My friend Fredericka, Colorado native, retired horse trader, and daughter of a fresco painter, never left home without snacks.
Fredericka and I met when we both taught at Noble and Greenough School in Dedham, MA. She looked pretty much like you’d think a Colorado native, retired horse trader, daughter of a fresco painter would look: trim and leggy with long, straight hair and a perpetual lightly freckled, sun-kissed glow. She, her fly fishing Boston banker husband and their young son lived in old farmhouse in Dover, MA. Her son was about five when we met, and I, entirely disconnected from the world of young children at that time, thought it was so great that she, an art history teacher, had helped him name his toys Leonardo, Michelangelo and Donatello.
A couple of times each year we took groups of students on museum field trips, occasionally hopping the train down to New York to let them explore the Guggenheim and Metropolitan. Preparing for the several hour journey, Fredericka would pack a picnic cooler full of enough food to feed a family of six for a week, as long as meals consisted entirely of snacks like nuts, granola, hummus, sesame crackers, Bordeaux cookies, dark chocolate, fruit and triple cream imported cheese.
She’d met her first husband through the horse business, and they apparently spent many long days on ranches in the middle of nowhere, far from any food source other than sagebrush. So Fredericka learned to pack snacks.
Traveling with Fredericka, even if just to the MFA downtown, meant never being tempted to stop at a fast food joint on the way home. Staying after school to hang a student art show meant never being tempted by a vending machine full of Cheetos, provided that Fredericka was one of the teachers helping hang the show.
I think of Fredericka often, for a hundred different reasons. I laugh every time I look at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles DVD on our movie shelf. Every spring when dandelion greens appear, I’ll harvest some that hide from dog traffic paths and remember the first time I had them, on their farm in Dover. I was thinking of Fredericka in particular these last couple of weeks when talking to friends about dinner, meal planning and avoiding last-minute pizza traps. Most often, at least for me, poor food choices are crimes of opportunity, sparked by lack of planning.
At 5:55 p.m. if I lack the energy to pull a rabbit out of a hat from the random ingredients in my pantry and don’t have at least a vague plan of what to cook for dinner, then we’re most likely going to eat quick mac ‘n cheese, which is still junk even if you buy Annie’s organic.
As much as I sometimes don’t want to maintain the weekly discipline of planning ahead, I remember the simple truth: If we’re going to eat food, not too much (still working on that), mostly plants, then I have to spend 30 minutes every week doing the equivalent of packing a sandwich for a field trip. I don’t always stick to the plan, but it’s there when I need it, just like the cheese and crackers on the train ride from Boston to Grand Central.
This week we’re doing a bit of spring cleaning, trying to use what’s in the freezer now that spring is finally here and the farmers markets are open. What do we have in our freezer, you’re wondering? Salmon fillets, marinated chicken breasts, ground lamb, chorizo, lady peas and green chile (lots). Everything but those last two ingredients should be easy to find in your grocery, if your freezer isn’t stocked exactly like mine (how weird would that be?). Hatch green chiles are often available in the freezer section of specialty stores or Mexican markets, if you want to go on a hunt. Your reward will be some green chile Hollandaise for your salmon, if you’re up for trying something that takes a bit of effort but is indescribably delicious.
Grilled chicken skewers | Green salad with strawberries and goat cheese
When I’m freezing chicken, I usually add some marinade to the bag or container (a trick learned from Nigella Lawson), so the meat will marinate while it’s freezing and again while it’s thawing. It’s really a great trick, even if most of Nigella’s recipes are not. If you’re not harvesting from your own freezer full of pre-marniated chicken to skewer and grill, here’s a great recipe from my beloved Ina Garten that you can use instead, just remember to put the chicken in the marinade before you leave for work (or school, or whatever) in the morning. For the salad, I’ll put some strawberries (halved), chopped scallions and crumbled goat cheese in a bowl with dressing (you know it: Brianna’s French vinaigrette), let them sit while I prepare the meat, then toss in green leaf lettuce right before serving.
Oven roasted (or grilled) salmon with green chile Hollandaise | Jasmine rice | Green salad
Ok, so this isn’t a 10 minute weeknight dinner, but it also isn’t as hard as you’re thinking. For the salmon, just about any simple preparation will work. I like using cedar planks in the oven (on the grill rack over a baking sheet), but it does require at least an hour’s forethought to soak the planks (if you want more tutorial, here’s a good one from The Kitchn). While the planks are soaking, wash the lettuce and stick it in the refrigerator. Start the rice (it can sit for a while after it’s finished cooking), then turn your attention to the green chile Hollandaise (Note: Bernard and I created this recipe about a year ago, and I posted it with one of my first weekly menus here. We’ve made it a couple of times since, with a couple of minor adjustments, and it’s always yummy).
Ingredients: 3 roasted green chile peppers, peeled, stems removed; 3 egg yolks; juice from one medium lemon: 1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temp.; salt to taste.
Combine chile and lemon juice in blender and puree until smooth. If you are using a large blender, you’ll have to scrape it down after every other pulse until it gets liquid enough to drip back down on the blades. Add egg yolks and pulse until well mixed (5-6 pulses); scrape down sides. Add butter in a thin stream while the blender is running. Scrape the sauce into a bowl that will fit on top of a saucepan of simmering water (double boiler). Do not let the water touch the bottom of the pan.
Turn your attention back to the salmon: put it in the oven, on the grill on in the skillet. any of those methods should take about 15 minutes of cooking time. While the salmon is cooking, heat the sauce (you’re actually cooking it at a very low temperature) over the double boiler. Keep the temperature low, and whisk constantly, or the sauce will curdle. When it is warmed through and thickened, turn off the heat (or remove from stove); salt to taste. Assemble rice, salmon, sauce and serve with a green salad.
Roasted asparagus | Grits | Lady peas
It seems like an eternity since we had simple vegetable plates on a weekly basis, so it was a real joy to find fresh asparagus at the farmers market this week. I’ll make plain coarse-grind grits, with butter and salt, and will serve the last bag of lady peas from the freezer.
Chorizo tacos | Guacamole | Pico de gallo
I was looking for chorizo recipes that didn’t involve eggs (tired of chorizo and eggs), and I stumbled on this one from Emeril for chorizo tacos. Surely I could have thought of this on my own, right? I will likely prepare some season ground turkey as an alternative for my children, since I can’t remember how spicy this particular chorizo is.
Lamb Köfte with Yogurt Sauce and Muhammara
Ok, so this recipe isn’t a 10 minute weeknight dinner either. And yes, if you’re going to make the entire recipe exactly as written, then you’ll be going on a scavenger hunt for pomegranate molasses. Consider the muhammara a nice to have, not a need to have, and you’ll start feeling better about this recipe instantly. And the lamb is delicious, I promise.