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.
The Thanksgiving Table
Today is a different kind of day. Usually posts on this blog come about with the narrative and I manage to squeeze in a recipe. But sometimes when you really stumble upon a winning recipe, it speaks for itself. We'll likely make these beans for Thanksgiving this year. They're one of those simple stunners that you initially think couldn't be much of a thing. And then they come out of the oven all sweet and withered and flecked with herbs. You try one and you realize they are, in fact, a pretty big thing.
I always force myself to wait until after Halloween to start thinking much about holiday pies or, really, future holidays in general. But this year I cheated a bit, tempted heavily by the lure of a warmly-spiced sweet potato pie that I used to make back when I baked pies for a living in the Bay Area (way back when). We seem to always have sweet potatoes around as they're one of Oliver's favorite foods, and when I roast them for his lunch I've been wishing I could turn them into a silky pie instead. So the other day I reserved part of the sweet potatoes for me. For a pie that I've made hundreds of times in the past, this time reimagined with fragrant brown butter, sweetened solely with maple syrup, and baked into a flaky kamut crust. We haven't started talking about the Thanksgiving menu yet this year, but I know one thing for sure: this sweet potato pie will make an appearance.
It has begun. Talk of who is bringing what, where we'll buy the turkey, what kind of pies I'll make, early morning texts concerning brussels sprouts. There's no getting around it: Thanksgiving is on its way. And with it comes the inevitable reflecting back and thinking about what we're thankful for. And about traditions. The funny thing about traditions is that they exist because they've been around for a long time. Year after year after year. But then, one Thanksgiving maybe there's something new at the table.
I didn't expect green beans to bring up such a great discussion on traditions, sharing of poems and how a piece of writing can linger with you. So thank you for that. Your comments pointed out how important people and place are and how food takes the back seat when it comes right down to it. Even if you feel quite warm towards Thanksgiving and are looking forward to next week, reading about recipe suggestions and meal planning online and in magazines can start to feel tiresome right about now. Why? Because I suppose when it all comes down to it, in the big picture it doesn't matter what we all serve anyway. Next year, you likely won't remember one year's vegetable side dish from another. What you'll remember are the markers that dotted the year for you: whom you sat next to at the table, a toast or grace, and the sense of gratitude you felt for something -- large or small.
I got a text from my mom the other day that read: demerara sugar? I responded back with a question mark, not sure what she was referencing. It turns out she was experimenting with a new pie recipe that called for the natural sugar and wasn't sure why she couldn't just use white sugar as that's what she's always done in the past. A few days later we talked on the phone and she mentioned she'd let me take charge of the salad for Thanksgiving this year as long as there was no kale. No kale! And I wanted to do the mashed potatoes? Would they still be made with butter and milk? In short, we're always willing to mix things up in the Gordon household. Whether it's inspiration from a food magazine, friend or coworker, either my mom or one of my sisters will often have an idea for something new to try at the holiday table. But what I've slowly learned is that it can't really be that different: there must be pumpkin pie, the can of cranberry sauce is necessary even though not many people actually eat it, the onion casserole is non-negotiable, the salad can't be too out there, and the potatoes must be made with ample butter and milk. And while I was really scheming up an epic kale salad to make this year, there's a big part of me that gets it, too: if we change things too much we won't recognize the part of the day that comes to mean so much: the pure recognition. We take comfort in traditions because we recognize them -- because they're always there, year after year. And so today I present to you (mom, are you reading?): this year's Gordon family Thanksgiving salad.