I try to make a meal plan every week and do my shopping all at once. I generally find that this cuts down on the cost of groceries and prevents us from staring into the refridgerator with a look of consternation every night going "So...should we just have toast again?" Instead, I take a stack of cookbooks into the living room and pour over them for ages looking for new and challenging recipes, things which are sure to impress. I love looking through my cookbooks and dreaming of feasting on the sumptuous morsels inside and presenting my picture perfect replications to guests, especially since receiving a much desired new book for Christmas this year, Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking".
The only problem with doing this is that I often forget to plan myself one or two simple, throw-together meals for the days when I just don't feel like whipping up a masterpiece - because Julia herself admits that her book is not for those faint of heart or short on time, and Jamie Oliver may say that his meals are easy to throw together, but he obviously has no inkling of my potential for bungling in the kitchen. So, Julia's ratatouille pictured above was delicious, but was actually suggested as part of a larger meal, and by itself took me longer than an hour to prepare. As for the delicious morsels to set before guests, I have a bad habit of making things for people that I have never made before and not checking beforehand how long they will take or how many they will serve. So I slaved over a lovely porkloin with roast leeks which I set on the table for a group of six very hungry people, though it was only meant to serve four. Everyone got a small plate, and I ended up offering round toast after dinner. Erg.
This past week I had the flu, during which time I had simultaneous chills and a fever, ached in joints I had forgotten were there, ate practically nothing and drank a lot of orange juice. While I was still not feeling my greatest, I had to make dinner for a few people, and I was determined that I wasn't going to kill myself for hours or spend any more time near a hot stove than absolutely necessary. Here's what I made:
Cauliflower Cheese Soup - Moosewood Cookbook
Cut up a carrot, a potatoe, a cup of onion and a head of cauliflower. Put them in a pot with some stock and boil until the vegetables are soft. Puree. Add a bit of cream, a teaspoon of caraway seeds, two cups of shredded cheddar cheese and some salt and pepper. Heat through and serve.
Custardy Popovers - Moosewood Cookbook
Preheat oven to 375. Brush a muffin tin with melted butter. Whisk 1 1/4 cups of milk with 2, 3 or 4 eggs (depending on how custardy you like your popovers). Add 1 1/4 cups of flour and 1/2 tsp salt. Mix (some lumps are ok). Fill the muffin cups 2/3 full and bake 25 minutes, adding five minutes for each additional egg (ie: 30 min for three eggs, etc.) Remove from the pan and prick with a fork.
Apple Fennel Salad
I had this when I was over at a friend's house for dinner and I thought it was so lovely and simple that I immediately added it to my repetoire.
You need: two or three crisp red apples, a fennel bulb, a block of parmesean cheese (not the pre shredded stuff) and some nice olive oil.
Cut the top and bottom off the fennel bulb and slice thinly. Wash and core the apple and slice thinly. Alternate slices of fennel and apple, drizzling each layer with a bit of olive oil and parmesean shavings (a vegetable peeler works well for this).
This meal took me less than an hour from start to finish, left me with few dishes, and was an absolute cinch to prepare. I was able to spend my time relaxing and chatting with my guests instead of running around trying to get everything ready at the same time. I need to cook like this more often.