The art of cooking is besieged by phalanxes of foes that change with the generations. Currently, the arch-enemy is fat: Almost no cookbooks published today omit "low-fat" or "no-fat" somewhere in their titles or subtitles.
In the "gay" '90s folks worried themselves sick over their digestion with Dr. Kellogg and his ilk urging citizens to eat their food raw or in forms so fibrous they could be served in a trough. There was a relatively blessed time in the '20s when the Carrie Nation crowd had the public so focused on alcoholism you could get away with eating almost anything. Caviar and bathtub gin were the rage.
Alas, at the close of the Flapper Age came the Modern Age. Tillie the Toiler (a comic strip of the period) went "to business," where she occupied herself with filing, typing, and learning Gregg shorthand instead of making Hollandaise sauce or apple pies. Naturally, food preparation had to be speeded up radically. And Dr. Edouard de Pomiane, a Paris physician who became interested in cooking while studying (ugh!) gastroenterology, turned out to be just the man for the job.
He published a little book to deal with the exigencies of good cooking in a short time, "French Cooking in Ten Minutes." This was but one of over 20 cookery books Pomiane wrote while broadcasting an amusing radio show with recipes and anecdotes, meanwhile continuing his research at the Pasteur Institute.
Sort of "The Galloping Gourmet" of his time, I suppose, except that Dr. de Pomiane really knew a great deal about food whereas Graham Kerr never did.
"Adapting to the Rhythm of Modern Life," the subtitle of Pomiane's book, never compromised on taste: Indeed his luncheon menus listed five courses (in those days, few Frenchmen went anywhere but home for lunch) and a like number for dinner.
If you're thinking that the good doctor must have been highly organized, you're absolutely right. But so too, can you be, if you just concentrate on what you're doing. There was no nightly TV news to distract in the '30s, but likewise no frozen food, no microwave ovens, blenders, Cuisinarts, or other mechanical handmaidens to hasten the meal preparation.
Of course, the French have had great charcuteries for centuries. Take-out snails and terrines, pƒt‚s and foie gras-to-go expedited first courses, but Pomiane gives about 20 soups, all made in the requisite 10 minutes, and he didn't even have a pressure cooker! (They existed then, but only for commerical use.)
Not only that, the average French apartment kitchen usually had a two, or, at most, three-burner stove with one of those dinky little broilers good for little else than burning toast and browning gratins. Anyway, roasting doesn't really enter the picture in 10-minute meals.
For Two Or Three
As fruit and cheese end the everyday French household meal, those two courses required little time, and for special occasions one relied on the neighborhood patisserie. Homemade fancy desserts are a very American idea - some people even start their meal planning from that point.
Good frozen yogurts with a fresh berry or fruit sauce are my lazy solution to the dessert thing. But there are a number of simple crepes, fritters, and puddings one can concoct at home with very little effort and they earn a lot of undeserved praise.
What with microwaves (they do excellent vegetable cookery and a lot of neat partial cooking), food processors, and the "new-generation" pressure cookers (which quickly produce the tasty soups and stews a microwave can't), there are quite a few terrific meals for two - or three, but not more - that can be made in 10 minutes. This is especially true if both prospective diners pitch into the preparation. All recipes serve two.
Homemade Roasted Almonds
Here's a task that the microwave was born to do: It roasts nuts to perfection with no tedious watching and stirring as in conventional pan roasting.
Melt about one teaspoon of butter in a large glass pie plate. Put one-third cup of raw almonds in and spread them out, turning to coat them evenly. Microwave on high (10) for four minutes. Stir at halfway time. Turn out onto parchment paper or a paper bag opened out and salt them lightly with coarse salt. Close up the paper or bag and shake with a touch of cayenne for spiciness. Serve warm. Luxurious with a glass of cold white wine.
Lentil Soup With Fresh Herbs
Lentils are the one legume that need no pre-soaking (actually, neither do black-eyed peas) and are a great soup easily varied with herbs and spices. This model departs from the wintery version in that it uses fresh herbs and a garnish of raw tomatoes. So okay, it takes 15 minutes - but only five with a pressure cooker. Depending on what else is served, this amount could do for two meals.
1/2 lb. brown lentils
3 cups chicken or beef broth
Salt and fresh black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced scallions
1 Tbsp. minced fresh marjoram leaves
1 ripe tomato, seeds expressed and diced
Wash the lentils and put them in a pot with the broth. Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer 10 to 15 minutes. In a pressure cooker, cook only five minutes and immediately reduce pressure.
Season with salt and freshly milled pepper. Stir in the fresh herbs, reserving a pinch for garnish, and scatter the tomato over the top of each serving.
Truite au Bleu
Where you're going to get fresh, live trout is your lookout. But this is a great dish I first had in St. Moritz and if you're a fisherman this is a great recipe to know. The recipe is Dr. de Pomiane's, verbatim:
"Put a cup of vinegar into a saucepan and bring it to a boil. At the same time, heat a pot full of salted water which has been highly seasoned with fresh herbs and spices - a court bouillon."
"For this recipe you should use live trout. Kill them by whacking the top of their heads against the edge of a table. Clean and wash them, then wipe them off. Place them in a deep platter and pour the boiling vinegar over them. They will turn sky-blue. [If you've got fresh mountain trout.] Now place them immediately into the boiling court bouillon and cook them for 7 to 8 minutes. Remove them from the pot, drain them, and serve with melted butter."
Serve your trout - or whatever little one-pound fish you've cooked - with tiny, unpeeled new potatoes - they will boil in 10 minutes or microwave in about three.
Green Salad Vinaigrette
And Cheese With Good Bread
Baked Apple Gratin
This is my quick dessert - how quick depends on the cook's skill. But it takes five minutes to prepare and 10 minutes to cook while you're making the rest of your meal. It should have time to cool a bit while you're eating the rest of your meal.
2 firm Golden Delicious apples
3 Tbsp. light brown sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
Squeeze of lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs pan toasted in butter
1 Tbsp. butter
About 2 Tbsp. Calvados or brandy
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel, core, and slice the apples into eighths - there's a spoke-shaped metal wheel that will do the coring and slicing for you in one swoop. Toss them in the sugar and cinnamon mix and divide them between two buttered gratin dishes. Squeeze on lemon juice and divide the crumbs over the tops of the two dishes. Dot with butter and place the gratins on a pie plate before putting them in the oven. Bake six minutes covered with foil and four minutes longer, uncovered. Sprinkle with Calvados and set aside for 15 minutes before eating while warm.
So there you are: five courses in 10 minutes (with a little help from your friend).