Yesterday, the day got away from me, and even though it was Sunday, I hadn’t gotten the pot of black beans to simmer before the soccer game, as I had imagined I would, and 5:15 rolled around and even though I had a house full of food, I had no idea what to cook.
So, I took a page from Ben’s book, and I foraged. Meaning, I started pulling things out of my refrigerator one at a time, in this order:
- green olives with herbs, newly purchased from a new vendor at our farmers market (this suggested pasta)
- mini baguettes (another nudge in the direction of pasta)
- bacon (bought for the beans but I figured I might as well find a way to use some of it)
- yellow chard (because it’s a little more work to clean and chop than spinach, so better for a Sunday than a weekday…)
And then I pulled a little suburban iron chef action and did this:
Pasta with Bacon and Yellow Chard
- Cook 5 slices bacon until tender crisp. Set aside to drain, then chop into 1 inch pieces.
- Drain off most of bacon fat and reserve for another use.
- Rinse and chop stems, then leaves of 1 bunch yellow chard into 1 inch slices/strips.
- Saute chard stems in bacon fat until they begin to soften.
- Add chard leaves and sautee about 4 minutes. Add about 1/4 cup vegetable broth and simmer until liquid is mostly reduced and chard is tender but not too soft. Turn off heat. Return bacon to pan.
- Cook pasta according to package instructions.
- Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking water, and add pasta to bacon and chard mixture along with 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino or romano cheese. Toss quickly to coat. Add a bit pasta water if it seems too dry.
- Serve immediately.
The olives & bread made nice sides.
The dish was a huge hit, especially with the kids, who seem to have turned into little bacon monsters over night, and really, who can blame them? It’s fast, not too messy, and one dish meal.
My new favorite appliance is my Breville pannini press. Actually, we’ve had it for a while, but getting rid of the microwave (actually, the microwave sort of exploded and we haven’t replaced it) has made counter space for the rice cooker & the pannini press, both of which I now use all the time. The press is great for quick marinated & grilled meats for rice bowls (think Thai chicken skewers, etc) & clean-up is really fast. But not so long ago Trader Joe’s started carrying this bread, and our life changed (a little).
This bread makes a perfect pannini–and it makes all the difference between a run of the mill grilled cheese and a sandwhich that’s something special. The bread is not too thick, the crust grills perfectly and it’s very, very fresh–just the right combination of crisp and soft. Pannini has become one of the kids favorite dinners–and one thing I’ve turned to a lot over the past month of crazy book launch things-to-do. We serve them with a sides of green salad, and there’s not much faster on a weeknight. The kids like them simple: cheddar or mozarella; or salami or mortadella and mayonnaise. Kory & I like some variation of meat + cheese + thin slice of crisp fruit for crunch. For instance:
- mortadella + provolone
- salami + cheddar
- prosciutto + mozzarella + apple
- ham + cheddar + apple
- provolone + pear
- cheddar + tomato
- turkey + jack + apple
You get the idea: whatever you like; whatever you have on hand. Make a few variations, cut them up , and serve a platter–and there’s nothing like a platter to bring a family together. Also, giving the kids a choice–even a small one–makes them happy.
Here it is, the list of the things I have come to rely on in the last month for fast meals. I have never stocked or relied on so many frozen things, and even now, I don’t think I have enough, but my erratic schedule, deadlines, and many evening events have meant a lot of paring back.
Because I haven’t been to the farmers market much lately, and when I have the fruit has been largely last fall’s apples and loads of citrus, I’ve bought a lot of frozen fruit. Between our orange tree and the following list, we’ve avoided scurvy:
- frozen mango
- frozen blueberries (eaten nearly daily for breakfast)
- frozen mixed berries
- frozen pineapple (used largely in smoothies)
- frozen chocolate covered bananas (a treat, yes, and full of sugar, yes, but also a banana for dessert. could be worse)
- frozen edamame (for snacks, lunches, side dishes with storebought sushi)
- frozen french fries
- frozen green peas (kids hate these, but I use them for somethings)
- frozen corn (K & I eat this on herbed pizza dough w/red peppers)
Sadly, I’m the only one who will eat garden burgers, but I’ve kept on hand:
- frozen middle eastern flatbread (nothing beats falafel mix for a quick dinner)
- Frozen, breaded, pre-cooked tilapia (great for fish sandwiches, crumbled for fish tacos, or eaten whole with fish and chips)
- Frozen pre-cooked, batter-fried cod (see above, I don’t buy this oftens since it’s less sustainable than the tilapia)
- frozen pie shells (quiche can nearly make itself, and it keeps well & can be served at room temperature)
- frozen, pre-cooked sausages (great baked with apples and potatoes. Mess free and fast.)
- frozen crab cakes
- frozen ravioli (even easier if you just serve with butter and cheese)
- lots of breads: tortillas (for fast bean and cheese tacos); pizza dough (for fast pizza); hamburger buns (for fish sandwiches or panelle); italian bread (because sometimes just a little bit of warm garlic bread makes a boring spaghetti more palatable)
I’ve made other fast things, too, and as you can see–not a whole lot of range in ingredients, but from one kind of fish, I can get three different kinds of meals. We survived.
I’d love to know what frozen foods you rely on. What do you love? Your family? What’s healthiest, fastest, most satisfying? What do you splurge on?
It has been no secret that my house has been upended by the release of my new book. It’s all been good–lots of fun and excitement. But there are a million little parts to promoting and marketing that fill my head and my days with noise, and I’m just exhausted at the end of the day. We have been eating, and I have been cooking, if with less creativity than usual. I’ll be blogging in the coming weeks about what I stocked and the standard dishes I used this time around in order to keep food on the table. But we’ve also eaten out a lot more than we ever have before, because one of the things that’s been driven home during this period of professional intensity is that the cooking is not always the problem: the cleaning up. With all the moving parts in my workday, on some nights (ok, very many nights), I just don’t want to face the chaos of the dirty pots or pans or even dishes.
To give you a sense of just how upended our my routine has been, Yesterday was the first time I made it to the farmers market in 3 weeks. Which is longer than I have gone without a visit in 10 years.
Which is why it was especially nice to sit down to dinner altogther last night. We had a tablecloth, and artichokes, and fresh salad, and tulips, and a bottle of wine, and good bread and this pasta dish, which is fast and satisfying and endlessly adaptable.
Spaghetti with Fried Egg. Garlic, and Herbs
- 4 eggs
- 4 cloves garlic (or to taste), finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried herb (whatever you like & have on hand: oregano, thyme, marjoram…)
- red chili pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
- 1-3 T butter
- olive oil for frying
- 3/4 pound pasta
- grated cheese for serving
- Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.
- In a large frying pan, melt butter with a good amount of olive oil, about 1/4-1/3 cup, depending on amount of butter you use. It’s okay to omit butter and just use oil.
- Add garlic & chili pepper and sautee for 1-2 minutes
- Gently add eggs, one at a time, to oil and garlic mixture.
- Sprinkle each egg with salt and herbs.
- Fry, sunny side up, spooning oil/garlic over egges until whites are set but yolks are still runny.
- Divide pasta into 4 bowls.
- Top each portion of pasta with one egg and a few spoons of garlic oil.
- Serve with grated cheese. The yolk, when broken will form a sauce to coat the pasta.
Every year at my sons’ school, parents organize a night of Random Dinners for each class. Some families volunteer to host, and can dictate a style of cuisine or theme for the evening. About a week in advance, other parents are randomly assigned to provide a dish or course and then are given an address the morning of the dinner. We’re about to participate in our fourth random dinner with Ben’s third grade class, and our first with the kindergarten group, and I’m looking forward to them. We’ve always had fun, always wound up talking to folks we don’t see in our regular drop-off/pick-up routine, always discovered new things about our fellow parents. It has always been a terrific meal.
This year, I’m helping organize the kindergarten random dinners so I have an advance peek at what some of the families are planning. There will be several Mexican dinners, one barbecue, one couple doing sushi, another serving Greek food. One couple decided to focus on the theme rather than a style of food and has asked everyone to bring something they’d want to eat on their last day. They were inspired by Melanie Dunea’s book about chefs and their final meals (see some of the photographs here) and even though I’m not necessarily attending that meal, it’s got me thinking: what would I want my final flavors to be? Lemon cake? Puttanesca? My mom’s apple crisp? What would you want to eat on your last day?