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.
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.
In a few short weeks, we're headed to New York, Vermont and New Jersey to visit family and see my sister Zoe get married. In starting to think through the trip and do a little planning, I found Oliver the cutest tiny-person dress shoes I've ever seen (and he's quite smitten with them), sussed out childcare options for the night of the wedding, and found what feels like the most expensive (and last) rental car in the state of New Jersey. I try very hard not to be one of Those People that begins lamenting the loss of a season before it's remotely appropriate to do so, but this year, as we'll be gone much of September, I've felt a bit of a 'hurry, make all the summery things!' feeling set in. So we've been managing increasingly busy days punctuated with zucchini noodle salads, gazpacho, corn on the cob and homemade popsicles (preferably eaten shirtless outside followed by a good, solid sprinkler run for one small person in particular. Not naming any names).
Somehow, in what seems to have been a blink of an eye, we have a six month old baby. In some ways I can't remember a time we didn't have an Oliver, and in other ways it's all a blur broken up by a few holidays (a Thanksgiving thanks to grocery store takeout, and our very first Christmas in Seattle), a few family visits, a one-day road trip to Portland, a birthday dinner out, a birthday cake, weekend drives to nowhere in particular, swimming at the pool with Oliver, weekly get-togethers with our parent's group, doctor's visits, hundreds of walks around the neighborhood, hundreds of cups of coffee, dozens (or more?) of scoops of ice cream. Most of the worrying about keeping a baby alive has made way for other concerns, and Oliver's need for constant stimulation or soothing walks and car rides has been traded for stretches of time playing with a new toy or checking out his surroundings. In truth, it's thanks to that tiny bit of baby independence that this humble, summery cake came to be in the first place. So we've all got an Oliver to thank for that. Or, really, we have a Yossi Arefi to thank, as it's from her beautiful new cookbook that I've bookmarked heavily and am eager to continue exploring.
A triple berry summer crisp made with oats, quinoa flakes and hazelnuts. Summer in a skillet.
I had a weak moment on our honeymoon in Italy when I decided that I should be making gelato for a living. My enthusiasm for Italian gelato wasn't surprising to anyone. I'd done extensive research, made lists, had Sam map out cities in terms of where the best gelaterias were. I took notes and photos and hemmed and hawed over flavor choices: Sicilian Pistachio! Chestnut Honey! Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig! In truth, on that particular trip, I cared far more about treats, sunshine, and cobblestone walks than I cared about famous landmarks or tourist attractions, often leaving the camera back at the hotel in favor of my small black notebook which housed detailed jottings on dessert discoveries in each city we visited. Our friends Matteo and Jessica happened to be in Naples on the one night we were there, and we all went out for pizza together followed by a long stroll around the city. At some point the conversation turned to gelato (as it's bound to) and Matteo brought up the famous school in Bologna where many renowned gelato artisans study. My wheels were spinning. Maybe we should visit Bologna. I should see this school! I should talk to these students! I could make Sicilian Pistachio; Chestnut Honey; and Sweet Cheese, Almond and Fig each and every day of our lives. Or at the very least, travel to Bologna to learn how and then come back to Seattle to take our Northwest city by storm. Well here we are six months later, back to reality, and the impetus to pack up my bags and head for Bologna has subsided for the time being ... but not the unwavering gusto to sample. That part will always be with me. It's been awhile since I mixed up a batch of ice cream at home, but the other day a beautiful new cookbook landed on my doorstep and I flipped right to a recipe for dark chocolate sorbet with toasty, salty almonds. I didn't need much convincing.