Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On Cooking One Day a Week, Pt. 1

Syndicated on BlogHer.com The Frugal Gourmet always talked about cooking one day a week and I've lusted after directions ever since. Does this mean I have to have a meal plan? If I cook one day a week what should I do with all that I've cooked? What's the timeframe for cooking all those things??

Imagine my excitement when the whole world directed me to Tamar Adler's website where she preached a similar message. "Watch the videos!" the comments pleaded. Watch I did.


She makes a good point: vegetables that are cooked are more likely to be eaten. But the rest of the videos just made me think of all the things I could do if I too had a townhouse in the city with commercial-grade kitchen appliances, a walk-out patio/dining room, and an actual farmers market. Other than that it was just watching her eat lettuce. More of an introduction to a cooking show than an instructional video. Which is fine if I'm gearing up to watch a cooking show. But if I'm genuinely interested in your message to see if I want to spend my hard-earned dollars on your book? Not fine.

As each household has a different diet, I'm sure my search for an authoritative list of things to accomplish on the weekend will be fruitless. But that doesn't mean I can't contribute something to the cause. Here are some moderately useful things I try to do on the weekends to make my weekday life easier. The reality to my life right now is that some weeks I am either at work or getting to work for up to 60 hours or so each week. I pack lunches for my husband and myself and I cook dinner each night. I DO NOT WASH ALL THE DISHES EVERY NIGHT. Seriously. Pretty much just throw what will fit in the dishwasher and hope there's a travel mug somewhere in there. All the dishes get done on Friday nights, however, after marathon caffeinated soda drinking and before using up all the hot water for a shower, actually using lotion, trimming my nails, plucking my eyebrows and burning my clothes. (Not really.) Let's just say I like to leave the workweek where it belongs (goddammit).

Before we embark, let me remind you of three cardinal rules to your own weekend whirlwind:
Rule #1: It's got to be easy to use or you won't use it on a weeknight.
Rule #2: Prep more than what you need. Bake four potatoes instead of two. Make salad for dinner and tomorrow's lunches.
Rule #3: Have a dinner plan for the day you prep all this food. Nothing worse than cooking all day and running out of dinner ideas.

Bake potatoes. 

I usually do this so I have a baked potato for a side dish for dinner on the night I bake them. Then I use the other ones I've baked for lunches or peeled, mashed with milk and cheese for potato soup.

Appreciate yeast by baking bread and drinking beer. 

First loaf gets eaten mostly the same day I bake it because there is nothing on this Earth finer than hot fresh bread, butter, and a little glass of wine. Second loaf cools, is cut in half, then frozen in a bread bag and two layers of foil so I can have fresh bread until I run out...usually about Wednesday. This is why I try to make one batch of two loaves on Saturday and another batch on Sunday so I'm not caught without bread for breakfast toast during the week. The beer? Self-explanatory.

Braise something.

This is a good Saturday event. Brown a beef brisket, chuck roast, pork butt roast or spareribs with salt and pepper, then braise in your choice of tasty liquids (this is brisket with beef broth and red wine). One great meal on the weekend, then at least one more great meal through the week. Any shredded meat goes great in tacos when you pan fry it until it's a little dry with salt, cumin and sauteed onions (see below). Beef is great in a toasted sandwich with a stringy cheese--often actual string cheese in my house--with leftover gravy or broth and horseradish for French dip sandwiches. Chop it fine and use it in potstickers; enough ginger, garlic and Sriacha sauce and you won't even guess it was cooked in wine. Or, fry in garlic and oil to become the meat portion of Asianish soup. Or fry with hashbrowns and serve under a fried egg.

Boil eggs.

Firstly, did you know you only have to cover the eggs with cold water, bring to a boil, turn off the heat and cover for ten minutes and you'll have light, fully-cooked boiled eggs? IT ACTUALLY WORKS. I just figured this out last week. My whole life I've been simmering them away for 15 minutes and wondering why they could be used as a rubber ball on the playground.

Secondly, this is an easy source of protein for lunch or dinner. I like to slice one up to make a lunch salad have more oomph. Or slice two up and enjoy with a half a cup of lentil schtoup (see below) for lunch. Need a snack? How about spreading pesto on a piece of toast, slicing an egg on top, salt, pepper, dribble of olive oil and a few gratings of Parmesan cheese?

Make mock sour cream.

This is a Frug recipe and it's very clever. Buy low-fat cottage cheese. Blend one cup until it's absolutely smooth. Enjoy as sour cream. It won't be as thick as sour cream, but it'll be lower fat, plenty of great taste, and won't be full of cornstarch, tapioca flour, or other thickeners like low- or no-fat sour cream. We use it for all of our baked potato, nacho, and taco needs. Also? Great for mashed potatoes instead of extra butter and in waffles instead of all the oil (yogurt works for this too).

Saute mushrooms.

Even with food prices going through the roof, I can still buy mushrooms from the bulk section for less per pound than I can buy them pre-packaged. Since they make many things more satisfying (Asianish soup, frittatas, omlettes, lasagna, stroganoff, fajitas; pretty much anywhere where you'd like to cut back on the amount of meat you're buying), I buy about a pound and slice them thin and cook them in olive oil and salt until they are browned. This saves a ton of time during dinner-making on weekdays and they last longer cooked. If they're in the crisper drawer and I know they'll take 20 minutes to saute (even with that microwaving trick from America's Test Kitchen they still take a while), they will stay there until they grow little mushrooms. Remember rule #1: they must be easy to use or you won't use them.

Prep veggies.

You will not make a salad for dinner if it means you have to spend 20 serious minutes washing and peeling freaking produce. Salads are good for everybody. When you make the first big salad for your weekend dinner take some extra time and just get everything cleaned and stored. Then you won't have a low-blood sugar meltdown at all the produce rotting in your crisper drawer because you've been at work for 12 hours and there are so many things you don't want to do and WASHING AND PEELING SIX DIFFERENT VEGETABLES IS HIGH UP ON THAT LIST.

Lettuce: cut head in half horizontally and wash all the tops of the leaves. Spin dry. Cut core off bottom, wash bottoms of leaves (sounds dirty). Spin dry. Store wrapped in clean tea towels in mostly closed plastic containers. Same with kale. The minimum amount of cutting possible; you'll still need to trim them to eat but they'll last longer if they aren't cut to pieces.

Carrots: peel, cut root and leaf ends off, store in water.

Bell peppers: wash, trim off seedy end, stick the cut side onto a damp paper towel, store in bread bag.

Cabbage: Wash, wrap cut sides in damp paper towel and store in bread bag.

Radishes: Trim leaves off, scrub, store on top of a damp paper towel in Tupperware.

Broccoli: Wash, trim off florets into like-sized pieces, cut up stalk for soup (I guess; haven't actually made a successful broccoli soup yet), then dunk in salted boiling water for about a minute. They will last longer this way and be ready to serve, saute with garlic and red pepper flakes, toss in soup or a frittata.

P.S. If you ever have something that smells like death in your fridge and you can't figure out what it is, seek out the raw broccoli you bought two weeks ago and dumped in the crisper drawer because you haven't had time in all those weeknights to clean it and cook it. Not that I would know or anything.

Saute onions.

Much faster to add a little spoonful of cooked onions to whatever you're trying to serve on a Thursday night than chop up a whole onion and cook it down. Go heavy on the olive oil so that when you store it the oil will seal the onion up and it will keep for longer. Probably.

Wait, you're not actually reading this blog as a real food blog, are you??

Make a lentil stew.

Add what's left of last week's cooked onions, half of whatever sausage you can get your hands on (*snigger*), a pinch of red pepper flakes, a cup of lentils, a cup and a half of water and a cup of wine or so and cook until softened. This is thinned with wine or broth and becomes dinner soup with a salad and bread one night, gets topped with boiled eggs for lunch, then gets served with mock sour cream for another lunch, and if you've made enough, gets fried until it's dried out a little and served for another dinner with fried eggs on top. This is good, solid, filling food that is nutritious and delicious.

What about you? Any tips or tricks you've learned to do on the weekend so you can eat well during the week?

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