Simplicity is key.
Life can be difficult. It can even be daunting. When you come home from a hard day of wrangling penguins, the last thing you want to do is put together a meal with 27 different ingredients.
So you reach into the larder (does anyone even have a larder anymore? When’s the last time you saw the word “larder”?) and pull out a handful of ingredients. No more than five. And you make a meal, or at least a dish.
It may not be as complexly flavored as the one with 27 ingredients, but on the other hand, there is less to go wrong, too. It’s clean. Efficient. Simple.
Simplicity is key.
And from such simplicity can come bold flavors. I made a pot roast out of five ingredients, and it is so roundly delectable that I am calling it Five-Ingredient Bourguignon.
That may be stretching the point, but only a little. I began with a hunk of meat (top or bottom round; I used top) and I braised it until tender in red wine with onions and thyme.
The key is to cook the meat at a low simmer for a long time (mine took a little under two hours). This not only makes what is typically a tough piece of meat deliciously tender, but it also gives a chance for the acidity in the wine to mellow out as the alcohol cooks away.
It’s a breeze to make, and the result is a hearty roast, just right for a cold winter’s night.
For a side dish to stand up to the beef — or an excellent vegetarian main course — you might want to consider White Beans With Rosemary and Garlic.
Naturally, this is a dish of white beans that has been flavored with rosemary and garlic, plus olive oil and salt. But the recipe comes from Alice Waters, who revolutionized American cooking with her world-famous restaurant Chez Panisse, so you know it is going to be extra good.
And so it is. Beans, garlic and rosemary combine to bring out an almost unworldly earthiness in each other; it is a truly great grouping of flavors. It was superb.
And so was teriyaki chicken with bok choy, a dish that embarrasses me a little because it breaks an unwritten law. I generally try not to cook with premade or processed ingredients (the “Semi-Homemade” way) such as teriyaki sauce. And yet, here is a recipe calling for chicken thighs marinated in bottled teriyaki sauce and garlic, and it was wonderful.
How could it not be? The people who make bottled teriyaki sauce know what they are doing. It adds just the right sweet-spicy notes to chicken that play beautifully off the mildly bitter taste of the bok choy. Serve it on rice and you have a satisfying, easy meal.
Even faster and easier, though, is crispy-coated lemon-pepper salmon. The secret to this is lemon-pepper-flavored panko bread crumbs which, admittedly, is also sort of semi-homemade.
But they add a snap of lemon and a hint of black pepper to salmon, which goes perfectly with them. And the panko bread crumbs add a bit of texture to it, though maybe not the crunch the name implies.
The only other ingredients needed are buttermilk and melted butter, both of which help the bread crumbs adhere to the fish. It all takes the salmon, which is already great, and makes it better.
One of my favorite go-to dinners is sausage, peppers and onions, so I made it, as well. There is just something magical about the way Italian sausage blends with sauteed onion and the natural sweetness of a mild pepper.
When I make it, I usually eat it with no embellishments because it needs none. But it’s even better when it is sandwiched between two pieces of good crusty bread. I put mine in the middle of a baguette, which brought a new level to an already incredible meal.
And all of this could only be topped with dessert. vanilla pots de creme is a light vanilla custard. It’s just a gentle combination of milk — you don’t even have to use cream — sugar, egg yolks and vanilla. Cook until it’s thickened, then cook some more in a water bath to regulate the temperature.
How can something this amazing be made from only four ingredients?
Yield: 6 servings
2 ½ pounds beef, chuck roast, top round or bottom round
2 cups red wine
½ onion, in lengthwise slices
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1. Generously season beef on all sides with salt. Place meat in Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot with the wine, onion and thyme.
2. Bring to a boil, cover, lower temperature and cook at a low simmer, turning occasionally, until meat is cooked through, about 1¾ to 2 hours.
VANILLA POTS DE CREME
Yield: 4 servings
2 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons sugar
1 (2-inch) piece vanilla bean
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Separate the eggs. In a medium bowl, whisk the yolks just enough to break them up (reserve the whites for another use). Set a strainer over a different medium heat-proof bowl. Set a kettle of water on the stove to boil.
2. Pour milk and sugar into a heavy-bottomed pot. Slice the piece of vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the tiny seeds from each side into the milk mixture. Add the pieces of bean to the mixture, and heat the pot on medium heat, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. When the milk is hot, whisk a little bit of it at a time into the egg yolks. When you have added ¼ of the milk to the yolks, pour the mixture back into the hot milk.
3. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens just enough to coat the back of a spoon; if you draw your finger across the coating on the spoon you will be able to see the trail it made. Do not let the mixture boil. Remove from the heat and quickly strain into the heatproof bowl.
4. Pour the custard equally into 4 ramekins and set the ramekins in a large baking pan. Place the pan in the oven and fill the pan with the boiling water at least halfway to the level of the custard, taking care not to spill water into the custards. Cook until the sides are set but the center of the custard is still loose and jiggly, about 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the baked custards from the water to cool, then refrigerate.
Yield: 4 servings
1 tablespoon oil
1 bell pepper, any color, cut into strips
½ onion, cut into lengthwise strips
4 Italian sausages, pork or turkey
4 hoagie rolls or 1 baguette
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add bell pepper pieces, onion and sausage. Cover and cook, occasionally turning the sausage and stirring the vegetables, until sausage is cooked and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes (or less, if using precooked sausage). If using pork sausage, drain off excess oil. Serve each sausage in 1 roll or ¼ baguette, smothered in peppers and onions.
TERIYAKI CHICKEN WITH BOK CHOY
Yield: 4 servings
1 clove garlic, chopped
¼ cup plus ⅓ cup teriyaki sauce
8 bone-in chicken thighs (2½ pounds)
1 cup long-grain white rice
2 bunches baby bok choy, quartered
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, combine the garlic and ¼ cup of the teriyaki sauce. Add the chicken and marinate for 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cook the rice according to the package directions.
3. Roast the chicken on the prepared baking sheet, basting with the remaining 1/3 cup of teriyaki sauce , until cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes. Add the bok choy 10 minutes before the chicken is done. Serve over rice.
CRISPY-COATED LEMON-PEPPER SALMON
Yield: 4 servings
4 tablespoons butter, divided
½ cup lemon-pepper panko bread crumbs
¼ cup buttermilk
1 (1 ½-pound) salmon fillet, cut into 4 serving pieces
Note: Can also be grilled over medium heat, covered.
1. In a small saucepan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Mix with the bread crumbs. Place buttermilk in a shallow dish. Dip salmon in buttermilk and press crumb mixture evenly on top of salmon pieces.
2. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Place salmon, skin-side down, on pan, cover, and cook until fish flakes easily with a fork, about 10 to 14 minutes.
WHITE BEANS WITH ROSEMARY AND GARLIC
Yield: 3 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon fresh rosemary leaves, coarsely chopped
2 cans white beans, rinsed and drained
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet, heat oil over medium heat and add garlic and rosemary. Cook just until garlic is soft, about 2 minutes. Add the beans, taste for salt and adjust if needed. Let the dish sit for a few minutes before serving to allow the flavors to marry.