I would have enough to fill my time without having to attend to the need to eat, but it just so happens I care a good deal about food, as does the rest of my family. Some folk are so driven by their work or their art that food and its preparation take a back seat. But for me, the preparation of food is a creative endeavor in and of itself. And yet, the need to feed a family several times a day, every day, can certainly seem like a chore at times. So in the hopes that it might help folks in need of meal ideas—because we all get in a rut now and then—I’ll post our Monday-through-Friday menus on occasion, with links to recipes. One caveat: thanks to our quasi-commune, we are frequently the lucky recipients of fabulous Vietnamese concoctions, often in the form of pho or other soups. I can take no credit for those, nor share the recipes, as they are a mystery to me. I know they often involve oxtail or dried squid, and virtually always fish sauce.
Here’s last week:
Adults: Leftovers from a local Indian restaurant. I’ve found that, contrary to some expectations, it’s harder to cook on weekends than on weekdays, perhaps because I’m “on” all day on weekdays, but try to relax a bit on weekends, and spending time in the kitchen after ferrying kids to activities and doing my own extra-curriculars doesn’t qualify as relaxing. (Although K recently asked why I’m so tired often, when I have “plenty of time to rest.” Huh.) Hence there are sometimes leftovers from a weekend take-out night.
Kids: Leftover “sausage pasta,” as it’s come to be known in our house, and sauteed okra. (I use the chopped, frozen kind. Both kids like it. Says K: “I like how okra has slime in it. It gives my mouth a massage.”) One could go on a tangent about how kids should really just eat whatever the parents are eating, but I’m not going there right now. Besides, the Indian leftovers were pretty spicy.
The “sausage pasta” is a simple concoction, liked by all 8 of us (our family and Next Doors) and easily made in large quantity. For 4 people: Saute a chopped onion with two cloves of minced garlic and a sprinkling of hot pepper flakes. When the onion is translucent, add in a 28 oz can of diced tomatoes, with juices. Simmer, uncovered, until most of the liquid has evaporated, approx 20 minutes, stirring now and then. In the meantime, place 5 sweet Italian sausages in a pan and pour in a half cup of white wine. Prick the sausages with a fork first. Cook, covered, until sausages are cooked through. Make whatever quantity of pasta you need (I tend to use rotini or fusilli). Mix everything together, and sprinkle with grated Pecorino Romano. The whole thing takes about half an hour, if you have three burners going at once.
Crêpes. This was a bit of an extravaganza. Delicious outcome, but I don’t recommend doing it unless you have a couple of hours to devote to it. We had friends over, which is how I justified the effort to myself. But I was beat by the end of the evening.
I made about 40 crêpes, using the basic crêpe recipe from the Joy of Cooking, and quadrupling it. (A crêpe pan is not necessary, as long as you have a good non-stick pan.) Everyone had two savory ones and two sweet ones. For the savory ones, I prepared a variety of fillings, and made them to order, as it were. Gruyère, fried eggs, ham, sauteed spinach with garlic and red peppers, and sauteed mushrooms with fresh thyme. A slight sprinkling of fleur de sel in each. Accompanied by salad for adults, and steamed broccoli for the kids, who seem to object to lettuce.
Side note: Admittedly, “crêpes” is a difficult word to pronounce if you are not a native French speaker. But hearing “crayps” is painful to me. Try saying “creppe” instead. (The “s” is silent, and the “e” is a short “e”, as in eggs.) Although then, I suppose, you run the risk of not being understood by most people.
Sauteed salmon with balsamic glaze, recipe from Epicurious.com. Quick, simple and delicious. Accompanied by quinoa, and green beans steamed and then sauteed with shallots. If you organize things right, this whole meal can be made in about half an hour. A bit longer if you have a baby clinging to your leg. Consider opening a bottle of chilled Vouvray. If aforementioned baby is in the picture, consider chilling it (the wine) in time to partake of it while cooking.
I was out at a meeting with my writing group. Husband had a leftover portion of boeuf bourguignon that I pulled from the freezer (recipe next time I make it) and egg noodles, with a salad. The kids had a couple of chicken drumsticks briefly marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, ground cumin and salt, with okra and egg noodles. I had a lovely evening out talking about books and writing, and eating good food with whose preparation I had nothing to do. And no, I don’t dangle my participles.
Another good meal to feed all eight of us, with leftovers: Mark Bittman’s “anti-roast-chicken” as we call it. This is a good alternative to a roast chicken, with more going on, yet not much more effort. I’ve become a huge fan of Mark Bittman, who has the New York Times Magazine food feature now. This recipe was printed in the March 13, 2011 issue. Bittman calls it “Braised and Roasted Chicken with Vegetables.” The recipe is like so (copied here in case it disappears from online accessibility):
2 tbsp olive oil or butter (he actually calls for chicken fat, reserved from chicken-skin croutons, but good grief.)
2 skinless chicken leg-thigh quarters
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 skin-on chicken breast, split in two
3 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and chopped
4 carrots, chopped
6 celery ribs, chopped
12 to 16 oz cremini, shiitake, button or other fresh mushrooms, quartered or sliced
3 to 4 sprigs thyme or rosemary (I tend to use both.)
Chicken-wing meat (I don’t find this necessary)
Chicken stock (Bittman recommends making your own. Which is great and all, but in the interest of time, I use the boxed stuff.)
- Heat the oven to 350. Put the butter/olive oil/chicken fat in a roasting pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Sprinkle the leg quarters with salt and pepper and add them to the pan, flesh side down. Cook, turning and rotating the pieces as necessary, until well browned on both sides, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove, then add the breast halves, skin side down. Brown them well, then flip and cook for just 1 minute or so; remove to a separate plate.
- Put the leeks, carrots, celery, mushrooms, herbs and chicken-wing meat in the same pan and cook until the vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, 10 to 15 minutes.
- Nestle the leg quarters among the vegetables, meaty side up. Add enough of the stock to come about halfway up the thighs.
- Put the pan in the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 1 hour. (Stir vegetables if they threaten to brown too much.) When the thight meat is tender, raise the heat to 400 and lay the breast halves on the vegetables, skin side up. Continue cooking until they are done, 20-30 minutes longer.
Bittman recommends transfering the vegetables to a platter, slicing the breasts and shredding the leg and thigh meat, and placing on the vegetables. I forego all this presentation, and just serve out.
Accompaniments: brussel sprouts sauteed with butter, pancetta and lemon juice, and mashed potatoes.