The Path Less Taken: “Gourmet” Alternatives For People With No Time
Real, Simple Pleasures For Real People!
To put it simply, I am a busy person. I work full time as a professional services consultant, have a family with two children and everyone under my roof has their own activities and side projects. Time is most definitely a luxury. And If you opted to read this hub, chances are the above description fits you, too. If that’s the case, then the following also likely applies to you: you live for those few and far between moments of tranquil pleasure. A quiet evening alone or with a significant other or perhaps a freind without little people to attend to, a gently-lit room, soft music flowing quietly from the stereo…and a nice meal…but what? You try to think of something, but you draw a blank. Or – more frustrating – you do think of something but it will take hours to do (shopping and prep included). Yes, you could order out, but likely you’ve done that before…and it’s just not the same. Another nice idea suddenly blown out like one of the candles you would have lit at the table. If only things were easier…
…well, they could be. One of my favorites is a great European classic (the French and Belgian in my experience are particularly good at this but there are surely examples to be found across the continent) and the combination could not be easier: warm bread, wine and cheese. The genius of it is that it is incredibly simple, adapts itself to just about any and all tastes, largely involves things you can store long term for whenever you’ll want it and that is a very social way of eating, thus promoting interaction, conversation and great time for all.
Not Such A Half Baked Idea
Let’s start with the bread. There is just something about the smell and taste of warm bread which just tickles the imagination and brings out the kid in us. Ideally, one would bake their own bread for the absolute best results but most of us do not have means or the time to pull this off. Not to fear, though, as there are good alternatives out there. Chances are the grocery store you usually shop at has half-baked bread or rolls. Often these are frozen, which is particularly ideal for keeping it around the house as a “just in case” sort of thing. And baking it could not be easier: just throw is on a baking sheet in a pre-heated oven for 10-20 minutes (depends on the sort of bread you’re baking). While it’s baking, you’ll have plenty of time to prepare the rest so when it’s ready, so are you.
Cheese Needn’t Be Cheesy
Human beings excel at many things…one of them being erecting pointless mental barriers for themselves. Cheese is a good example of this. The cheese you opt for should be in your comfort zone and doesn’t have to stand up to some sort of cultural standard. If individually-wrapped sliced American cheese is your love and joy, then go with it. If a port wine cheese ball floats your boat, I say run, don’t walk, to get it. Of course, part of the fun of this meal is often experimenting with new things which you just happen to run across (wherever I am, I often opt for local cheeses) but you shouldn’t feel it’s an obligation.
If you are eager to experiment and just don’t know how to go about it, here’s a tried and tested starting point: select a reasonably mild & firm cheese (a small block of mild cheddar or Munster in North America; a young Comté, Gruyere or mild Provalone in Europe); a sharper, firm cheese (sharp cheddar, Monterey Jack in North America are easy-to-find examples; British Cornish Cruncher, Provalone Piquinte, and Swiss Appenzeller are amongst the thousands of European options) and a soft, stronger cheese if you think you will be into that (camembert and brie are nearly universally available options these days but the actual list is endless; in North America, a small cheese ball could fit the bill). If it’s a treat for two, this will likely be enough.
Of course, there is no obligation to stick to just cheese. Dried sausage, pâté, olives, and spreads (two I use regularly are humus and Greek tzatziki) work great as well. Remember, it’s all good as long as it follows your tastes!
No Need To Whine About Wine
In my experience, if you want to stress out the average consumer – even in Europe – just tell them they need to bring wine to a party or buy it for a specific meal…that’ll usually do it. This is unfortunate, because wine is probably one of the simplest and easy-to-enjoy pleasures one could pick.
If you are someone who enjoys a glass of wine now and then and you have an idea of your tastes (a style of wine, a region or perhaps a brand), then just go with it. While bread and cheese will typically pair better with a red wine (although there are noteworthy exceptions to this!), if you are a white wine lover, then just follow your tastes. Do that and it is unlikely you will go wrong.
If you do not have much wine experience and want to give it an honest whirl, my advice is to typically go for a softer, rounder red which are less aggressive (meaning less dry) and easier on the layman’s palate. There are certain grape varieties and regions which typically result in or produce this sort of wine. A few common examples (and this is but a few!):
Grape varieties: Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel, Grenache, Malbec, Pinot Noir (a lighter red and a good choice if you like your reds a bit below room temperature) & Shiraz (note: an Australian Shiraz tends to be on the rich side)
Regions which typically utilize one or more of the above grapes and produce commonly-found, affordable red wines: Cotes de Rhone, Alsace (for Pinot Noir only), Vacqueyras (a nice, cost effective alternative to the more expensive Châteauneuf-du-Pape), California (for Zinfandel in particular), Argentina (Malbec), South Africa & Chili (almost all of the above grapes are grown in these two places).
If you prefer white wine and don’t know what to go for, you’ll seldom go wrong with a Pinot Gris or a Gewürztraminer. Both tend to be semi-dry, pair well with a number of cheeses and are a joy to drink.
Of course, if wine – or alcohol for that matter– isn’t something you wish to partake in, your meal will be no less pleasurable. As with everything I’ve mentioned above, the golden rule is to not get stressed and stay in your comfort zone. Do that, and it’s next to impossible that your quiet evening meal won’t be something you’ll want to repeat again and again!