Cook's Corner

Split-Second Combinations are Springboards to multiple meals

Lately, I've been keeping two cooking files: one for full-fledged recipes and the other for inspired combinations. "Inspired" is the keyword. These are split-second mixtures so potent that they instantly improve any meal.

Their sources vary. They may first cross my path as a topping or a side for another recipe or a description on a gourmet restaurant's menu. Lately, I've been researching chef-made, affordable delivery plans for a writing project. From their online sample menus, I started feverishly jotting down easy-to-emulate combinations (for my own copycat meals rather than my research). For instance, a couple that virtually jumped off the computer screen are from Los Angeles-based

. Ricotta maple cream that tops blueberry-walnut pancakes.
. Arugula with grilled chicken, strawberries, shaved jicama, and citrus vinaigrette.
From an e-mail flyer about a couples' cooking class offered at the Maggiano's Little Italy chain:
. Roasted pear and gorgonzola bruschetta topped with julienne greens.
From the manufacturer website advertised on the back of my Smucker's jam:
. Heating brie cheese that's been topped with chopped hazelnuts and berry preserves. Or if feeling more ambitious, wrap the whole thing in a sheet of puff pastry and then bake.
From the Yahoo Men's Health Magazine blog based on the best-selling book series, "Eat This, Not That":
. Chunks of watermelon rubbed with olive oil, grilled and tossed in a goat cheese-greens salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
The endless sources can be jotted down on scraps of paper, napkins, or in your smart phone as you go about all your other tasks. They can vary and improve your cooking that very day with items already in your refrigerator and pantry. For example, last night just as I was falling asleep, I heard a few descriptions on a television infomercial, grabbed a Post-It, and subsequently made the following innovative treats for breakfast and lunch in minutes:
. Breakfast quesadillas by scrambling an egg, placing it on a tortilla, topping with a slice of tomato, onion, low-fat cheese, ground black pepper, another tortilla and baking in a preheated 375 F oven for about 5 minutes per side, or until cheese melts.
. Lunch turkey salad by chopping leftover cooked turkey breast and combining with diced apples, minced fresh chives, fruit preserves, minced fresh ginger, and mayonnaise-based reduced-fat salad dressing. Then serving atop cucumber slices.

Here are two simple full-fledged recipes from People magazine's recent "Cooking with the Stars" special issue that are excellent and from which, after I prepared them, I stole their potent parts for use in countless future and easier meals. Check out singer Michael Buble's maple-ginger marinade in his wild salmon specialty:

Maple Ginger Wild Salmon

3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 (2 1/2- to 3-) pound wild salmon fillet, skin on
Lemon wedges, for garnish
Yields 6 servings.

Combine maple syrup, soy sauce, and ginger in a small bowl.

Place salmon in a baking dish and pour marinade over fish. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 4 hours.

Preheat grill or grill pan over medium-high heat. Remove fish from dish, scrape off excess marinade and place on a piece of aluminum foil.

Place salmon, foil side down, on grill and carefully cover loosely with another piece of foil. Grill until salmon is flaky and center is cooked to medium-rare, 15 to 17 minutes, or medium, about 20 minutes.

Remove fish from grill. Using a large spatula, slide salmon from foil and discard skin. Serve with lemon wedges.


Chicken Pesto Pasta

2 cups firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1 (8-ounce) package spaghetti
2 cups cooked chicken breast, shredded
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Process basil, pine nuts, oil, and garlic in food processor or blender until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down sides.

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

Combine spaghetti, basil mixture, and chicken in a large bowl. Toss gently. Add salt and pepper, if needed.

Sherri Shepherd, "The View" co-host and host of the syndicated "The Newlywed Game," puts chicken and spaghetti in this pesto dish that's excellent, but afterward, it's the easy pesto recipe itself to steal and use in salads, on side vegetables, panini sandwiches, and in countless other meat, poultry, and pasta dishes.

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