After our first child arrived in January, I was determined to make sure our family dinners didn’t devolve into a relentless parade of Chinese takeout and pizza. Several weeks before Clara was born, we had bought a small chest freezer, and I spent all of my free time in the kitchen so that I could fill it with lasagna, shepherd’s pie, brisket, and various soups and pasta sauces. I hoped having a stockpile of homemade meals would keep us from falling into the all-too-tempting takeout trap. (See here for more on my freezer adventures.)
Three months in, we still have a lot of freezer meals stored up (yes, we ended up ordering pizza more than once in those early days), and I've resolved to make the most of them now that Jonathan and I are both back at work full time. This of course involves planning, something I have historically embraced in most areas of my life -- with the notable exception of weeknight dinners.
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I’m now much more strategic about my food shopping. I used to make decisions on the fly about what to make for dinner, leisurely popping into a hodgepodge of gourmet shops on the way home from work, and sometimes getting a meal on the table as late as 10pm. These days I try to map out our meals for the week in advance, taking stock of what’s in the fridge and freezer and placing a regular order with our local grocery delivery service for basics like milk, juice, yogurt and cereal, plus the items I need to supplement whatever I’ve chosen to defrost that week. I keep a running list of what’s in the freezer on my phone so I have it with me at all times.
Sounds pretty dull, right? The silver lining is that every chance -- no matter how small -- I get to just browse for food is like a mini spa treatment for my soul. If I happen to pass by a Whole Foods on my way to a meeting, I seize the opportunity and dart in to pick up some charcuterie and organic fruit. The Food52 offices are near the Union Square Greenmarket so occasionally I’ll steal a few minutes during lunch to pick up a wedge of locally made cheese or to linger over the gorgeous but exorbitantly expensive baby lettuces, eventually scooping up just enough for a fragrant salad for two that evening.
These moments are precious in their scarcity. And when my husband and I sit down to eat, while it's gratifying to revisit the sausage ragu I froze back in December, it's that hunk of soft cheese or the vibrant spray of green on my plate that makes me feel like, while I'm now somebody's mother, I'm also still me.
Last week, I assembled this simple meal by cobbling together elements from the freezer, fridge and farmers market. What are some of your favorite ways to steal a few moments and treat yourself to something delicious?
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All photos in this post were taken with the new Nokia Lumia 900 Windows Phone.
A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).