Kitchen conservation

Cynthia Stone
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Usually this space is filled with kitchen conversation, but I thought it was time for some conservation, instead.

Being just as disgusted as everyone else with finding ourselves the proud owners of a Third World power generation system, I thought about a camping column, or maybe how to make a meal out of cold canned beans and bread, but it was too soon for so tender a topic.

I have always turned down the heat and turned off the lights and sealed up the cracks, because not doing those things costs me money. Now I have the added worry of a roast in the oven and the lights going out, or running out of propane halfway to dinner.

So, today I offer you three recipes that won’t use much of that scarce electricity or gas, but they will still warm the cockles of our chilled — and a little nervous — winter hearts.

Pan Fried Cod with Quick

Tomato Sauce and Couscous

The fastest food I can think of is fish. In this delicious and quick recipe, the fresh sauce hardly needs any cooking and the side dish requires only boiling the kettle. This makes four generous servings.

1-1/2 lbs. fresh or thawed frozen cod fillets

1/2 tsp. each salt, freshly ground black pepper and ground cumin

2 tbsp. vegetable oil

1 small onion, finely diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tbsp. drained capers

2 cups grape tomatoes, quartered

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/4 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

2 cups boiling water

1-1/3 cups small couscous

Cut cod into serving-sized pieces and sprinkle evenly on all sides with salt, pepper and cumin. Heat vegetable oil in a large frying pan and brown fish on one side. When you see the opaque line about halfway up the edges, flip the fillets and finish cooking on the other side. Remove from pan and cover with foil to keep warm.

Add onion to pan and fry until soft. Add garlic, capers and tomatoes and cook until bubbling hot  —you don’t want the tomatoes to break down. Stir in red wine vinegar and parsley and pour over cod.

By all means follow the instructions on the couscous box, but it probably won’t tell you that the shallower the vessel you prepare it in the better the result, so I make it right in the frying pan I used for the fish and then the sauce. Pour boiling water into the pan and add couscous and a pinch of salt if you like. Stir once, cover and let sit five minutes, or as long as recommended on the package. Remove cover when all the water is absorbed and fluff with a fork. Serve with the fish.

Fast and Tasty Black Bean Soup

This lovely soup will warm you up from the inside out, and it would seem that’s an important attribute of our food this winter.

Adjust the heat by choosing how many chipotle chilies you use, but remember you can’t take them out once they’re in. This amount makes a main dish for at least six, but is a wonderful first course for a crowd. It also keeps perfectly in the fridge for a few days — assuming your fridge is actually on.

1 medium onion, finely diced

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes

2 14-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 canned chipotle chilies in adobo sauce, minced

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Fry onion in oil in a large pot until golden brown and soft. Add garlic and cumin and cook another minute. Stir in oregano, salt, pepper, tomatoes and beans. Using a potato masher, beat up the beans and tomatoes until mixture is very thick but not too smooth—some chunks and whole beans are good things. Add broth and chipotle chilies and bring to a boil; simmer together a few minutes. Stir in cilantro and serve, maybe with some sour cream and crisp tortilla strips on top. Chopped green onion and shredded cheese are also nice accompaniments.

Spaghetti Carbonara

How could we talk about quick meals without including this old pasta favourite?

It’s creamy and satisfying but so quick; the hardest part is cooking the spaghetti. There is enough heat in the frying pan and pasta to cook the eggs through, but they won’t scramble if you stir them in quickly off heat. This amount serves four.

1 lb. spaghetti, cooked according to package instructions

1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water — be sure to reserve

1 tbsp. olive oil

8 strips bacon, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 eggs

1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, freshly grated if possible

1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

While the spaghetti is boiling, fry bacon in olive oil in a large pan until it is as crisp as you like it. Add garlic and fry another few seconds.

Whisk together eggs and Parmesan and set aside. Add cooked, drained al dente spaghetti to the frying pan and stir to combine it with the bacon. Turn off the heat and stir in the egg-cheese mixture very quickly so everything is thoroughly combined. Add enough of the reserved pasta water to create a creamy sauce. Stir in pepper and serve.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John’s. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John’s, NL, A1E 4N1.

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