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Let's talk about cooking, Part 2
Tl;dr: meal-planning lists + many *free* NYT Cooking links
First, brief housekeeping:
Thank you to all who commented with love and dejection at the thought of Orangette going away. A couple of you emailed with ideas for keeping the old girl on the web without spending so much $$$, and I will reply to you shortly, because that’s what I’m after. Stay tuned —
Also, turns out that Anne Helen Petersen of the Culture Study newsletter has had kitchens and remodeling on her mind, too! Her most recent post is below, and you should read it — and become a (paid) subscriber to Culture Study. Fun fact: it was the first newsletter I ever paid for.
As I was saying, my version of meal planning is not very plan-y. At best, I make a list of meals that I intend to cook and have the ingredients for.
This is one such list. You’ll note that it includes not only dinners, but also reminders of what’s available for lunches and snacks. These reminders are not exhaustive, but they help ensure that we don’t waste (a lot of) food. I cross things off as we eat them. You will also note that, though there are seven days in a week, I do not plan seven dinners. I do a big grocery-shop once a week, which includes ingredients for three or four planned dinners. Other nights, Ash might stop at the store on the way home from work to pick up ingredients for something else, or we get takeout, or we eat leftovers. I am a leftovers person. Or we play it as it lays. There’s always something that be pressed into service, even if we have “nothing” in the house: there are eggs, dried pasta, cheddar cheese, bacon, multiple types of rice, some kind of bread, a can of whole peeled tomatoes, peas (frozen), a pound of ground beef (frozen), onions, tuna, instant ramen, pasta, Parmesan, and Pecorino. With these ingredients, I can make cacio e pepe,fried rice, ramen carbonara, stovetop smash burgers, Marcella sauce, tuna mayo rice bowls, eggs any way, and probably many other dishes that I don’t even know about.
You may notice that I do not assign meals to specific days. That’s a decision that I make as I go, depending on the day’s obligations and constraints, and whether or not June will be with us. I should say that I factor in June not because they are picky, but because they are so pleased when I cook a beloved dish. Their pleasure is so pleasing to me, in turn, that I will gladly cook with the co-parenting schedule in mind. Let it be known that June is the best person on Earth to cook for and eat with — though as I typed that last sentence, it struck me that saying this aloud about our first child almost certainly means that, by the laws of entropy or karma or because gods in myth always smite the boastful, our second child will be a wholly hellish person to feed. But whoops, already typed it, already said it, it’s done!
Whatever we have for dinner, there’s usually just one main element, by which I mean only one dish that requires a recipe. I don’t like trying to follow two recipes at once. I also don’t like long ingredient lists, not for everyday cooking. A friend who was a Blue Apron subscriber once gave us three free meal kits as part of a promotion, and while it was nice to not plan or shop, OH MY GOD there were so many ingredients and steps, GOD, FML, I hated it. I recall one taco thing involving julienned zucchini; just the memory of it makes me sweaty. I swore from literal start to literal finish. That said, we’ve also tried a few meals from HelloFresh — special promotion, same deal — and those kits were simpler, less annoying, and extremely tasty. Maybe it was the meals we chose? I will never know unless someone gives us more free meal kits.
The point is, I only like to cook — as in, think about, or put real effort into — one thing per dinner. If I’m making, say, cacio e pepe, that’s the one thing. With it, we’ll have something that requires zero thought: roasted broccolior asparagus, blanched green beans, or a green salad. Or, if the “main” dish is the zero-thought part — sausage, which needs only to be quickly cooked, or fried eggs, or basic roasted salmon — then I might throw my brainpower behind the side instead. This past Friday, for instance, I cooked some Italian sausages and served them with a jar of Dijon mustard and a pan of roasted asparagus — and that felt simple enough that, only an hour before we planned to sit down, I decided to whip up a batch of Julia Turshen’s excellent cornbread. It was the meal’s one thing.
That’s my everyday cooking in broad strokes: one main thing, not too many ingredients. Here is this week’s list.
The chickpeas and chard comes from one of the first cookbooks that I acquired in adulthood: Janet Fletcher’s Fresh from the Farmers’ Market. The book seems now to be out of print, but the link above will take you to Orangette, where, in my past life or 2005, I posted the recipe. It would be great with a fried egg on top, if you’d like to make it more substantial. I serve it with crusty breadand whatever cheese we have, and salami too, if we’ve got it.
The quiche is something that June requested, a new item in the rotation. I’d forgotten how easy it is to make a quiche. I’ve taken Craig Claiborne’s quiche Lorraine recipe and bent it to my will, cutting back the onion by half and adding 1 large leek, and using the half-milk-and-half-cream option. For the crust, I use Samin’s all-butter pie dough recipe from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which I blind-bake according to Stella Parks’s method on Serious Eats.
As for the udon in the upper right, it’s a back-pocket recipe from Hetty McKinnon’s To Asia, With Love. I’ve got good frozen udon on hand, but I forgot to buy scallions, hence the question mark. I’ll probably make it anyway. Or I’ll stop at the store, because the week’s list is low on vegetables in general, so I should fix that. I’d like to have a butter lettuce salad with the quiche.
There’s not a lot of meat in this week’s dinners, is there? This is what it looks like when I plan our dinners without Ash’s input. I tend to forget about meat — possibly because I was (mostly) vegetarian in my formative cooking years and possibly because I don’t love cooking meat, and also because non-sketchy meat is expensive. But I do enjoy eating it. Fortunately, Ash is always game for cooking it, so when they make dinner, they make meat: the Tex-Mex meatballs from Simply Julia, salsa verde chicken, or chipotle-honey chicken tacos. If we have leftovers of either of the latter two, I like to eat it over rice, with shredded iceberg, grated cheddar, avocado, Tapatio, and a handful of tortilla chips, crushed in my fist.
Well! That was fun. If you’re interested, I could do a post like this once a season or so? Maybe I’ll include baked goods. I bake something most weeks— a cake, brownies, cookies — but it doesn’t show up on the official list, because it’s not a meal. How dour and rational of me. I will do better.
In the meantime, I’d love to know: what is a meal that you’ve made more than once recently? In our household, it’s Eric Kim’s tuna mayo rice bowl, linked about halfway up the page. If you can swing it, stir-fry some broccoli to go alongside, with garlic, oyster sauce, and a splash of chicken stock to help it cook.
Go forth! The comments are open to everyone.
This recipe, from Jessica Battilana, is my gold standard. Buy Jessica’s book, Repertoire. It’s full of gold-standard recipes, including ⬇️. I should also add that all book links in this post are affiliate links to Bookshop.org.
This fried rice recipe! SOLID GOLD. I like to substitute a half-dozen slices of bacon, chopped, for the hot dogs. In that case, I omit the oil and begin the recipe by cooking the bacon until it begins to crisp and turn golden, then pour off all but a tablespoon-ish of the fat, and then proceed with the recipe, using that tablespoon of fat to cook the scallion. I’ve also subbed onion for the scallion, and I’ve added or subbed fennel, cabbage, zucchini, whatever needs using up, all to good effect.
If you have not yet made this recipe, make it now.
Olive oil, salt, 15 minutes at 425F.
Olive oil, salt, 12-15 minutes at 450F.