There have been times when I have resorted to tricks in order to make on-the-fly dinner more palatable.
I know that I'm often busy with myriad commitments, including work, exercising, social commitments and other fun (or not) activities. That's the obvious reason grocery products like pasta bowls, frozen meals and canned soup have become a multi-billion dollar industry.
Not only do prepackaged foods present nutritional hazards (many are full of sodium and other salt-related compounds), I find the majority of frozen meals to be depressing: a symbol of my inability to find someone to come over and share a real meal.
One of favorite dinners is so easy, it makes a chicken pot pie look like brain surgery. Referred to as France Nostalgia Night, this dinner is perfect for one or six.
Here's what you need:
For me, that's plenty of food for a light dinner, especially if you make salad the focal point of the meal. If you are one of those carnivorous types, a grilled chicken breast can sit atop your salad. It just requires the extra effort of seasoning and grilling a piece of meat.
- A real crusty baguette. I typically buy mine at Heinin's or Zagara's supermarket. Don't be fooled by the word "artisian." If the bread is more chewy than crisp, it's not a good baguette.
- French cheese(s). My favorites are milder, like Port Salut, Camembert and Chevre. I don't often buy brie stateside because it's pasteurized. French people absolutely have a cow when you tell them the cheese isn't safe unless it's pasteurized.
- Spinach salad with homemade vinaigrette. My favorite calls for a splash of olive oil, a tad bit of balsamic vinegar and some Romano cheese and spices. Fresh basil and sliced ripe tomatoes are nice, but not necessary.
- Red wine, particularly the French kind. There are some nice French table wines available for less than $10 a bottle. If all else fails, Two Buck Chuck will suffice (available at Trader Joe's).
France Nostalgia Night is especially popular with my girlfriends because we can really gussy up the meal. If presented correctly, you could fool yourself into thinking you were eating in a fancy bistro (use a square plate). To even further reduce costs, each of us would procure a couple elements of the meal to share, Stone Soup-style.
Note: If you're going to someone's house for dinner, remember to consume more salad, bread and cheese than wine. Unless you're particularly chummy with the host/hostess, it might not bode well if he or she has to take care of an intoxicated you.
And if you've taken a special vacation to a region with distinctive cuisine, you could always create your own nostalgia night.
For instance, if you loved Mediterranean lunches of olives, bread, wine and light pasta, why not make it a special dinner? There's no law that says special has to be overly complicated.
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