Fast, easy meals can still be delicious and satisfying

Daniel Neman
St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Some days, you just don’t feel like cooking lobster thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce, garnished with truffle paté, brandy and a fried egg on top.

Some days, you want to cook something easy. Something fast.

Not throw-a-frozen-block-of-something-into-the-microwave-and-hope-for-the-best fast. I’m talking about a delicious, satisfying, homemade entrée in 30 minutes or less, from start to finish.

One key to fast meals is to choose food that doesn’t take long to cook. For pork, that means the tenderloin or chops.

These honey garlic pork chops are seared, then glazed, then broiled. They come out blissfully juicy, with a delightful sweet-and-sour edge.

Another key to quick dinners is doing some food prep while cooking. For instance, I made poached salmon. The fish gets much of its flavor from the liquid in which it is simmered, the court bouillon, and that gets its flavor from a number of ingredients that have to be prepped.

So you just have to put it together methodically. While you’re gently cooking chopped onions, peel and chop a carrot. Add it to the pan, and chop a rib of celery. While that cooks, peel and chop a few cloves of garlic, and so on. Before you know it, you’ll have a highly flavored court bouillon to bring a complex depth to a luscious piece of salmon.

Poached Salmon

Yield: 4 servings

1 tablespoon oil

1 onion

1 carrot

1 rib of celery

4 garlic cloves

6 sprigs parsley

3 sprigs thyme

4 sprigs dill, plus 1 optional tablespoon

1 bay leaf

1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

1 cup dry white wine

4 (5-ounce) fillets of salmon

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1 tablespoon lemon juice, optional

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large pan deep enough to hold salmon. Cut onion in large pieces and add to pan, stirring occasionally. Peel carrot, cut into large pieces and add to pan. Chop celery into large pieces and add to pan. Smash garlic cloves and add to pan. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables become just a little tender, about 5 minutes.

Add parsley, thyme and 4 sprigs of dill. Stir in bay leaf and peppercorns. Add enough water to cover salmon, when it is added. Add wine, raise heat, and bring to a simmer. Gently lower in salmon (you may have to do this in batches) and cook at a light simmer until fish is opaque and flakes easily, about 5 minutes or longer, depending on the thickness of the fish.

Meanwhile, make a sauce by combining mayonnaise with remaining tablespoon of dill or with lemon juice.

When fish is done, gently remove from liquid with a spatula and serve with mayonnaise sauce on top or on the side.

— Recipe by Daniel Neman

Chicken Piccata

Yield: 4 servings

2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Salt

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 garlic cloves, smashed

1/3 cup dry white wine

1 tablespoon drained capers

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Chopped parsley and lemon wedges (for serving)

Slice chicken breasts in half crosswise into 4 cutlets and lightly pound each piece between sheets of plastic wrap until an even thickness (about 1/2-inch thick or less). Season lightly with salt. Place flour in a medium shallow bowl. Working one at a time, place cutlets in bowl and toss to coat in flour. Knock off excess flour and transfer to a plate.

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Working in batches if needed to avoid overcrowding the pan, cook cutlets, without moving them, until deeply browned underneath, about 2 minutes. Turn over and cook on the other side just until chicken is nearly cooked through, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a clean plate.

Add garlic and remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the skillet and cook, stirring often and reducing heat if needed to keep garlic from scorching, until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add wine and capers and cook, swirling pan and scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of skillet, until liquid is almost completely evaporated, about 3 minutes. Add 1/2 cup water, followed by the butter. Swirl pan vigorously while butter melts to help it form an emulsion with water, about 1 minute.

Return chicken to skillet and simmer until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir lemon juice into sauce; season with salt. Transfer chicken and sauce to a platter and top with parsley; serve with lemon wedges.

Per serving: 435 calories; 26 g fat; 10 g saturated fat; 130 mg cholesterol; 33 g protein; 14 g carbohydrate; no sugar; no fiber; 700 mg sodium; 20 mg calcium

— Recipe from Bon Appétit

Chuckwagon Chili

Yield: 4 servings

2 tablespoons oil, if using ground turkey

1 pound ground turkey or ground beef

1 cup chopped onion

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon chili powder (for mild), 2 teaspoons (for medium) or 1 tablespoon (for spicy)

1/2 tablespoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 can red kidney beans, undrained

Place a large pot on medium-high heat. If using turkey, add the oil. Cook the turkey or beef, onions and garlic powder, stirring frequently, until the meat is cooked through. Drain the liquid, if any, and return the ingredients to the pot.

Stir in the chili powder, smoked paprika, oregano, cumin, salt, tomatoes and beans. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 15 minutes.

Per serving: 342 calories; 17 g fat; 4 g saturated fat; 78 mg cholesterol; 29 g protein; 21 g carbohydrate; 6 g sugar; 6 g fiber; 587 mg sodium; 98 mg calcium

Adapted from a recipe by General Mills

Easy Honey Garlic Pork Chops

Yield: 4 servings

4 pork chops

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

6 garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup water

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

Preheat oven broiler (or grill) on medium-high heat. Season chops with salt, pepper and garlic powder just before cooking.

Heat oil in a pan or skillet over medium high heat until hot. Sear chops on both sides until golden and cooked through (about 4 to 5 minutes each side). Transfer to a plate; set aside.

Reduce heat to medium. Melt butter in the same pan, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Sauté garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the honey, water and vinegar. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook until the sauce reduces down and thickens slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Place pork back into the pan, baste generously with the sauce then broil or grill for 1 to 2 minutes, or until edges are slightly charred.

Per serving: 440 calories; 18 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 140 mg cholesterol; 48 g protein; 20 g carbohydrate; 18 g sugar; no fiber; 725 mg sodium; 30 mg calcium

— Recipe from cafedelites.com