At my high school, we were allowed to bring in cheat sheets for all our chem, physics, and even religion tests. Those cheat sheets had limitations, of course: a periodic table with anything written on the front side, one sheet of formulas, or a bible, annotated however we saw fit. But as my husband and I were talking about this the other day, I realized that those cheat sheets helped teach me how to develop effective systems.
As a result, systems generally work for me. I’ve created systems around many of the nuisance things in life, like where I put my keys (in the same pocket in my purse every time or on the same table in our house) and how I take care of bills (unpaid bills sticking up in a folder on my desk, paid bills tucked inside the folder). Efficient systems help me deal better with odious or annoying tasks because I can get them done faster and with less thought.
That’s why I was kind of surprised that the Dinner: The Plan system was not working for me. But after my mild crisis, described in self-pitying detail in my last post, I realized that I needed to adapt the system to me. Trying random recipes was kind of stressful. My brain likes categories. I realized I needed to fill certain buckets of recipes, rather than just build new repertoire generally.
What I really needed were two to three tried-and-true ways to prepare all of the things we regularly eat. I also needed some recipes that were fast from start to finish and some recipes that I could put in the oven for at least 30 minutes so I’d have time to leave, get the Bug at daycare, and have dinner be ready when I got home. When I thought about it this way, I was much, much closer to my goal than I thought I was.
So here’s my (in progress) list of go-to recipes. I still have many holes to fill, but you get the picture:
- Roast splatchcocked lemon chicken
- Bittman’s simplest whole roast chicken, with variations (I actually roast mine according to the recipe in the original How to Cook Everything, but I am going to try the cast-iron skillet approach)
Pork: tenderloin or chops
- Spicy pork with parsnips and sweet potatoes. You can use cayenne or any rub.
[Some sort of beef]
Fish (especially salmon, trout, and shrimp)
- Roasted veggies, especially sweet potatoes (or other root vegetables), broccoli and cauliflower, and Brussels spouts.
- Green beans with ginger and garlic
- Braised and glazed Brussels sprouts
- Brussels sprouts, apple, and bacon hash
- Lemon-garlic Brussels sprouts
- Greens with double-garlic
- Any pasta with Dave’s homemade red sauce and meatballs
- Penne with butternut squash, kale, and pecorino
Slow-cooker or other make-in-the-morning, eat-at-night dishes
I could use some help here.
- Roasted chickpeas (easy to make, and a big hit with the Bug)
- Perfect chocolate chip cookies (labor intensive, but they live up to the name)
- Any stir-fry or fried rice (great way to use up leftovers)
- Jim Lahey’s no knead bread (not fast, but very little hands-on time and good for when you’re spending a lot of time at home, say, with a newborn)
- Yogurt (like the no-knead bread, it’s not fast but good for when you have a lot of partially occupied time)
- Pizza with this sauce and this dough.
Not all of these are super fast, but they are reliable, tasty recipes that I can cook while only glancing at the recipe. I clearly need to fill out some of the categories, but it’s much more encouraging to think that I only need one more chicken parts recipe than that I need A BILLION NEW, EASIER RECIPES TO COMMIT TO MEMORY OR ELSE OUR FAMILY WILL BE EATING MAC AND CHEESE AND PEAS FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES! (Which, I am embarrassed to admit, is kind of how I’d been thinking.)
Do you have a favorite recipe that fits in these categories? Share it in the comments below.