy texture. I’d added a chicken bullion cube to it because as I was tasting, the sauce seemed a bit weak, despite the lemon and rum.

When I place everything on the plate, I see that another color or texture would’ve greatly enhanced the presentation of this meal. And I’m a bit leery about the texture, because okra can be such a slimy number to begin with, even though I really love it. When you consider the color of the chicken breasts (brown), the okra (green, red, some hint of white), and the potatoes (purple, and white) the dish is a bit too low-keyed. But hey, this is 40 minutes. For dessert, we have the option of cherry vanilla ice cream, or fresh peaches in a red wine sauce with peach sorbet.
When I bring the food to Mr. Hungry Lockjaw, he’d opened a fantastic bottle of Denis Carré Pommard Premier Cru 2003 “Les Charmots”, which proves an excellent, delectable accompaniment.

This is what the food looked like…

Dinner arrived on the TV stands around 8:30p (there was a football game on television!).

Oh, and what was his reaction? He said, “I really like the chicken.” LOL.
When I asked him about the okra, he said, “You know, I always like okra.” He also asked, “Is this all?” And when I told him there was avocado salad and a choice of dessert, he seem quite satisfied.


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  1. My mouth watered while reading this. How dare you! And thank you!

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