Taking the work out of workweek dinners with homemade preserves
Photography by Donovan Roberts Witmer
Back to school. Back to routine. Back to cooking? Some of us never really take a break from the kitchen, as it’s our daily therapy—the sounds, the smells, the rhythm. Taking away our cooking is tantamount to eliminating others’ routine exercise; you don’t want to go there. But for some, cooking can be more of a chore. Summer’s warmer, longer days and lax schedule often provide a welcome break. Come September, welcome back to reality.
I’ve got a secret weapon when short on time or ambition, yet craving a full flavored dish—preserved food. Maybe you spent one rainy afternoon this summer making jam, were lucky enough to receive a jar of your neighbor’s famous salsa or brought home an exotic food souvenir from a recent trip. Pop the lid, combine with a couple of ingredients and a homemade meal will be waiting faster than you can catch up on Facebook.
Chicken Tagine fits the bill when I am short on prep time, yet home for hands-off cooking. Preserved lemons give this Moroccan-inspired dish a depth of brininess rarely found from throwing ingredients together, without any browning or other techniques to enhance flavor. Easily purchased or homemade, fresh lemons are salt-packed, covered in their juice and allowed to pickle until the bitterness of the peel and pith is softened and mellowed. Rinse and either use the whole lemon, as with this braised chicken, or chop the peel to add a deep, salty note to dressings, grain-based salads and pasta dishes. This is also a great substitute for the salty, porky flavors of cured meats like bacon in vegetarian dishes.
1 chicken, cut into 10 pieces
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 preserved lemon, rinsed
4 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup chopped green olives
½ cup currants or raisins
1 14-ounce can tomatoes
1. Get ready. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place chicken in 13x9-inch baking pan.
2. Make the flavor. In a food processor, finely chop together parsley, cilantro, lemon (½), garlic and spices; rub over chicken. Cover with olives, currants, tomatoes and broth.
3. Bake. Cover with foil and bake for about 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Let rest a few minutes before serving.
4. Serve. Enjoy hot, warm or at room temperature.
Don’t rule out a recipe by the size of the ingredient list. A handful of spices can make for a long list, but require nothing more than a shake of the wrist.
On those nights when dinner has to be on the table in 30 minutes, Black Bean Tortilla Bake, flavored primarily with salsa, is my best buddy: heat oven, grab a jar of salsa, dump into bowl with cooked beans, layer in dish with tortillas and cheese, cover and bake for 15. Breathe. Make salad. Enjoy.
Black Bean Tortilla Bake—
2 cups favorite salsa
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 bunch cilantro leaves, chopped
6 corn tortillas, halved
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
1. Get ready. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease the bottom of the baking dish with oil.
2. Make the filling. Combine salsa, beans and cilantro in medium mixing bowl. Season to taste with salt.
3. Assemble. Smear bottom of dish with a light-handed, even layer of bean mixture. Top with 4 tortilla halves to evenly cover bean mixture. Spread with ⅓ bean mixture, then ⅓ cheese and 4 more tortilla halves. Repeat with another layer of beans, cheese and tortillas and top with remaining beans and cheese.
4. Bake. Cover with foil and bake until center is hot and cheese is bubbly, about 10 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese is bubbling and a little brown in spots, about 5 more minutes.
Preserves make life easier when it comes to grab-and-go breakfasts. The name “No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars” screams the ease of this recipe—no hot ovens, no extra steps. Leftover jam—I like the bitter edge of orange marmalade—brings fruit and extra sweetness to the table. I use brown rice syrup to make these bars vegan (no animal products), but feel free to substitute the same amount of your favorite sweetener. Invest five minutes after dinner to mix ingredients together, pop it in the fridge and breakfast is ready in the morning.
No-Bake Chewy Granola Bars
Makes 12 2 x 3-inch or 16 2-x 2-inch bars
2 ½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup raw pumpkin seeds
½ cup raisins
¾ teaspoon salt
⅔ cup natural peanut butter
¼ cup orange marmalade or favorite jam
¼ cup brown rice syrup
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ cup mini dark chocolate chips
1. Get ready. Line an 8 x 8-inch pan with plastic wrap.
2. Mix the dry. Combine oats, pumpkin seeds, raisins and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
3. Make the wet. Combine peanut butter, marmalade, brown rice syrup and vanilla in a glass bowl. Gently warm in saucepan or microwave to blend.
4. Put it all together. Pour peanut butter mixture over oat mixture; stir well to coat. Add chocolate chips, if using.
5. Pack the pan. Spread mixture evenly into prepared pan. Cover with plastic wrap and pat down firmly to form an even layer. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
6. Cut and serve. Remove top piece of wrap. Using bottom wrap, remove brick from pan and place on work surface and cut into bars.
*Make ahead note: Granola bars can be individually wrapped and stored in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 3 months.
Betsey is creator and owner of Essen, a gathering place for home cooks based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and provides demonstration and hands-on cooking classes. Learn more at essencooking.com.