One of the best books I’ve read over the last year is An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace by Tamar Adler. There are recipes in this book, but mostly it’s about a philosophy of cooking and eating well. I’ve read it and re-read it; I keep it on my kitchen counter to refer to often. Adler’s prose is seductive. Reading it is like as if she were taking you by the hand and leading you into her warm kitchen, where she cooks delicious food for you.
This book has given me two major things. One, if I don’t feel like cooking, all I have to do is open the book to any page, start reading and next thing you know I’m in the kitchen. But I also learned a very useful tact from Adler. It’s all about cooking ahead. I love to cook, but there are those days when I’m busy or I just don’t feel like it. By cooking ahead, there is always a quick meal in the kitchen, just waiting to be thrown together.
In the book, Adler says, “I start cooking as soon as possible after shopping, when the memory of the market’s sun and cheerful tents are still in mind.” That is just what I do. We do our farmers market run on Saturday, and I just plan to spend most of the day cooking. I come home and gather together our haul.
Everything ends up in the oven or on the grill. I start with the things that will cook the fastest, clean, cut off the ends and take out the seeds. I douse peppers, eggplant, and zucchini with olive oil and spread the vegetables on a couple cookie sheets or roasting pans, then into the oven to roast at 400˚F. I start checking after about twenty minutes, turn things over if needed, and remove vegetables as they finish cooking.
Right now we’re at that wonderful crossover time when you find the summer vegetables at their peak, plus some farmers are sporting the first winter squash. After the quicker cooking vegetables are done, I put the squash in. Acorn squash I cut in half and take the seeds out; spaghetti squash I just poke a few holes in to let out steam.
With all these vegetables already cooked, you have the week’s meals mostly done. While you have the oven on, throw a chicken in there and you’re even farther ahead. As I was cooking I planned ahead for the week, imagining what meals I would get out of these vegetables. I can take some of the zucchini, peppers and tomatoes, chop them bite size and add a vinaigrette for a delicious salad. I’ll serve it with an egg for protein. You could serve it with a piece of cheese and chunky bread. I knew I had some of last week’s roast beef still in the fridge, plus its braising liquid. I took that liquid, added roasted red peppers and tomatoes, some leftover wine and blended it all for a soup. Tonight, I’ll heat up the acorn squash and throw a bit of that leftover roast beef on top for a super quick and yummy meal. The eggplant, more fresh tomatoes and some Middle Eastern spices mix with the chicken for another delicious meal.
People are afraid of cooking, because they believe that it takes too much time and effort. Eating healthy can be very quick and easy, and cooking doesn’t have to be difficult. My favorite way to eat vegetables is like this, simply roasted with olive oil and salt and pepper. I think the best food is the most simple food, and throwing something in the oven to cook away while you go do something else is way easier, not to mention better for you, than driving to the fast food place.
If you want some cooking inspiration, or just like to read about other people cooking, I encourage you to read An Everlasting Meal. I heard she’s busy writing another book. I can’t wait!