Tuesday, June 27, 2017

6 Week Night Meals I Love

Several months ago, my mom instituted a new house rule in which every adult (and teenager) in our multi-generational household cooks 1-2 nights a week. She and I both have two nights a week, and my dad, my husband, and my little sister each have one night a week. It is amazing. It takes the stress of the unknown away (our nights of the week are set), it lightens the load that was mainly on my mom and me before, it gives other members of the family an opportunity to practice and branch out in their cooking (good and fun for them too, if I may be so bold), and it makes the nights that I do cook easy to turn into something more fancy or exciting or complicated than get-something-on-the-table-before-bed-time. I highly recommend some version of this system if at all possible in your household.

I have a giant collection of Bon Appetit, Martha Stewart, Food and Wine, etc. magazines and at the beginning of each month, I take out all the June issues, for example, and pick out some things that look good. Jonas and I are starting to think of saving for a down payment on a house or apartment or trailer and even though it's a really small step, we're trying to have our 3 meals for the week planned in advance so I can shop for everything we need in one trip. This ends up saving us at least a small chunk of money because I'm the more seasoned shopper, plus the less often we walk into a store, the less we buy.

Keeping a list of things that sound good, whether it's from a magazine, website, or just a craving, makes meal-prep less stressful. When everyone is hungry, it seems to hinder my ability to come up with food that's quick and good, but when I'm looking forward to something that sounds good, I'm more likely to plan ahead (and be able to incorporate what we already have at home). We've also been trying to host more often and not worry about making some extravagant 5 course meal, but instead sticking with the hits that we already know and love. I love to make new things, but it's really nice to cook recipes I'm comfortable with or can prep ahead of time so that I'm not exhausted by the time our guests arrive.

Anyway, those are some ways in which we've been focusing on eating well lately, but I still love a good one-pot, weeknight go-to recipe. Here are a few that I come back to over and over again.

Poke Bowls
My family LOVES poke bowls (click here for recipe), and they're not hard. We buy frozen tuna from Grocery Outlet, and I prefer to cut it when it's only barely thawed because otherwise it's kinda gooey and hard to handle. You'll have to let it marinate a bit longer so it can fully thaw though. You can get furiyake (a seasoning of small bits of nori, sesame seeds, and other things) at well-stocked Asian markets or even at Daiso (Japanese dollar store in major cities) or just cut up seaweed chips and toss with sesame seeds. We use white rice instead of the black rice this recipe calls for, and we customize the toppings to our liking. I usually add a fried egg for those who want it, and make a quick pickle or add kimchi. The marinating of the tuna doesn't take that long, but all the prep (especially if you have more rather than fewer toppings) can get a bit time consuming. You can do prep ahead of time or buy pre-cut veggies and toppings to save time if you want. I also like to take paper menus from poke restaurants to get more ideas of new toppings or combos. We like to add sriracha mayo on top!

Caesar Salad
Maybe this is boring to everyone else, but I have always loved Caesar salad. I buy croutons, but since this is a 2-ingredient salad, I indulge in a home-made dressing. This recipe is my go-to. To make this into a full meal, you can add shrimp or grilled chicken. If there's leftover dressing, I'll often use it in place of mayonnaise on sandwiches the next day.

Sausage Basil Mustard Pasta
Recipe here. I first started making this when a mom in an online group I'm part of said it was her go-to weeknight meal. It gets a bit spicy for my boys if I use spicy sausage and add the red pepper it calls for, but I love it. Ishmael really likes this pasta too, which is always a good reason to put something on heavier rotation. It does call for white wine and heavy cream which I don't always have on hand, but I often substitute heavy cream for half and half, and as long as I've bought a cheap bottle of wine in the past few months, there's usually some left over.

Tater Tot Chicken Pop Pie
I'm embarrassed that I rely on tater tots so much, but they're delicious and the thought of making pie crust is never a joyous one for me. I guess I could buy them, but then I feel guilty knowing I could actually make them fairly easily, plus my mother has probably never bought a pie crust in her life, and so I guess we just don't do that in our family. I do love a good store-bought puff pastry, but it's too expensive to buy for a weeknight. I don't stick to the original tater tot pot pie recipe exactly, I just dice whatever veggies we have (or use a bag of frozen), chop up chicken (cook before putting it in the oven), and throw those into a bechamel sauce with grated cheese (not in the original recipe). Then dump a bag of tater tots on top and bake until golden (30min?). If you're not in the habit of making bechamel sauces, it's actually way less snobby than it sounds. You can find easy recipes on Google, but basically you melt some butter in a pan (like several tablespoons), slowly whisk in a slightly lesser amount of flour (in small increments, so that it stays smooth and well blended) and then quickly whisk in milk until you reach the desired consistency. You will have to keep adding milk if you keep the sauce on the stove because it thickens as it continues to cook. Don't forget to season with salt and pepper and maybe garlic salt if you forgot to add garlic and sauteed onion to the veggie portion, like I always do...

White Lady Green Sauce Enchiladas
These are so far from Mexican food that I'm not even worried about cultural appropriation (though to be honest, culturally appropriating food seems like nonsense to me). This is my own "recipe", morphed from something my mom made growing up. I make a bechamel cheese sauce (described above) and then dump in a big can of green enchilada sauce. My family prefers flour tortillas, but of course you can do corn if you want. To assemble, put some cooked rice (we use white, but you get fancy with Mexican rice or brown rice), cooked chicken, and a small ladle full of sauce, fold the tortilla closed, and repeat until the pan is full. Add the rest of the sauce on top, top with grated cheese, and bake for 30-45 minutes. These are actually pretty mild, verging on bland at times, especially if the ratio of cheesy bechamel to green sauce goes too heavily on the bechamel side. We put hot sauce and salsa on the table and let everyone season to their liking. You can put olives on top or sour cream or whatever else you like to jazz it up.

Several years ago, I visited a friend in Chicago, and stopped at a little Indian market. I got a packet of MTR Pulao Masala and it is the best. It's a mix, just like you would buy taco seasoning, but you end up with a nice and not-boring rice dish with nuts and veggies, and garnished with lemon juice. My boys especially like squeezing the lemon slices. You can get the packet on Amazon, or if you live in Santa Maria, FoodMaxx actually has a surprisingly good Indian section. I don't think it has this packet, but you could make a masala (spice mix) from scratch using what they have and then have enough for several recipes for future use. The first link to the product from the maker's website actually includes the recipe that's on the back of the package, so you can rip off the rest of the recipe even if you use your own mix. It has a handy ingredient list so you can make your mix as close as possible, too! It evens suggests you serve with raita (yogurt, cucumbers, mint) and naan (Trader Joe's has good options). All together, it's a very satisfying meatless meal.

Bonus: 5 more weeknight recipes from round 1!

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