{recipe} In Defense of Fast Food: 10-Minute Lemon Caper Butter Chicken

April 27, 2011

10-Minute Lemon Caper Butter Chicken

A while back I caught a tweet from Michael Ruhlman, a well respected food writer and cookbook author. I can’t remember the specific 140 characters, but he said something disparaging about touting recipes for being quick. Or maybe he said that we shouldn’t be focused on how quickly a recipe cooks while developing dishes. (The same thing?) Either way, though he’s happy to enjoy something that happens to come together quickly, Michael feels that the focus on time misses the point. Worse than that, he believes that the quickie meals mindset is killing cooking.

I was PISSED. And not just because I like my 10-Minute Lemon Caper Butter Chicken. (It’s a favorite go-to meal!) I went off on a rant—you know, in my head—about how he must not know what it’s like to cook with two kids tugging at his pants; that it was probably because he was a man and, though he likely cooks all the time, it’s sacred work time and that, actually, his wife pulls together dinner to feed the kids at a decent hour.

Truthfully, I don’t know anything about Michael Ruhlman’s personal life. For all I know, he has a husband and four children, all of whom he personally home schools and feeds home-cooked meals three times a day. (Honestly, he’s pretty genius and is probably that good.) But I was pissed at the idea that he would criticize a kind of recipe, approach and—okay, I’ll be real—marketing that gets people to cook.

Though I am guilty, it’s plain arrogant to assume that everyone should like cooking. I believe that everyone should cook and with whole ingredients, too—it’s simply what’s best for you and your kids—but I don’t expect you all to love it the way I do. And that’s okay. There are lots of things that I don’t love doing, but do anyway because they are better for my family. So, if telling you that a healthy meal will take only 10 minutes means the difference between you making it or ordering take-out, then, oh boy, let me scream it from the rooftops: this recipe takes only 10 minutes. MAKE IT, ALREADY!

Okay, okay. There’s actually more to this story. I did a little digging and found that Michael wrote a piece about this very issue, about a year ago, in the Huffington Post. As it turns out, he makes a lot of great points. And—I say this NOT as someone who loves food and cooking, but as someone who believes that eating well is critical to our health and the health of our children—it’s hard not to agree when he calls bullshit on the “I don’t have time to make dinner” excuse. His argument reminds me of something that I often say to parents:

You’d never expect me to accept that your child will never wear a seatbelt, so why do you expect me to accept that your child will never eat vegetables or try some new or healthy food?

Your mindset is what makes the difference. You are the parent. You are in control. If you’re clear that you won’t make food concessions , then that’s the way it is. Period. The same way that you make clear that there’s no driving unless everyone is wearing their seatbelt. Period.

You can decide that you’re going to cook however many days a week, to make for a healthier family. You can tell yourself that there are no excuses because healthy eating is do or die. You’re capable. But, here’s where I can’t help but return to the quickie meal: sometimes a 10-minute meal will make it possible to stick with that commitment when you might not otherwise.

That said, you can’t just rely on 10 minute meals. The cold hard truth is that most from scratch dinners will not take 10 minutes, or even 20-30. On average, my dinners take about 35-40 from start to finish. You’ve got to make room for that.

This whole debate reminds me of exercise. I hate working out, but I’m better for doing it. And my kids—who, with their boundless energy, don’t yet need formal exercise—are better for seeing that I’m committed to doing it. Sometime I get lazy and skip. Other times, I feel indifferent and take a brisk walk because it’s better than nothing. And, then, once a week at the very least, I bust ass. Though I probably should, I don’t quite treat exercise like it’s do or die, but I work hard at a commitment even though it’s not my bag. And, honestly, as I get stronger and leaner, I’m starting to enjoy it more.

The same can be true for you and cooking (or weeknight cooking, if that’s your issue). Seriously commit to a more involved meal a couple of times a week. Build a repertoire of quickie meals for a couple of other times a week. As you get more “in shape” you can start throwing in a slow food project or something more ambitious: can peaches this summer, make jam one weekend, cook something all day. It’ll start to pay off and I think you’ll like how it feels (or, er, how it tastes).

Michael’s right that the quickie meal mentality has gotten out of control and panders to the packaged food industry. At the same time, finding your way with cooking is about finding your way to the joys of great flavor, of fresh foods, of in-season produce, of simple preparations. And I’ll let you know—without guilt—if one of my recipes can help you get there in 10, 20 or 30 minutes.

So, with that… check out my 10 Minute Lemon Caper Butter Chicken (can be shared with kids 8+ mos)* on Momtastic. And don’t worry, there’s not another rant there. I saved that for you guys.


*Note: While there is nothing in this that can’t be shared with meat eating children 6+ months, I recommend it starting at 8 months because of the combination of heavy lemon, salt and butter. While these ingredients give big flavor, they may be sharp for kids younger than 8 months. Plus, to be honest, I’ve never been one for pureed meat. I much prefer waiting until baby can manage minced or chopped meat. If you want to share this with a baby younger than 8-months-old, simply puree and consider mixing the puree and some sauce with pureed brown rice or quinoa.

4 Responses

  1. Very good “rant”!!! I think the biggest hurdle for people though is the mental one – planning, shopping, organizing all take mental energy and can be overwhelming. Personally I am a huge fan of “quick” meals and by using some convenience products – canned tomatoes, canned beans, frozen spinach, etc. prep time is definitely manageable. These types of recipes definitely have a place and shouldn’t be dismissed simply because they are “quick” to prepare!

  2. I saw a link to the title of this post, “In Defense of Fast Food” on Twitter and had my own little rant…until I came here and discovered your great post! Boy was I relieved to see the topic was fast homemade meals as opposed to the drive thru variety! Insightful perspective, great points, and wonderful recipe. Can’t wait to make this “fast food” for my family!

  3. Bang on! This is a great post. I used to get quite annoyed with single, childless people who were incredulous that I cooked from scratch for my my family every night, and then some. They couldn’t understand how I had the time when they couldn’t find the time. Because I MAKE the time.

    That being said, I do like the idea of a super fast meal like this. My girls love capers so this one should be a winner.

  4. Rosie says:

    As always, well said.

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