Last week, because we are edgy, rebellious and pretty much the dictionary definition of renegades, we broke the law. We decided we’d had enough of having an outdoor space and no fire-breathing apparatus to exercise our American-given right to burn food on in the summer months and brought home the tiniest, safest and most docile grill ever manufactured, basically the fluffy kitten of the barbecue landscape. As I figure we’re going to be asked to remove it any moment now, all of my previous summer goals have be redirected to the following: enjoying every second of it while it lasts. We are going to grill everything. I am halfway to fulfilling my fantasy of setting all my food on fire.
In the game of weeknight cooking — which I feel, at best, is rigged and not in our favor especially if you (or you and your partner) are out working all day — our allies are as follows:
- Children, should you have them, happy to eat dinner at 8/9 p.m. on a weekday. (Let me know where to find them.)
- Prepping and planning meals over the weekend so everything is mostly ready to go when you get home from work. (Requires a desire to spend any part of the weekend prepping meals, which I, regrettably, do not.)
- Mastering the slow-cooker, so your dinner is ready when you get home.
- Mastering the pressure-cooker, so long cooking times can be reduced to smidgens.
- Contentment with quick simple meals (scrambled egg toasts, frozen tortellini, sandwiches) and/or a deep arsenal of great recipes that come together quickly.
- Meal delivery services, which take the recipe-selection, shopping and prep work out of cooking, making it go faster.
If taking cubes of chicken and other things chosen for their ability to hold up in a deli case and suspending them in a thick dressing of mayo and seasonings is the winter coat of chicken salad, this is the cardigan, which is to say, I hope everyone is as happy to see it as I am. I live for cardigan weather.
If you’d told me as a spaghett-and-meatballs loving kid that in Italy, these two things are never served together, I wouldn’t have believed you. What’s next, no pepperoni pizza, fettucine alfredo or rainbow cookies? No Italian dressing? At least we know those jars of Italian seasoning are the real deal (phew).
For someone who was all “Harrumph! Cacio e Pepe Does Not Contain Cheddar Cheese.” a few weeks ago, I have some nerve telling you what I’m going to next, which is that I’m pretty smitten with an unapologetically “100% Inauthentic!”-boasting cookbook, the celebration of American-Asian cuisine that is 101 Easy Asian Recipes from the editors of Lucky Peach magazine. There are recipes for “Mall Chicken,” for Rotisserie Ramen, Dollar Dumplings, Miso Claypot Chicken (No Claypot), and then, the recipe in the dessert section that’s going to make you shut the book and never look back again, that for sliced oranges. You know, like the kind they put out at Chinatown restaurants at the end of a meal.
Let me get the obvious out of the way: you are not going to win friends, neighbors with whom you share airspace or small children over with cabbage casserole. It’s beige and gray with traces of drab green. It’s cooked forever, or until whatever vim and vigor may have initially been in the leaves has departed. At best, it’s akin to unstuffed cabbage, which means that it will be comfort food to some but torture to others.
The night before I went to the hospital to have this little nugget, in one last burst of frenetic nesting — a tornado of focused, effective energy I sorely miss in these early months — I decided to do something so practical, I’m still patting myself on the back for it: I made a big volume of lazy baked ziti and divide it into three dishes, two that went into the freezer. I have not been this productive or effective since.