I work from home, and one way I’ve found to make weeknight dinners part of the routine is to take five minutes here and there throughout the day to do a little prep. That might mean picking up an onion on my way back from a meeting or measuring out the soy sauce and sugar for gyudon in between calls. By the time I’m ready to really make dinner, dinner seems half made.
I know not everyone has the luxury of typing three feet from her fridge, but I thought I’d share the list of the little tasks I often do to divvy up the dinner cooking between my tired evening self and my peppier morning version. Many can be done while the coffee drips or on Sunday evenings, or even in the 10-minute layover between the office and the yoga studio. I’ve always loved food shopping (#15) during my lunch break, especially when I’ve worked near markets with speciality ingredients.
- Remove kale leaves from the stem
- Wash and dry greens (here’s how to store them if you do this more than a few hours in advance)
- Measure out ingredients
- Make sauces (like green sauce or peanut sauce)
- Pick herbs off their stems
- Marinate meat
- Air dry your chicken
- Take ingredients like butter, meat, or leftovers out of the fridge to temper
- Soak grains (or beans)
- Wash all the dishes
- Make pizza dough (it takes less than 5 minutes to stir together a batch of no-knead, and you can adjust the amount of yeast for how long you’ll be letting the dough rise as per this post on Smitten Kitchen; once you have dough, homemade pizza is basically like making grilled cheese)
- Parboil potatoes (pre-cooked potatoes roast up quicker)
- Whisk together a salad dressing
- Put sliced shallots in a bowl with vinegar (it’s the start of many a good veggie dish)
- Plunk ingredients in the slow-cooker (try onions, tomatoes, a sweet potato, olive oil, and chicken thighs)
- Go shopping
- Toast nuts (since they’re good on top of salads and quinoa bowls and wherever you need some protein)
- Roast vegetables (since they’re just as good room temp as hot)
- Grind bread crumbs and toast them
- Caramelize onions
- Chop vegetables (except onions and garlic) and store in a bowl beneath a damp paper towel
The last-minute gift for your family and friends is a jar of this homemade coconut granola, which hits all the right notes: salty, sweet, crunchy, and rich. I love it.
The gift for you (or your favorite baker) is a kitchen scale. Hear me out.
I had thought kitchen scales were for wanna-be professionals until I got this Hario one when we started brewing coffee with the Kone. It took at least a year before I used the simple scale for anything but coffee. But one day I read a recipe for pizza dough made by weight, and I realized that baking by weight wasn’t pretentious. It was the ultimate lazy cook move.
To make this granola, you put a bowl on the scale, then zero it out. You add the oats, zero it out. You add the nuts, and then you zero it out again. Etc. You don’t have to take out all your measuring cups and then feel like half the maple syrup you poured is stuck to them. It makes substituting different kinds of nuts really easy: you’re just trying to reach a certain weight, and when you hit it, you’re done.
Here’s the recipe for granola, basically as I’ve been making it for years, just a little less sweet and with the measurements done by weight instead of volume.
For the second Sunday in a row, there’s a pot of this stew in the oven. That’s a picture of how colorful it looks when it goes in. When the timer beeps, four hours later, the greens and oranges have caramelized into the height of flavor.
It’s based off of the very famous (in my world) and very good Silver Palate short rib recipe. But there were a few stoppers in that recipe for me, namely beef stock, which I never have. I decided that any liquid would do, there are so many vegetables in the pot anyway, that flavor emerges inevitably. So far I’ve used: chicken stock, red wine, tomato juice from the can, and water. The stews are a little different each time, but always tasty, and the recipe is easy enough to make just for yourself, though also a fancy main dish for parties.
The original short ribs contribute plenty of flavor and fat, and they have one more perk: Since they’re bigger, you brown fewer. Pieces of chuck roast work just as well, you’ll just be browning a few minutes longer. After that step, the rest of the ingredients get piled into the pot and hoisted into the oven. For four hours, you do whatever you need to do on Sundays, and then you eat.
Here’s the recipe.
Whew, I didn’t mean for my pause to go on quite that long. Three months is the longest period of time I’ve gone without posting on Big Girls, Small Kitchen in eight years, a break in routine that should have seemed shocking – except, it didn’t! It seemed exceptionally natural to take a little break, especially from social media. I found relief in not thinking about likes on instagram or links on twitter or sharing on facebook at all, and relaxation in cooking for family, friends, and me without simultaneously drafting posts about every bite.
But I am here and working! I recently wrote about a diamond dealer who opened his own shelf-stable hummus biz, a pastor who runs a rooftop farm whose harvest supplies her food pantry, and what it means that venture-capital money is seeping into the food world. I went deep into the world of breakfast potatoes, developed Thanksgiving leftover recipes, and learned about wok cooking from Fuschia Dunlop. This semester, I helped teach a class about the New York City economy as an adjunct lecturer at a journalism program for graduate students.
I have also been cooking. Over the summer, I soaked raisins to create my own sourdough starter and have been baking dozens of loaves of sourdough bread from Sarah Owens’ book, Sourdough. I used discarded starter to make pie crusts, biscuits, puff pastry, and veggie pancakes. For weeknight dinners, I’ve made curries and dals, pot pies and beef stews, and a poached chicken with ginger-scallion sauce from the first issue of Chris Kimball’s Milk Street.
To round out the explanation for my absence, there’s one more thing I’ve been doing: taking care of my first baby, whom we welcomed in August!
Though I’ve been cooking more than ever and writing plenty too, this happy shift in the amount of time I have to do my work forced a parallel shift in priorities, and BGSK kept ending up at the bottom of the to-do list.
Yet, I am working on a plan for this space. I think what I’d like to do is fill it back up with the recipes I’m really cooking, rather than produced and scheduled and developed dinners that I hoped you would like. I’d like to talk about incremental cooking, cooking for the week, and the simple dishes that are delighting me right now – perhaps without the perfect pictures and lengthy intros of the current blogger aesthetic. We’ll see.
In the meantime, thanks for reading and cooking from the archives. I’ll be back soon! -C
I wanted to get this one down before the big, juicy tomatoes are gone. In fact, we have a bit longer than we think before that happens. They’re usually here til mid-October, and sometimes they’re less expensive then, since the more antsy eaters have moved onto winter squash. By then, a dish called Beach Pasta will already feel nostalgic and taste even better than its Labor Day rendition, which is already magical, oily, and briny.
The book Pasta Fresca is one of my favorite cookbooks. The pages brim over with simple Italian pastas, heavy on the oils and butters and cheeses, but also on the vegetables. Many of the dishes are quite close to one another. In the small variations lies the genius of this nifty book. Beach Pasta is just a surprising variation on a dish I make all the time: raw tomato sauce and mozzarella tossed with hot pasta. But sometimes, you had mozz for lunch (as I did every day two weekends ago, with a rainbow of roasted peppers and olive oil). That’s one time this recipe is irreplaceable, because it replaces the mozz, with a can of tuna. A complete meal forms, protein and all, without diminishing the immediacy and freshness of the cheesy original.
The first dinner, I simplified the published recipe completely, doctoring the tomatoes and tuna with nothing but a tiny bit of shallot and a clove of garlic. The second time, I was truer to the Pasta Fresca formula, only I added some shallot and parsley and crunchy bread crumbs in addition to the olives and basil called for.
More than the tomatoes, what I miss come fall is the ease of summer meals. The equipment here is just a pot, a bowl, a cutting board, and knife. You can make the sauce in the time it takes to boil water for pasta, but if you have a few minutes in the late afternoon, better to make it then and allow an hour or two for marinating. The breadcrumbs add an extra step and an extra pan, but I think they’re worth it.
Here’s an uncharacteristic move: I made a Taco Bell Crunchwrap Supreme.
I haven’t eaten a bite of “traditional” fast food in at least 10 years (Shack Shack not included). But when my editors at First We Feast suggested we branch out from classics like roast chicken and chocolate chip cookies to show people how to craft their own versions of cult favorites like this Taco Bell Crunchwrap thingy (which I had to Google around a bit to understand because I am that out of the fast-food loop), I said OK.
Turns out that even though the tortilla-wrapped taco looks like something made in a high-tech lab, the handheld burrito-taco hybrid is a lot more natural to make than you’d suspect. At once soft and crunchy, rich and fresh, it’s genuinely worth copying if you like Taco Bell but are anxious to eat less MSG, or if you don’t like Taco Bell but do like origami. Click through to First We Feast for the full guide.