By Jennifer Cote
I suspect a growing trend in our busy society is that many of us just don’t feel like there’s time to cook. Even I can feel that way, after a day at The New Deli, cooking away making soups, homemade salad dressings, cookies. That’s my job. But when I get home, do I still want to make something from scratch? I probably feel like many people often feel: There’s no time (or energy) left!
But as a professional cook, I have alternatives to stopping by the fancy neighborhood grocery store in moments of desperation, grabbing the most convenient, ready-made (and expensive) items. I probably don’t have any more time than the average working mom (or dad), but I do have a few tricks up my sleeve. Most of those tricks don’t involve extra time; many of them involve planning ahead though.
For everyday eating, I cook larger batches of certain foods, portioning up leftovers for the freezer; when we have a time crunch, I rely on freezer reserves for at least part of the meal. Brown rice can easily be frozen in portions sized for later meals. Add some freshly grilled veggies, a few seasonings and chunks of meat from a previous meal, and dinner is on.
I make big batches of chili as well (a favorite is the Black Bean Chili we always have on hand at The New Deli). Beans freeze perfectly. For salads, I also have small portions of salad fixings put up in my freezer. Goat cheese is a favorite; it also adds unique flavor to omelets, and it can take an average potato gratin recipe to new heights. A log of goat cheese for everyday eating might grown tiresome (and get overripe), but if it’s portioned up for freezing, it can be more greatly appreciated. Garbanzos are a great salad item too; cooking a big batch of dry beans saves money, and the leftovers freeze well. They’re a good addition to soups as well.
Another helpful hint to employ when planning a dish for upcoming parties and potlucks: Cook your pasta the day before. It’s not the pasta that loses its flavor (after all, it’s just a vehicle for the goodies you add). But do add fresh veggies, and garlic, if desired, on serving day. Those flavors will be at their peak, and everyone will think you spent all your time in the kitchen.
Tortellini Salad w/Citrus Dressing
This is a colorful cold pasta recipe, with a refreshing dressing of orange, lemon, and lime zest. Perfect for parties; it holds up well.
* 1 lb. dry cheese tortellini pasta
* 3 peeled carrots * 1-2 red peppers
* 2 or so broccoli crowns
* 1/4 c. olive oil
* 1 tsp. salt
* 1/2 tsp. black pepper (fresh grated is nice)
* zest of one lime, one lemon, and half an orange
* 1 TBS. balsamic vinegar
* 1/2 TBS. Dijon mustard
Cook: > 1 lb. dry cheese tortellini pasta
Drain the pasta, rinse to cool. Set aside in a colander.
Grill carrots in a pan with a splash of water until tender: > 3-4 peeled carrots, diced into cubes or sliced into discs
After water evaporates and carrots are tender, continue to grill them just a bit longer to bring out their natural sweetness, browning them some. (Add a splash of olive oil when browning.) Set carrots aside in colander, along with the cooled pasta.
Grill in very hot pan, just enough to sear and brown: > 1-2 red peppers, diced into larger pieces
Add grilled peppers to the colander.
Cut broccoli into small flowerettes. Steam quickly in very hot skillet with a splash of water (and with the lid on), for just one minute, removing from pan to cool. Use: > 2-3 broccoli crowns
In a mixing bowl, mix dressing ingredients together: > 1/3 c. olive oil > 1 tsp. salt > zest from one lime, one lemon, and half of an orange > 1 TBS. balsamic vinegar > 1/2 TBS. Dijon mustard
Toss the pasta and veggies in with the dressing. Serve cold; great for potlucks and parties.
Jennifer Cote, with husband Tom, opened The New Deli in Pinole, CA in 1985. Her cookbook, “From the Land of Milk and Honey”, is available at the shop and online. More recipes, plus a lunch and catering menu, can be found at pccuisine.com. Comments, questions? Email Jennifer at firstname.lastname@example.org.