Weeknight dinners were something I rarely gave much thought to as an actual subject in and of themselves until we had Oliver. Before, there wasn’t any urgency around the dinner hour: we poured a glass of wine, opened the cupboards and chatted about what may or may not sound good. I remember taking lots of pre-dinner walks, admiring all of the bungalows in our neighborhood, or running down to the beach with Sam before we’d come back into the house, sweaty and tired and hungry. Today there’s much more urgency and I feel like we’re constantly looking at the clock. There are fewer walks and — count them — exactly zero runs. We definitely have nights where we reach for an easy pack of ramen or a store bought salad mix. That said, so often when we as a culture talk about weeknight cooking, it falls into the rhetoric of dumbing down dinner: How can we use all the store bought shortcuts to make this assembling process a breeze? And truth be told: urgency or not, I still want to cook; I don’t just want to assemble.
So last week I was particularly thrilled when Melissa Coleman’s (The Faux Martha) new cookbook, The Minimalist Kitchen, arrived. Finally a cookbook celebrating simplifying things in the kitchen and making your kitchen work for you with recipes that you actually want to make (and that don’t take all evening), not dumbed down versions of foods you once loved. She has a recipe for a Dutch Oven Chicken, which she calls “an efficiency chicken” that I’m looking forward to trying (basically a simple, steamed way to prepare a chicken in the Dutch oven, yielding super tender meat to fold into grain bowls, salads or stir fries throughout the week). And her method for roasting veggies, which you’ll see in the recipe below, is genius: she steams them first before roasting, which cuts way down on the cooking time and leaves the veggies tender inside and nice and charred on the outside (and ultimately uses way less oil than I usually do). I chose this recipe for Chickpea Tikka Masala to make first because, for us anyway, it’s the epitome of weeknight cooking: simple (can be tackled while making sure a certain toddler isn’t eating pink play doh or wrapping himself in Scotch tape), packed with flavor, and full of protein. While it’s not something I’d typically think that Oliver would like, his daycare makes a curried chickpea dish once a week that he loves, so they laid the groundwork there and, Melissa, he’s your newest, smallest fan.
I don’t feature cookbooks here on the site that I’m not actually using in the kitchen and that I don’t think you’d honestly love, and I think you’re going to dig this one. It’s a breath of fresh air in an otherwise very busy and sometimes fussy space. And! If you’d like a chance to win a copy of the book, head on over to my Instagram account for the details.
A quick weeknight protein-packed dinner, we serve this with brown rice but you could use any grain you’d like. The Curried Cauliflower, all by itself, would be great to roast up to use for veggie tacos, salads or grain bowls throughout the week. If you can’t find fire-roasted tomatoes, regular crushed tomatoes will work just fine, and I happened to be out of harissa so I omitted it and the cauliflower was still delicious.
Recipe from: The Minimalist Kitchen
Curried Cauliflower Topping
2 cups cooked rice (I used brown rice)
Make the Curry Cauliflower:
Preheat the oven to 450F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a saucepan fitted with a steamer basket, add water to just below the bottom of the basket. Bring to a boil. Add the cauliflower, reduce the heat to medium, and cover to steam for 5 minutes. This will begin the cooking process.
Remove the cauliflower, and place on the prepared baking sheet. In a small ramekin, stir together all of the remaining ingredients. Drizzle over the cauliflower and toss to evenly coat. Bake for 15 minutes. Stir and bake for 10-15 minutes more or until the cauliflower begins to char. Taste and sprinkle with the additional salt as needed.
Make the Chickpea Sauce:
Heat a large saute pan over medium heat. Once the pan is warm, add the oil and onion. Saute until the onion is translucent, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add the garlic, and cook for 30 seconds more. Stir in the remaining salt, curry powder, cumin and cinnamon and cook for 1 minute more to toast the spices.
Add the tomatoes and cream (If you prefer a smooth sauce, puree the tomato mixture in a blender and return to the pan). Add the chickpeas and simmer for at least 15 minutes over medium to allow the flavors to develop. Taste and add more of the seasonings if necessary.
To serve: Divide the rice evenly amongst 4 bowls. Top evenly with the chickpea sauce. Top the the Curry Cauliflower, lime juice, dollop of yogurt, and cilantro, if desired.
Glimpses of Spring
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
It turns out shopping for wedding dresses is nothing like they make it appear in the movies. Or at least it hasn't been for me. Angels don't sing. Stars don't explode. Relatives don't cry. There isn't a sudden heart-stopping moment that this is, in fact, "the one." To be honest, I always knew that I wasn't the kind of gal for whom angels would sing or stars would explode but I did think I'd have some kind of moment where I could tell I'd found the best dress. Instead, my mom flew into town and we spent three (yes, three!!) days shopping for dresses, and since then I've been back to the stores we visited -- and I'm more undecided than ever. Tomorrow morning I'll return with my friend Keena to try and tie this business up once and for all. Cross your fingers.
When I was single and living alone in the Bay Area, I made virtually the same thing for dinner each night. I ate meals quickly while in front of the computer. Or even worse: the television. This most often included what I call "Mexican Pizzas" which were basically glorified quesadillas baked in the oven until crispy. Sometimes, if I was really feeling like cooking, I'd whip up a quick stir-fry with frozen vegetables from Trader Joe's or a mushroom frittata using pre-sliced mushrooms. Mostly, though, it was Mexican Pizzas -- a good four or five nights a week. Today, thankfully, dinner looks a lot different. Meals in general look a lot different. How would I explain that difference? I think that ultimately how we feel about our life colors how we choose to feed ourselves and the importance that we place on preparing our own meals.
Today was 75 degrees in Seattle and it seemed the whole city was out and about drinking iced coffee in tank tops and perhaps not working all that hard. When we have a hit of sunshine like this in April (or, really, any time of the year), we're all really good at making excuses to leave the office early -- or, simply, to "work from home." I just got back from LA last night, unpacked in a whirlwind this morning, and took Oliver to meet up with three friends from our parents group at the zoo. The only other time I'd been to the Seattle zoo was once with Sam a few years ago when we arrived thirty minutes before closing and ended up doing a whirlwind tour -- sprinting from the giraffes to the massive brown bear to the meerkat. The visit today was much different: we strolled slowly trying to avoid the spring break crowds and beating sun. I managed to only get one of Oliver's cheeks sunburned, and he even got in a decent nap. A success of an afternoon, I'd say. Coming home I realized we didn't have much in the fridge for lunch -- but thankfully there was a respectable stash of Le Croix (Le Croix season is back!) and a small bowl of this whole grain salad I made right before I left town. It's the kind of salad that's meant for this time of year: it pulls off colorful and fresh despite the fact that much of the true spring and summer produce isn't yet available. And for that reason, I make a few versions of it in early spring, often doubling the recipe so there's always the possibility of having a small bowl at 1 p.m. while the baby naps in the car seat, one cheek sunburned, windows and back door open -- a warm breeze creeping into the kitchen.
On Monday our little family of three is headed to the airport at 6 am to board our first with-baby cross-country trip. We'll be visiting Sam's family in New Jersey for a few days, then renting a car and driving over to meet up with my family at my mom's lake house in the Adirondacks. Sam's younger sister and her kids have yet to meet Oliver; my grandpa has yet to meet him, and Oliver has yet to take a dunk in a lake, see a firefly, or spend quality time with energetic dogs -- of which there will be three. A lot of firsts. This week my family has been madly texting, volunteering to make certain meals or sweets on assigned days while we're at the cabin and it got me thinking about really simple, effortless summer desserts -- in particular, ones that you can make while staying in a house with an unfamiliar kitchen and unfamiliar equipment and still do a pretty bang-up job. I think fruit crisp is just that thing.