Monday, January 18, 2016

Keep It Simple by Marian Burros

In the last half of the twentieth century, the quest for safe, simple, quickly prepared food that is not highly processed was spear-headed by an Emmy award-winning NBC TV food journalist named Marian Burros.  Written in 1981 as an adjunct to her book, Pure and Simple, Keep It Simple is ahead of its time with 30-minute menus using simple, real food.

The opening part I of the book deals with the politics of food and sounds eerily familiar to the  food scene of today.  Topics range from labeling misnomers ("sugar-free", "natural", ) to chemicals and additives in our food and the high price (nutritionally) of highly processed foods.  Although she gets some things "wrong" as in damning coconut oil, most of her conclusions about food safety and nutrition concur with today's findings.  But then, that all could change.

In Burro's own words, "The next chapter, sixty-one 30-minute meals from scratch, . . . is the main reason for the book's existence." All the menus are given in the beginning of Part 2 and include the number of people served and if they are best for spring, fall, winter or summer.  The menus are simple but delicious and are, in most cases, planned with an eye for weight watchers.  I've tried several of them and they have been very delicious and have lived up to the 30-minute promise.  Each menu gives a game plan, a list of staples you will use and a shopping list, as well as tips and suggestions.   

Here is a menu that we tried and really enjoyed:

A Chinese-American Menu for Three

Deviled chicken thighs
Marinated tomatoes and onion rings
Nectarines, plums or apples

Deviled Chicken Thighs

1 large clove garlic
1 large slice ginger or 1/2 tsp powdered garlic
3 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 cup water
9 chicken thighs

Put garlic through press.  Mince fresh ginger.  Combine garlic and ginger with soy sauce, sherry, hot pepper, and water and bring to boil in heavy pot, large enough to hold chicken.  Add chicken; reduce heat and simmer in covered pot 10 minutes.  Remove cover, turn chicken pieces over and raise heat so liquid boils briskly.  Boil chicken 10 to 12 minutes, until liquid evaporates and chicken takes on golden coloring.

Marinated Tomatoes and Onion Rings

1 1/2 tsp dried basil or 1 1/2 Tbsp. minced fresh basil
3/4 tsp dried tarragon or 2 1/4 tap. minced fresh tarragon
1/8 tsp dried oregano or 1/2 tsp minced fresh oregano
1/4 cup red or white wine vinegar
6 Tbsp good quality olive oil
3 tomatoes
1 red onion
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mince fresh herbs if using them.  Combine fresh or dried herbs with vinegar and olive oil and whisk or shake in tightly covered bottle.  Slice tomatoes and onion.  Separate onion slices into rings.  Alternate slices of tomato and onion on salad plates and pour on dressing.  Season with salt and pepper.  If time allows, refrigerate.

In Part 3 Desserts and Hors d'oeuvres to dress up the menus, but they do add time.  She intends them to be added to basic 30-minutes menus and make them for company.  But the best chapter of all as far as I am concerned is the last one that gives a great many homemade mixes.  The convenience of mixes cannot be denied, but most of the ones in the supermarket are full of preservatives and additives, artificial flavors and colors, etc.  It is not only cheaper and healthier to make your own--but they taste much better.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Corn Bread or Corn Muffin Mix

4 cups unbleached flour
4 cups yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 cup vegetable shortening (I use lard)

Combine dry ingredients; stir well.  Cut in shortening with pastry blender. Store in airtight container in a cool, dry place or refrigerate.  Keeps 6 months.

Cheese Onion Cornbread

1 egg
1 cup milk
1/4 cup chopped onion
1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar
2 1/3 cups Corn Bread or Corn Muffin Mix

Beat egg and milk together.  Lightly stir into mix.  Do not beat out lumps.  Stir in onion and cheese.  Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan.  Pour in batter and bake in preheated 425 degree oven 15  minutes.  Cut into squares and serve warm.  

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