Friday, September 30, 2011

Eating Omily: Easy Lunch, Painless Dinner, and Sticking Up for Anchovies

It's taken some doing to pack everything in my schedule into twenty-four hours, seven days a week, and because I'm crazy, I might have to pack in even more at the end of the month! We'll see.

It's been interesting to see how all the busyness is impacting my Foodnetwork's Healthy Eats' Brown Bag Challenge! The other day, in a panicked fit of rushedness, I took a frozen turkey meat loaf muffin out of the freezer and took that. On top of the meatloaf was spinach, and on top of that was tasty mashed potatoes. Of course, it was a cheat, since I didn't make it myself, but I gave myself half a point for not succumbing to the deli down the street.
Ages ago I promised to share with you a super-delicious, awesome-left-overs, really simply dinner idea that my husband took for lunch the same day I took my awesome chicken salad, so here it is!

I cut a small butternut squash (but any sweet Winter squash would do) in half, and roasted it until very tender, then mashed it into a puree with milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Meanwhile my husband boiled up some cheese tortellinis. We tossed the tortellini with the squash puree, and it was just heavenly. Warm, and hearty, and comforting, while providing us with tons of beta carotene! Out of one package of tortellini and one squash, there was enough for two of us for dinner, and for my husband to take the left-overs for lunch the next day.

Also ages ago I said I'd offer dinner suggestions as well as lunch suggestions for those nights that even fighting over which takeout place to call is too much trouble. Let me start by explaining a really simple concept that in this day of pre-packaged foods and massive demands on our time most of us have forgotten:

Anytime you opt out of the inconvenient aspects of cooking, or anything really, the inconvenient or time-consuming parts of the task didn't just disappear: they were outsourced. You can outsource those inconveniences to other people and pay more, but often the environment is paying for your convenience as well, and that sucks. You can buy pre-cut fruit for an easy snack, for example, but someone did chop up that fruit, and the company behind that cut fruit is probably not concerned with supporting your local economy, but with getting the lowest price, so that fruit is almost definitely not local. A better, more honest route, is to outsource that inconvenience to you at an earlier time.

To take an example from a previous post, by roasting a chicken I was going to a fair amount of trouble one night so we could enjoy chicken for lunch with no trouble at all two other days. Taking the time to simmer the carcass from that chicken into chicken stock allows me to have it at the ready in the freezer whenever I want a delicious slow-cooked flavor. I still did all the work, but by choosing when I felt like doing it, it didn't feel like an imposition.

How does this apply to emergency dinners? Simple: next time you're layering up a lasagna, or stirring together an awesome mac and cheese (these are just two examples; any casserole-style dish is great for this), double that shit! It'll mean a little more work, time, and expense right now, but what's easier than popping a dish straight from the freezer into the oven, and then cracking open a beer while you wait? Or wine if you prefer. I can't do that as much as I'd like because my freezer real estate is more precious than Manhattan's, but I do keep a few recipes up my sleeve that I know I have the ingredients for and can throw together in fifteen minutes or so.

Pasta with garlic oil is just such a dish. I always have whole wheat spaghetti, and I always have olive oil and garlic. Usually there are some veggies I can chop up and throw in, in the freezer if not fresh. I also keep a secret stash of anchovies packed in oil in the freezer. And to quote Rachael Ray, "If you think you don't like anchovies you're wrong!" Yes, I know, they're stinky little fish, but chop them up fine and simmer them in olive oil for several minutes, and they dissolve into a red paste and add an irreplaceable salty, nutty depth to the dish. I am begging you to try it at least once!
This is a lie. Anchovies never snore.

So I put the water on to boil, take an anchovy fillet out of the freezer (since they're packed in oil they don't free solid so it's easy to pull out one without thawing the bunch), chop it up and add it to a hot skillet with a generous, don't be stingy people, spare me your fat-is-evil diatribes, amount of olive oil. Once the anchovy has cooked, I turn the heat back and add several cloves of chopped garlic and any other veggies I might be using. Hearty cooking greens like kale are my favourite. I leave the garlic in fairly big pieces; sometimes I just slice it thinly. It helps to keep it from burning, and I like getting bites of garlic in my pasta. You can of course mince it or put it through a garlic press if you'd prefer. Once the garlic is perfect I turn the heat off if the pasta's not quite done. I add the al dente pasta to the hot pan of garlic oil and toss it for a while, adding a splash of (liberally salted after the water boils, but before you add the pasta!) pasta water to help the oil coat all the spaghetti. If there's bread I might make garlic toast, or if there's greens I'll throw together a simple salad.

This meal is so delicious and satisfying, and the ingredients are always waiting for me in the pantry. I'll throw a few more ideas at you in early October, and I'll specifically talk about useful things to stock your pantry with so cooking dinner regularly is a pleasure instead of a hot mess of last minute trips to the grocery.
Also anchovy fillets actually look like this.

Seriously! You don't know if you like it till you try it!

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