As I get ready for the return of a normal schedule and my chance to cook real dinners on a weeknight, I’m going to lay out the elements of my planning here.
Because cooking does require planning. This is very easy to overlook. I certainly didn’t think about planning when I was in eighth-grade home ec, and we had to do cooking plans with every recipe. Since we were not cooking very complicated foods, it seemed ridiculous. “Step 1, 2:30: Pour milk into pan. Step 2, 2:33: Return milk carton to fridge and put milk pan on stovetop; turn to medium heat.” And so forth. One of my friends and I did a parody of the whole thing during an afternoon study session. “Step 1, 3:15: Walk to freezer. Step 2, 3:15:30: Open freezer. No, not yet, you still have 10 seconds! OK, now! Step 3, 3:15:45: Remove ice cream carton from freezer.” But though I’m still a smart-ass, I’m also older now and have enough cooking experience to know that if you’re making a meal with two or more dishes, it can be very useful to have thought it through in advance, at least enough to know that you should start the pasta water boiling earlier than the time you are hoping to put plates of spaghetti on the kitchen table.
So I’m doing a few things ahead of time to get ready for next weekend, and I’ll talk a little bit about them in the next few days. Today I want to talk about the rules for my January efforts.
1. Cook real food. This is pretty straightforward. No powdered sauce mixes, no imitations, no instant things.
2. Keep the use of processed ingredients to a minimum. So, for example, if I want to make Thai green curry chicken I can use the green curry paste from a jar and a can of light coconut milk as the basis of the sauce for my chicken and vegetables, but not one of those boxed mixes that have dried vegetables, sauce and noodles for you to just liquefy, heat and serve.
3. Keep weeknight kitchen time to one hour or less. Note that kitchen time the night of the meal is not the same thing as labor time for that meal. More labor might be represented if I’ve gotten something ready over the weekend (such as pizza crusts that I can pull from the freezer for homemade pizza). Less labor might be represented if a particular night’s meal involves bringing water to a boil, adding noodles or vegetables, and letting them cook.
4. Eat as healthfully as possible. Nachos are a fun occasional meal, but they should not be a weekly staple.
5. Remember that the most important thing is to have a good meal, have fun cooking it, and have fun eating it. In other words, I shall not kick myself if I don’t get it perfect every time.
I will probably develop some more guidelines as I go along. Later we’ll be talking about how to most effectively plan for weeknight cooking.