As an enthsiastic home cook, I love it when I have a leisurely several hours to spend in the kitchen experimenting with new dishes. As a working person who can’t—and doesn’t want to—eat out every night, I want to have a delicious dinner at my own table at a reasonable hour. Delicious. At Home. On Time. Some nights all that can feel like “mission impossible,” so to speak, and I wind up falling back on a sandwich or pasta. There’s nothing really wrong with those options, but most evenings I crave something that’s more like the family meals that I grew up with.
I’m only cooking for two so I don’t have the added pressure of getting dinner on the the table for children. Still, some of my favorite current reading matter is the blog Dinner: A Love Story. The bloggers, Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward are working parents of two daughters ages 7 and 9 and while some of the writing centers around issues specific to feeding children, much of it involves great tips for getting dinner on the table quickly and inexpensively without sacrificing flavor and without the use of a lot of processed items.
Some nights, I know what ingredients I have on hand but I can’t figure out what to do with them or don’t want to cook the same old thing. A handy Internet tool that I’ve found for just this situation is SuperCook. You plug in your ingredients, one by one, and the site pulls recipes from tons of online sources. You can limit your search to exclude any undesirable ingredients like meat, gluten, and others. I admit that I will often “tweak” the recipes that I find, but all in all it’s a great everyday tool.
If you need help with dinner, DCPL has resources for you.
One of my current favorite books is The Stocked Kitchen by Sarah Kallio and Stacey Krastins. The “revolutionary” concept espoused here is one that was probably quite familiar to our mothers and grandmothers and that is…keep a list, shop the list, cook from the list. Kallio and Krastins include their own master list which is admirably compact, in my opinion, and doesn’t include a preponderance of exotic or heavily packaged ingredients. The rest of the book is devoted to recipes that use the master list ingredients, and only those ingredients, to provide a solid core of standards as well as dishes to make for company or just for fun. I have my own set of recipes that I make on a regular basis so I use the book more as an inspiration than anything else. However, I now have my own prepared “checklist” that lives on the refrigerator door and is always ready when I go shopping. For me, it makes shopping simpler (and less expensive!) and daily cooking much, much easier.
…and speaking of simple, I’ve been a big fan of Real Simple magazine for years. Real Simple: Meals Made Easy by the editors of Real Simple is a great example of the clean, modern design aesthetic of the magazine which I so admire. The book is easy to use, lavishly illustrated (always a big plus for a cookbook, I think), and doesn’t call for any hard-to-find or heavily processed ingredients. My one reservation about the book is that it presupposes a certain level of kitchen knowledge, particularly in the area of knife skills. If you’re a cook who is already comfortable in the kitchen though, this might just be the cookbook for you.
Another of my more recent favorites is The City Cook by Kate McDonough. The sub-title kind of says it all Big City, Small Kitchen. Limitless Ingredients, No Time. More than 90 recipes so delicious you’ll want to toss your take out menus. Focused mainly toward urban dwellers, this book has a lot of good advice for those cooking in tiny spaces, and in spite of the “limitless” tag the ingredients involved are mostly simple and easy to find. I particularly appreciate McDonough’s common-sense advice such as her tips on getting fish smells out of apartments and her caveat that you really only need 3 knives, a chef’s knife, a paring knife, and a serrated knife. As an added plus, the well-edited collection of recipes don’t demand hours of prep work. If you want to start cooking more meals at home, but don’t want to feel overwhelmed, this could be a very helpful resource.
Finally, let me offer two of my own tips that always help me start cooking dinner when I’d really rather just flop on the couch:
1. Don’t sit down (yet).
2. Get out the pots and pans before you change your clothes!