Today I want to highlight a cooking concept that I think is absolutely invaluable to anyone who needs to start cooking all meals from scratch and finds it hard to make the time to cook extensively at each mealtime.
It is this: “feeding” your refrigerator (and freezer) with leftovers and prepped, ready-to-cook ingredients. Once you have these, meals and snacks appear with much less effort, almost as if by magic! In the words of one of my favorite cooking authors, Tamar Adler, “cooking is both simpler and more necessary than we imagine.” Whenever I revisit her book I imagine anything is possible!
Let me explain some more…
Imagine, for example, what can come of just cooking a whole chicken. On day one (perhaps a weekend day since this is the most time consuming part), boil the whole chicken in plenty of salted water for about one to two hours, depending on its size. It is done when you wiggle a leg and it begins to come loose. Remove the chicken and use the same water to gently cook some veggies, like onions, carrots, celery, or bok choy, broccoli, or cabbage – almost anything will work except for very starchy veg like potatoes which will turn the broth cloudy. Or if your time is pressed, cook the vegetables in the pot alongside the chicken, adding towards the end of its cooking time. Serve the chicken along with the vegetables on day one. For breakfast the next day, warm leftover veggies and serve with an egg, or generous amounts of salsa verde or tahini-lemon sauce. For lunch, sauté onions, garlic, zucchini and leftover chicken, then ladle over some broth. For dinner, sauté mushrooms and add the leftover chicken and some grainy mustard, serving with leafy greens. If you have any left, serve the chicken cold with sliced avocado and tomato the next morning, followed by pureed broccoli and cashew soup (cooked in the broth again or course) for lunch.
Here’s another extended-meal scenario: you might buy bundles of veggies (like beets, broccoli, kale, broccoli, cauliflower) at the weekend, and scrub, chop and even roast or sauté them all at once. Then Monday’s dinner could be some ready-to-go roasted veggies in a salad with plumped raisins and homemade dressing, served with a small steak, sliced thin.
Tuesday’s could be some veg warmed in broth, with thyme and cream (dairy or cashew) for soup; a small lamb chop on the side. Then Wednesday a frittata, with more leftover vegetables folded in. Then on Thursday a gratin of the sautéed greens, served with pounded pork escalope. For lunches, think soups such as blended roasted veggies with soaked cashews or cream, or wraps (as suit your diet) with shredded chicken and sautéed veg with more of that tahini-lemon sauce, or quick omelets using up any remaining leftovers.
Of course, if you do have time to cook delicious meals from scratch as you go along, I would never discourage it. But for many of us, this approach offers a real strategy for making it work, with simple elegance and a focus on savoring the pleasure of food.
Adler T. 2011. An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Scribner.
I’d love to hear from you. How do you prep your food if at all? Do you have any tips to share? Please start the conversation below!