Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Carla Lalli Music, Bon Appetit
When I was a lowly line cook at Union Pacifichaving a rough day (meaning, it was 40 minutes until dinner service and the chef just added a special), we had a saying: "Make it happen." Thirteen years later, I get to spend my days atBon Appetit (huge improvement), but I have two monsters at home who eat dinner at 5:30pm. Now, "making it happen" means feeding them even when I'm not there. I want them to eat the food I've made--honestly, it lessens the guilt of not being there--and these are the tips and strategies I'm devoted to. They help get meals done in advance, and help other ones come together quickly.
Use the freezer
Yeah, I shop the farmers' market every weekend and love to cook with what I bought that day. But I have to get ahead, too. So I try to have these items in my freezer (pictured above) at all times: frozen peas, edamame, ground turkey, burger patties, chicken cutlets, ravioli, homemade soup, and homemade meatballs in sauce. Did you know you can freeze brown rice? True story. Each night I take a look at my freezer and transfer an item into the refrigerator to thaw for the next day. Keeping the freezer in rotation means I always have a green vegetable on hand and don't have to worry about meat spoiling in the fridge during the week.
Make friends with the family pack
It was a sad day when my older son announced, apologetically, that he "didn't really like chicken."Chicken cutlets on the other hand, those are totally fine. I buy a couple of family packs of chicken cutlets at a time, bread them, and freeze them in packs of two (wrapped in freezer paper and tucked into a gallon-sized zip-top bag). I use the standard flour-egg-panko breading, and our sitter can easily cook them to a crisp at dinnertime, without having to fuss with a bunch of breading ingredients. I am also a huge fan these days of the "meatloaf mix" from the butcher case: 1 pound each of pork, veal, and beef. I buy two packs at a time for double batches of meatballs (browned on sheet trays under the broiler).
There's a lentil soup I make pretty much every weekend, and it's a meal in a bowl. It starts with a big batch of sofrito (see below), flavored with bacon or sausage or leftover ham. I add spices like cumin and turmeric, lentils, stock or water, and kale and let it simmer until the beans are tender. Throw a Parmesan rind in there if you've got it. This Sunday soup has become a staple--I serve it with some bread and a little Parmesan grated over the top--and it's kind of crazy how much kale my children will ingest in soup form. A pot of soup is just as easy to make in big batches, and the leftovers are a perfect freezer staple.
Every cuisine has its version of this flavorful, aromatic base. I make mine with onions, carrots, celery, garlic and olive oil. The food processor is my tool of choice for chopping the vegetables--do them individually, since they break down at different rates. Then cook the vegetables together slowly in olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and a bay leaf if you're feeling fancy. When making soup on the weekends, I'll start with a monster batch of sofrito, then remove two-thirds of it from the pot to freeze in quart containers, and continue on with the soup. When I want to make tomato sauce for meatballs, another batch of soup, or a quick pot of black beans, I start with a container of sofrito, which cuts prep work in half.
There are a few books I'm regularly inspired by. Whether I'm following the recipe word for word (rare), or letting my son flip through and tell me what looks good to him, these are the titles that have earned a spot on the kitchen shelf:
The River Cottage Family Cookbook by Hugh Fearnley-Whitting-Stall. Written for kids, with excellent recipes and ideas. My new favorite way to poach eggs is in here.
Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. I treasure my sun-bleached copy. Will teach you how to cook every grain, bean, and vegetable under the sun.
Time for Dinner by Pilar Guzman, Jenny Rosenstrach, and Alanna Stang. Filled with crowd-friendly recipes and my favorite lists of essentials for the pantry, fridge, and freezer. Brought to you from the editors of Cookie magazine.
More from Bon Appetit:
10 Foods You Thought Were Healthy But Really Aren't
The Top Food Trends of 2012
25 One-Bite Appetizers
Quick and Easy School-Night Dinners