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.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)