You asked me to report back with findings about how to cook for two, in retirement. OK then! Cooking isn’t my usual writing realm, but I do love a high level analysis of a carefully observed process.
To optimize anything, one must first understand both the desired outcomes and the constraints.
Desired Outcomes, AKA What We Like In This House
- One of us prefers a main dish + sides model, the other would rather multiple smalls
- One enjoys meat fat, the other does not, both try to avoid it for the most part
- One of us wants to reduce meat consumption to save the planet
- One insists on green, orange, and every color vegetables, the other would be happy living on onions, mushrooms, cabbage and tomatoes
- Both have a metabolic need for a lot of protein
- Both care about weight management
- One of us needs sauce in a meal, the other, not so much
- One really likes soup, the other, not so much
- Both of us like Italian and Asian foods, neither of us care overly for Tex-Mex or French
- One of us would love to learn how to cook Peruvian food but never has
Process constraints, AKA, Life Is Not A Bowl Of Cherries, Per Se
- One of us works long and demanding hours, one has a flexible schedule of blogging, consulting, and volunteering
- One of us likes to cook, nobody likes to clean up (AKA I do almost all the cleanup, it is my job)
- The kitchen is part of of the living room. Ain’t no closing up that kitchen and forgetting about it.
- Here’s what I can sustain: I cook 2 nights/week multiple dishes for a really good dinner; 3 nights/week something to add to leftovers or make a basic meal; once a week we eat out; once a week we take home, often from Whole Foods. I can’t “cook” more than that, at least not with equanimity.
- I like to start the prep in the early afternoon whenever possible. Somehow just making sure my kitchen is clean and the pots are ready soothes my soul. I also take anything that should be at room temperature for cooking out of the fridge.
- (Cleaning the kitchen in the morning, BTW, is my new thing. Thanks guys. Never could do stand to do it after complex dinner prep.)
- Time spent finding good and repeatable new recipes is useful: so is time spent learning basic skills and cooking truths. In other words, read or watch YouTube videos on things like how to roast low and slow, or how to get a good wok sear. The more technique you understand, the less you then have to rely on recipes. That is obvious to those of you who have been a daily home cook for a long time. Since I was a good dinner party cook who relied on a sensitive nose to choose recipes, and fast reading to execute them, I’m still learning.
- You can use up almost every bit of food you buy.
- Cook soy sauce and chili paste on the wok, not on the food. It tastes better.
- I flirt with non-refrigeration and reboiling for soups and stews. Not recommended, per se, but it does reduce the amount of pot washing.
- If you are halving a recipe with a lot of fractional quantities, write down the new measures. Math over a hot stove is tricky.
- You don’t have to plan every meal of the month, or even week, to find your own rhythm.
- Great tools are a great help.
An Archetypal Week Of Cooking And Kitchening In This New World – Spring Weather Version
- Saturday. Grocery shop with my husband. Buy ingredients for 2-3 dinners, without a recipe in mind. Meat, dark greens, grillable vegetables, bones for soup. That night, grill some meat and asparagus with mustard vinaigrette, make rice noodles with a dipping soy/vinegar/mustard sauce, add a can of chopped tomatoes to the beef bone broth with meatballs that is sitting in a pot on the stove from yesterday.
- Sunday. Simple stir-fry of chicken breast cut into 1/2 inch cubes, cooked fast in a wok with soy sauce or chili paste, chicken removed to a colander, some kind of vegetables thrown into the same wok, reheated, chicken added back, then a dash of black vinegar or soy. Steamed rice. Final serve of beef soup.
- Monday. Flank steak with chimichurri sauce (I use more oil than they say, and an immersion blender), seared in a cast iron skillet on the stove and finished in the oven. Steamed broccoli or a salad. Pasta with simple sauce of carmelized onions, oregano, wine, and canned chopped tomatoes.
- Tuesday. Stop by the fishmonger’s after yoga. Madhur Jeffrey’s fish curry, sauteed spinach, basmati rice. A smidgen of leftover steak.
- Wednesday. Out to dinner.
- Thursday. Another Whole Foods run. Baked chicken breasts (best juicy chicken breasts ever), fried leftover rice with leftover vegetables and maybe some added leftover sausage or ham from last weekend if I have it, stir-fried celery with soy sauce. Because there’s always celery.
- Friday. Take out from the local Hawaiian barbecue place, plus leftovers, plus a bowl of pasta with frozen peas, garlic, and parsley from the chimichurri. Foraging, in other words.
- Imaginary Day: An actual week might be a little less optimal than this imaginary calendar. I’m now trying to build in more capacity for meal change and improvisation, to compensate for how little I enjoy planning a full week.
Speaking Of Tools In My Kitchen, Old And New, Stuff So Useful It Inspires Affection
- Rice cooker. I want to get a new one with a stainless steel insert. Non-toxic, don’t you know.
- Large cleaver by Global Knives.
- Flat bottomed wok from the Wok Shop. A 14-inch wok is a great size for 2 people. Big enough to sear, small enough to fit on your burners
- Medium paring knife from Global Knives
- Instant read thermometer
- iGrill meat thermometer. With associated app. Your phone, or your Apple Watch, tells you when the meat is done.
- Earlywood large flat saute. I also want this Earlywood ladle, it will treat my Le Creuset ever so gently.
- Rocker garlic press
- Le Creuset Dutch ovens in several sizes and colors
- All-Clad saute pan with straight sides and a lid (for Indian and Italian saucy foods)
- Lodge cast-iron frying pan (for pan-searing and oven-finishing)
Cookbooks And Blogs In Rotation
- Nina Simonds, “China Express” and “Classic Chinese Cuisine“
- “Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen” by Hi Soo Shin Hepinstall
- Nigel Slater, “Appetite,” for meat techniques and Nigel’s delicious writing
- Still don’t have a go-to Italian cookbook, thinking about this one
- Online resources I tend to trust : Mark Bittman in the New York Times, The Kitchn, Steamy Kitchen, Korean Bapsang. And in our blogosphere, Sam’s Carolina Kitchen.
A Recipe For Galbijjim Optimized To Dirty As Few Pots As Humanly Possible (Adapted from Korean Bapsang and “Growing Up In A Korean Kitchen”)
- 1 Asian pear, peeled and grated, or, half a green apple, half a Western pear, and a little lemon juice
- 4 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup or 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 green onions, white and pale green part only, minced
- 2 cloves minced or pressed garlic
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 8 toasted walnuts, crushed
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper (freshly ground)
- 3 lbs lean beef ribs cut into 2-inch chunks
- Vegetable oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 carrot in 3 pieces
- Bay leaf
- Peppercorns (10? 20?)
- 1/2 sweet potato, diced 1/2 inch
- 1/2 daikon radish, diced 1/2 inch
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced 1/2 inch
- Soak ribs for 1 hour in ice and cold water in medium-large heavy stockpot or Dutch oven. This removes the blood and impurities. Rinse ribs, wipe out pot
- To make stock, cover ribs in water in same pot and boil for 1/2 hour, adding a bay leaf, 12 peppercorns, 2 squashed garlic cloves, 1 long carrot, ~ 3 tablespoons, one long piece of kelp or 1 oz rehydrated dried shiitake mushrooms
- Take ribs out, rinse, put in bowl covered in plastic wrap
- Get rid of vegetables etc. in stock, cool it in a bowl in fridge for a couple of hours, then skim off the fat (if you do this overnight, pour the stock over the ribs and let them cool together, so the ribs don’t dry out)
- Use 2 ribs to render some beef fat in that same stockpot, take them back out
- Cook in the rendered beef fat 1/2 sweet potato in 1/2 inch dice and 1/2 yellow onion in a 1/2 inch dice
- Make marinade
- Add ribs to the pot
- Add marinade
- Add 3 cups defatted stock
- Simmer for 1 1/2 hours
- Add radish, and cooked sweet potatoes and onions, simmer for additional 1/2 hour uncovered to reduce sauce
Serve with steamed rice, and some kind of sauteed greens. This recipe has all kinds of flexibility. You can use anything from cabbage to dates, yes, dates, in place of sweet potatoes and radishes. The key is to play with levels of umami and sweetness, so the dish becomes your own.
I hope I get better at cooking daily, but, if not, we’ve reached Good Enough. Helpful tips always welcome.