In spite of our best intentions, we have those days when we walk into the kitchen and we don’t  know what we are going to do.  Recipe base or starter to the Rescue!

The idea of a recipe base is not new.  Depending on your heritage, you may be more familiar with terms like: Sofrito, Mirepoix, Battuto, Holy Trinity (not the high school  ), Refogado, Matignon, Recaito, Guiso, Suppengruen, Epis, or Wloszczyna.  These are what chefs call ‘aromatics’, things like onions, garlic, carrots, celery, peppers, with herbs like parsley, cilantro, or thyme, that are chopped or minced and used to start a dish.  Most are sauteed in oil or rendered meat fat and browned for flavor, before adding the rest of the recipe.  Some. like Suppengruen, are just added to a soup pot.

How does this save you time?  After you decide which flavors you like and will go with most of the foods you cook, you can chop up a batch by hand or in the processor, freeze part in an ice cube tray or in 1/2 cup portions in zip-seal bags, and your starter is ready when you need it (double or triple your recipe as needed).   While you’re deciding what to prepare, start sauteing a portion in some oil or butter.  This can flavor a pot of rice, beans, or vegetables. You can add chicken strips or fajita-style beef strips, cook till done, and serve over rice or noodles.  Add some broth and veggies and you have Almost Instant Soup.

Possible ingredients you can use (culled from recipes of the above starters):

Onion, Garlic, Carrots, Celery (stalk, tops, and/or root), tomato, sweet peppers, leeks, parsnips, green onion, turnip, rutabaga, parsley, thyme, cilantro, cabbage leaf,  and bay leaf.  Some add a little salt and pepper here, and Matignon adds a dash of white wine or Madiera.

A lot of the recipes call for three things (hence the name trinity), so start with three things you like and go together.  I personally feel you can’t go wrong with garlic, onion, and parsley in any savory dish.  If you don’t like one of the things listed, skip it and pick ones you like.

You can also keep a small amount (1/2 to 1 cup) in an airtight container or jar in the refrigerator if you are going to use it within three to five days.

No, I’m not trying to support a distorted body image; I’m here to save you some time in the kitchen.  For that thin is in – for your cut of food that is.  You already know this; a sheet cake cooks faster than a Bundt cake and a steak or chop cooks faster than a pot roast. How can you use this to your advantage?

Easy.  Take what you are going to make anyway and make it thinner.  Take a mallet, rolling pin, or even a heavy pot, and flatten out those boneless chicken breasts, chops, or the occasional steak (sometimes you want them thick – just not when you want it faster) to about 1/4 inch thick (~1cm.).  Hammering also makes the meat or poultry more tender (which is why the meat mallet is also called a tenderizer).  If the piece becomes too big, cut into two or three portions.

If you aren’t ready to hammer them down, get a good, very sharp chef’s knife and cut them thinner; some chicken breast can get you two or three good size slices.  If you don’t have a good knife (fix that as soon as possible) or you’re nervous about doing the cutting, a nice butcher may cut the meat for you if you ask. (shout out to Safeway/Carr’s – the butchers there have done this for me at no charge. )  Besides helping you get a healthy meal on the table more quickly, smaller pieces control portions and stretch your purchase further.

More Later,