“The quality of life is determined by its activities.” ~ Aristotle
Far too often I hear friends say they never have the time or energy to cook for themselves or their families which I think is a terrible shame.
Eating is something we do everyday.The fact is we must eat to survive.
The London Times once did a few quick calculations and reported that the average person spends 6 years and ten months eating in his or her 70 year life time.
That's approximately 3 681 641.36 minutes (YEP, over 3 MILLION minutes) or 1/10 of the average lifespan spent in this activity, why fill it up with foods generated by ConAgra and increase their already huge coffers?
At the risk of sounding like a Stepford Wife (remember them? *shudders*), cooking can be F-U-N!!! You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to luxuriate in a good meal shared, even if only once a millennium.
And yes, I know... I know.... in this go, Go, GO day & age, spending such time together seems to have become so rare that it is a luxury. However, nothing is more convivial than sitting around the dinner table, eating a delicious meal and enjoying each other's company.
Folks, it doesn't get any easier than this for a light, simple, elegant meal. Seriously, in the time it takes to order in a meal, you could have something fresh & delicious that will impress anyone for a special occasion or just a nice treat for yourself. You deserve a break today & it sure as shit should NOT be from McDonalds!
For those of you less inclined to using those little heat-emitting appliances known as ovens, this meal (sans aluminum foil, unless you are looking to rival the Large Hadron Collider in generating a possible worldwide cataclysmic event horizon, ending all life on earth as we know it) could also be easily adapted for the microwave by wrapping the ingredients in paper towels, Glad plastic sandwich bags or microwave safe plastic wrap.
I am going to make it even easier by providing nothing more than a basic outline in pics.
You get to color between the lines or outside the lines of this "recipe" yourself.
In 60 minutes with only about 20 minutes of active cooking time, you will have a meal that is delicious, nutritious and looks pretty on your plate! Now THAT is what I mean by quality of life & I bet good old Aristotle would agree.
Cooking "en papillote" is a method in which you seal the food in a pouch and bake. The food essentially steams in the oven in its own juices, though you can add ingredients to flavor the food as I will here with just a few splashes of flavored liquids, herbs and aromatics. The keys to the technique are: 1) use fresh ingredients; and 2) preparation or mise en place which is very simple.
Instead of parchment paper which is the traditional method, I will use aluminum foil to wrap the fish, not as pretty, but very easy to do.
Wild Alaskan Halibut "En Papillote" with Truffled Tarragon Butter, Roasted Asparagus, Yam "Gratin"
I have given directions for microwaving everything, but really nothing brings out the sweet caramelized goodness of veggies like roasting them in the oven & it really takes very little effort, plus you can cook everything into a regular oven at the same time. Not so when microwaving.
Here are the ingredients, you can determine the quantity of each depending on how many people you wish two serve. I am assuming two people in this "recipe".
- Vegetable broth, a couple of splashes
- Dry white wine (or beer), a couple of splashes from your own glass
- Fresh Tarragon, chopped
- Halibut fillets (any firm-fleshed white fish will do. Salmon & chicken also works nicely here. Times need to be adjusted for thickness of fillets. Generally if you can smell it, it's done, but allow about 15 minutes for a 1-1/2 inch tick fish fillet & 20 minutes for a chicken breast.)
- Truffle salt (plain sea salt is fine) and freshly cracked pepper, to taste.
- One large shallot, finely diced ( finely diced red onion & a minced garlic clove can be substituted for the shallot)
- One fresh lemon, a couple of squeezes per fillet for seasoning the fish.
- One bunch of fresh asparagus, tough ends snapped off (you can substitute any veggie you like obviously. Though for roasting nothing beats asparagus, seasoned with a bit of truffle salt, black pepper & olive oil)
- Extra virgin olive oil, enough to drizzle over the fillets & asparagus
- Butter, half a stick; unsalted
- 1/4 cup of half & half or heavy cream with a 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract added and well combined
- Sweet potato, cooked (one per person), roasted for an hour in a hot oven or microwaved and sliced into coins
- Parmigiano reggiano, for grating over asparagus & yams.
- Aluminum foil, if using oven; Plastic wrap or baggies, if using the microwave
- Preheated oven, 450 degrees
- Hungry people you love
Assemble all of your ingredients, like so:
- Preheat your oven at 450 degrees
- Roast or microwave your sweet potatoes or yams (or other tuberous veggie) until done. (Can be roasted well ahead of time up until the day before).
- Slice into 1/2 inch thick rounds and arrange them in either a roasting pan or heavy skillet.
- Season with truffle salt & pepper, pour half & half/vanilla mixture over it & a couple of tablespoons of butter, cut into small dice & dabbed evenly over the potatoes.
- Then set aside, while you prepare the fish & roast the asparagus.
- Place the fillets in a little pouch of their own, using either aluminum foil for baking or plastic wrap (or baggies) if you plan to microwave your fish or poultry.
- Season the protein with truffle salt & freshly ground pepper to taste.
- Add the aromatics: shallots, splashes of lemon juice, wine, fresh tarragon, a drizzle of olive & a 1/2 TBSP of butter per packet
- Then wrap the little bundle up & pop into the middle rack of your preheated oven for about 15 minutes for a 1-1/2 inch thick fillet (Or about 3 minutes if microwaving.
- Remember to seal the baggie but leave a little room for air to escape; venting the baggie by poking a little slit through the top & placing the fish packet on a microwave-safe dish.
- Here's a great article on microwaving fish: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1216/is_nSPEISS_v198/ai_20036729/)
- Then prepare the asparagus by lining a shallow baking sheet with aluminum foil & seasoning with salt, pepper, fresh juice quickly squeezed from a lemon & tossing it all with extra virgin olive oil using your hands which are the best tool for tossing veggies and salads ever invented!
- Add the asparagus & the yams to the top rack of the oven. Roasting the asparagus for about 7 minutes & the yams for about 15 minutes. (Or microwave them instead on a microwave-safe dish for 2 minutes after the fish is done).
- The asparagus will be done before the fish. Remove them when you can smell them then grate a little parmigiano reggiano over them, dusting them lightly.
When the fish is done, remove it from the oven, set the oven on broil, dust the yams with a little bit of the parmigiano reggiano and cook the yams under the broiler for a minute until they are nicely browned.
Arrange on a plate & eat it!
Truffle Salt can be found in specialty markets that purvey yummy grub or "upscale" supermarkets like Whole Foods.
Yes, it is expensive, but a little goes a long way and it will last you for a year. It's unbelievable in mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, macaroni & cheese or just a little cappellini, parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese) & olive oil. Pure decadence was never so affordable.