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February 28, 2012 / An Anthology of Clouds

How can I eat but not cook this month?

Here is my question. While I am usually a motivated-to-extremist home cook, I am facing a dramatic work situation, in which I have two full-time jobs (and two kids) for the next 30 days. I feel depressed and malnourished by takeout. The idea of a microwave meal is profoundly disturbing to me. But when I’m working in an office, I cook only post-bedtime and that’s not going to be possible. Does anyone have any ideas for dinners that don’t require cooking? Minimal chopping even? Insider knowledge of Fairway?

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  1. threefresheggs / Feb 28 2012 11:56 pm

    I can recommend Sahadi’s. I could live off their prepared foods,stuffed grape leaves, spinach pie, tabouleh, breads (and though hummus is a bit played-out these days, their hummus is rather a horse of a different color) for a while, it is right on your way home, the food is very real and homey (if your grandmother were Syrio-Lebanese). Also the quiches from Baker’s Bounty at the Borough Hall Greenmarket as you walk by Thursday (Saturday) are a favorite of the boy’s (though I am sure not light on the calories!).

    Fairway has prepped mirepoix, chopped broccoli, ready-to-cook french beans and other prepped stuff that could get you by some nights with a 10 minute rotisserie chicken soup and/or rotisserie chicken & super-simple roasted veg with a little oil & lemon. I have not tried any of the prepared food from the deli, but some of it does look good, and there must be a few palatable things there. Of the smoked fish in the pre-wrapped case(as an alternative to rotisserie chix), the mackerel and trout are quite good, some jarred horseradish sauce, a little potato salad, a simple veg and you are home.

    Also on your way home, I know Trader Joe’s is far from your thing (not too much mine either), but they have a good selection of prepped veg, and (of all the odd things) shelf-stable packets of pre-cooked whole grains… Throughly weird (probably Canadian), but worth a try?

    When I was in grad school in TriBeCa I mitigated severe damage to my credit rating by spending my long weekends and holidays making oversized batches of casseroles, soups, gratins and freezing them in 2 cup pyrex storage containers. You haven’t really got the pre-double-job planning time to make that happen full-scale, but you might be able to work with that a bit. Pyrex makes full sized casserole/soup containers that can go straight from the freezer to the oven or micro.

    Last thought – FreshDirect – they have finally started delivering out here (too late!), and I have no idea what their prepared/oven-to-table food is like, but I get the idea that they at least try to specialize in this very problem that you speak of… Perhaps it is worth giving them a trial run? – On that note, take a walk through Garden of Eden on Montague on your way home one night too; they’ve got great packaged fish, their prepared foods are very popular with the ritzy Heights crowd, and their produce really is to die for.

    When to you start this crazy endeavor? Now? I will see what I can do about a pyrex-encrusted care package…

  2. ivalleria / Mar 1 2012 1:35 am

    That would be pretty funny if I ordered Fresh Direct while living over Fairway. This crazy endeavor was supposed to be starting on Monday, but the book packager hasn’t gotten me the outline yet, so I’m still messing around online and eating home cooked meals….:) I would say that by mid-March a care package would save my life. And thanks for this. These are all good tips. I will try Sahadi and Garden of Eden. xox

  3. lanceblair / Mar 2 2012 4:09 am

    I agree with the comment on TJ’s for pre-cooked grains (or grains that don’t take all that long) and especially prepped veggies. One can live on their broccoli-slaw alone. Not a fan of their frozen food or breads, pizza, noodles, etc. Still, there’s much to make it part of the shopping circuit. Their cereals are decent too (really good rice krispies that don’t taste like they’re from a 1960s commercial).

  4. Emily Schriebl Scott / Mar 3 2012 4:29 am

    I am the laziest cook on the planet, here are my favorite 10 minute specials:
    Green salad and a baguette are your friends. For the greens I like the packages of Arugula or Baby Spinach. Pair with:
    -Lemon sole filets – dredged in flour, s&p, and pan fried for @ 3 min a side.
    -The fish store on Court Street sells a fish rub, called something like Rub with Love, that is delish. I sprinkle some on tilapia filets then pan fry, also super fast and easy – but lots of flavor.
    -Shrimp (Dave and I share a lb) – steam until pink, sprinkling with tons of old bay. Peel and eat. Messy, so you can’t eat and work at the same time.
    -Roast Chicken. Okay it needs 1+ hr to cook (for a 3-4 lb bird), but it’s @ 10 min prep. You could prepare the night before then have sitter pop in the oven while you’re on your way home. I like Nigella Lawson’s method – rinse and dry the bird, put a 1/2 lemon in the cavity, olive oil, salt and pepper to season skin. Put in a hot oven 425, for @ 15 min per pound. I cover with foil for the first 1/2 of cooking time. You could do a big bird on the weekend, then have enough for leftovers.
    -An omelette. I’ve been doing a version with onion and fresh arugula or spinach. I brown 1/4 onion, add greens for a second, pour eggs over this then grate cheese on top. Cook eggs through. If you have some leftover potatoes to slice in, all the better.
    -Spinach Pesto Pasta. I buy prepared pesto then throw in blender with a package of thawed frozen spinach. You can do this well ahead of time, then freeze or keep in fridge (for me this makes 4 batches). Make pasta of choice, I like linguini, blend some pasta water with pesto to make creamy, then toss with the pasta. Serve on a bed of arugula dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette. We like smoked salmon on top. I’d bet prosciutto would be good too. Or leftover chicken. Dave doesn’t like pesto, but loves this. The spinach cuts the oiliness, and the arugula makes it spicy and gives it a bit more tooth.
    -If you like Indian food, there are some pretty good prepared sauces they sell at Fairway next to the fresh pasta. There are chicken recipes on the package that look super easy, but I try to replicate my favorite chana masala, and stir in a can of chick peas, a can of drained chopped tomatos, and fresh spinach. Serve with jasmine rice, and the packaged nan that is at the top of the dairy aisle.
    -And for a no cook dinner, we like the pickled herring at the smoked fish counter. If you haven’t gotten it before, ask them to slice it thinly. We eat it with creme fraiche on a baguette. With cheese and olives and a green salad, its the perfect meal. If you like herring, of course. If not, try the Iowa prosciutto at the deli counter.
    I definitely second the Sahadi’s recommendation. But am less enthusiastic about the prepared food at Garden of Eden, although they have passable sushi, and apparently we no longer have sushi delivery options in RH.
    Good luck!!!
    PS, my mother got into using a slow cooker a while ago. It’s too much meat for me, but the recipes were always really easy. Maybe something to think about?

    • threefresheggs / Mar 4 2012 3:59 pm

      Quickie fyi on dredge & fry: Try corn starch instead of flour, much crispier!

      Flounder is a great dredge & fry choice, remove, throw some capers & lemon juice (a touch of stock or water if needed), return fish to pan.

      Also brilliant for thinly sliced, pressed (or blotted) tofu.

  5. ivalleria / Mar 3 2012 3:34 pm

    Mrs. Scott, you are a goddess. We are worn out on the roasted chicken, which is always our go-to lazy meal, but otherwise all awesome. I love pickled herring.

    Obviously despite not having time to cook, I still have time to dick around online. πŸ™‚

  6. Emily Schriebl Scott / Mar 4 2012 2:30 pm

    I know, I feel silly recommending roast chicken. But I was nearly 40 when I learned how to do a good one, and I’m still amazed at the ease and result!
    I don’t cook much meat, so I have a feeling your more up on this than I, but I bet the same principle applied to roasts, loins, etc, would be helpful this month. Anything prepped by the butcher, and requiring nothing but s&p and a hot oven. Garden of Eden should be good for that. Dave one bought a spiral ham there that was to die for.

  7. Emily Schriebl Scott / Mar 4 2012 2:51 pm

    And speaking of meat… how about hot roast beef sandwiches? I don’t know how one heats deli roast beef, but there must be an easy way. If you had time to saute a package of pre-sliced mushrooms and serve that on top, mmmm.
    For that matter, Mushrooms on Toast are wonderful. My mom made this old-fashioned dish recently and we were amazed at how good it was. Her process was a little fussy, I think she made a roux to thicken it. But I think you could do a speedy version with butter, cream or sour cream, and a splash of wine.
    Grilled or toasted cheese sandwiches? With some nice jarred olive tapenade or sun dried tomato spread?
    Which brings me to my latest/greatest discovery – 5 min homemade tomato soup. Saute chopped garlic (from a jar) in butter & olive oil. Pour in a can of good crushed tomatos (if you don’t have a favorite, Red Pack are good). Stir in sour cream to taste. Heat through. Season with s&p and Herbs de Provence (and a bit of sugar evens the flavor, I just add one sprinkle at a time, until it seems right). If you want a finer soup, you can puree with an immersion blender, but I like it chunky like this. The stuffed breads (olive, garlic or cheese) at Sahadi’s would go great with this (they sell the tomatos too). Serve with tons of grated parm.

    • threefresheggs / Mar 4 2012 3:07 pm

      I love the spinach pesto arugula meal, @Emily, brilliant!

      Before Fairway, one had to take a car service to buy canned goods, and at one point I nearly begged Fresh Direct to do what to them was apparently unthinkable at the time, cross Hamilton Avenue. They wouldn’t. Suckers.

      A bottle of wine is a good, old-fashioned substitute for a meal; wish I had one right now.

    • Valerie Stivers-Isakova / Mar 4 2012 3:28 pm

      Emily that soup sounds amazing.

      Sent without particular endorsement of any wireless product.

  8. threefresheggs / Mar 4 2012 4:16 pm

    The weather will eventually be against me on this one, but I am currently roasting everything vegetable. Nearly anything vegetable prepped to a reasonable size can be tossed with olive oil, salt & pepper (use garlic & thin sliced onion, herbs or don’t), and roasted at 425-450 for 12 to 18 minutes. Finish with a little lemon juice and/or zest.

    Asparagus and green beans only need wash & trim, & most cruciferous vegetables, mushrooms and squashes (squash might take 25 minutes) can be bought prepped and ready.

    Do what you will with them:
    Toss with pasta, nuts & cheese.
    Broccoli/onion/garlic in hot stock with leftover noodles & a handful of beans = soup
    Any leftover roast veg with breadcrumbs, egg & cheese + croquettes
    Winter squash on greens with nuts and vinaigrette (hot, warm or cold) = supper
    Or serve with any protein and grain, done.

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