Forgive the picture, but when I cook at night, the photos just don’t turn out as well as I’d like. If we were going to be here for more than a year, I’d build myself a light box or something. But for now? I’ll just tell you that this dish is worth trying, and prettier than you might think.
It’s a springtime risotto, and a weeknight take on a dish we had in NYC during restaurant week at the DB Bistro. That version was also a risotto, and also used a sort of arugula pesto (as far as I could tell) to make the dish a vibrant green color. Its sweetness was from butternut squash, which was appropriate for January but not quite right somehow for the start of spring. So I improvised: I sweetened some chicken broth with a bunch of carrots and used that as the base for the dish.
This isn’t a recipe so much as a formula. I find risotto pretty easy for a weeknight meal, especially when we’re short on ingredients. Yes, there is stirring involved, but not as much as you think … Just don’t turn up the heat too much.
** I’m on vacation at the moment, and wrote this post before I left. Be back at the end of May with more about my trip! **
Recipe after the jump.
Today, I took a little holiday. I read a book — like I used to do when I was a kid, back when the best thing about our house was the bookshelves brimming with all sorts of wonderful new worlds, ideas, escapes. The book was fantastic; I highly recommend it. Greg Mortenson’s work made me realize that the one thing I can do with all this education is figure out how to pass it on to those who might not have the opportunities I have had. How exactly I’m going to do this, I’m not quite sure — I suppose it’s something to think about over the next year, as I finish up my work here.
Dinner was simple and easy — fitting for the laziness of the day. I just threw a couple of chopped and well-rinsed leeks into a pot with a tablespoon or so of oil, sauteed until soft, and then added in 3/4 c. or so of red lentils, a tablespoon or so of berbere (I like it spicy), and sauteed for a bit. A cup of chicken stock (vegetable stock or water would work, too), a cup of water, a 14 oz. can of spicy cherry tomatoes (regular tomatoes would be fine), a spoonful of labneh (a Turkish yogurt cheese — use greek yogurt as a substitute, or nothing at all; the soup will still be good), a quick stir, and a low simmer for 10 minutes or so was all this soup required. I didn’t bother garnishing mine, but you can throw a teaspoon of yogurt and some scallions or a bit of chopped parsley on top for a pretty effect.
Now, I’m off to fill detectors. Even on lazy days, work is never complete…
I thought I’d pull a Bittman and do a list of quick lunch ideas that are tastier than takeout and just as easy. After all, I’m in constant need of new ideas for this myself. This is not an exhaustive list—just some of my favorites. They’re divided into sections based on available equipment, and should save you some money without too much sacrifice.
Don’t forget to share your favorite quick lunches in the comments!
No refrigerator required:
- Peanut butter / nutella and honey / banana on whole wheat bread. You can keep jars of peanut butter, honey, or Nutella unrefrigerated in the office for crazy weeks when you know you won’t have time to think about bringing food in every day.
- Tuna wrap. Canned tuna (pop-top lids on small cans make life easy and make refrigeration unnecessary), a lime (for the juice), a handful of cherry tomatoes, and a tortilla or two, perhaps with some sliced up veggies on the side. Open the tuna, throw it in the tortilla, squeeze the lime juice over it, add the cherry tomatoes (maybe cut them in half, if you’re willing), and wrap.
- Prosciutto, hard cheese of some sort (cheddar, shavings of parmesan—whatever you have), tomato, avocado (optional), and mustard. Bring the tomato and avocado whole and slice at work, so your sandwich doesn’t get soggy. Prosciutto and hard cheese both keep well at room temperature. If you have a refrigerator, arugula is a nice addition to this sandwich.
- Baguette, a jar of good olives, a small hunk of hard cheese, and a tomato. This probably makes me happier than any other quick meal out there.
- Plain yogurt, almond slivers or granola, and jam or fresh fruit, for those of you who like something sweet for lunch. Just throw in a container, mix, and eat.
- Pasta or grain salad. This could mean a million different things, but that’s sort of the point. In the time it takes you to cook the pasta (or whatever grain you choose—bulgur or quinoa are both good options, but even rice will work), you can cut up interesting veggies that can be eaten raw, open a can of beans, and mix together a simple dressing. To make the dressing, stir together 3 parts oil, 1 part vinegar (whatever your favorite kind is), and some salt and pepper. Toss all the ingredients together and refrigerate, and you have lunch the next day. Some good flavor combinations are olive and marinated artichoke hearts (perhaps with a bit of feta for protein), the classic tomato, basil, and mozzarella, or black bean, corn, tomato, and bell pepper. Grilled veggies and kidney beans also work nicely.
- Omelet. These can be eaten cold, are quick and easy to make, and go well with a simple side salad.
- Big salads. Put anything you like in these. I will either make something a little sweet, with fresh or dried fruit, nuts, and a balsamic vinaigrette (which I mix up and take on the side, in a leftover jar), or something savory, maybe with hard-boiled egg, cheese, and a bunch of veggies. Anything goes. Just make you take the dressing on the side and toss the salad at the last minute.
- Roasted veggie sandwich. The key to pulling this off is good crusty bread. Cut generous slices of bread, cover with roasted veggies of any sort, and spread with some sort of aioli (or take tomato sauce, maybe a kalamata olive spread, or a mix of oil and vinegar to sprinkle over the veggies right before you eat). For protein, add cheese, hummus, or another sort of bean dip. This works best if you make enough roasted veggies for the week and make several sandwiches.
- Feta, tomato, cucumber, and olive sandwich. I got addicted to these in Athens. The cucumber adds a fresh crunch, and the feta, tomato, and olive just go together, especially if you happen to get your hands on some good sheep’s milk feta. Just slice everything up and throw them between two slices of good, crusty bread.
- Grits with spinach, corn, Spanish paprika, and cheddar cheese. Yes, you may have to cook this ahead of time if you don’t have a stove at work, but it takes a whole 5 minutes, and it’s good for those cold and rainy days when oatmeal sounds delicious but is maybe not exactly what you want for lunch. You measure out the corn grits (I like Bob’s Red Mill) according to the instructions, throw your spinach, corn, paprika, and cheese in after a minute or so, and cook until the grits are soft and everything is hot. Then all you need to do is reheat. For the record, I had this for dinner last night, and it left me happy and stuffed.
- Broccoli, potato, and cheese. You can either use leftover roasted potatoes for this, or cut them into cubes and cook them in the microwave. The first option tastes better, but if you’re in a hurry, either option beats a microwave TV dinner. If you need to cook the potatoes, cut them into cubes and cook them first for 3-4 minutes, until the potatoes are fairly soft. Then cook the broccoli for a few minutes, until it’s hot but still a bit firm. Pour the broccoli over the potatoes, throw on a few slices of cheese, and cook for 1 minute more. With a bit of salt and pepper, you have a tasty lunch.
Larger initial time commitment:
This section is for those of you who don’t mind putting in a bit of extra effort on the weekend and eating the equivalent of leftovers during the week. I’ve chosen dishes that keep well and reheat well, though honestly, most leftovers make a pretty decent lunch the next day.
- Quiche, which is quite simple to make (especially with store-bought pie crust), and will make everyone in your office jealous if they smell it. Quiche can be eaten hot or cold with a bit of salad on the side. To make, choose your fillings (I like spinach and mushroom, so I’ll use that as an example). Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cook the mushrooms in a bit of olive oil, perhaps with some onions and garlic, until they go golden. Add about a cup of frozen spinach (or 5 oz. fresh spinach) and let cook until either wilted or warm. Take off the heat and set aside. In a bowl, mix up 2-3 eggs, some salt, pepper, maybe some oregano or cayenne, depending on what you feel like that day, and 3-4 oz. grated cheese. Slowly mix in the spinach filling, until the veggies are all coated in egg, and pour the result into the pie shell. Bake for 20 minutes or so, until the egg is set. This will keep for a week in the fridge if you cover it well. If you get bored easily, make a few different versions and freeze whatever you won’t be able to eat right away. Some other good combinations: tomato, corn, and green chile; bacon and caramelized onion; broccoli and curry; feta, red pepper, and olive.
- Stews of any sort. These always taste better the next day. If you have a crock pot, you can generally make them quickly and easily by throwing all the ingredients in the crock pot and cooking them on the low setting while you’re at work. Then you have dinner AND lunch.
For those chilly nights
Yesterday, snow arrived before dawn and traced the barren trees with wintry light, taunting us until we put on our running clothes, trekked out into the frigid air, and left only our footsteps behind. We arrived home pink-cheeked and slightly hoarse from the chilly wind, giddy from snowball fights and snowmen and the feeling that everything had been scrubbed clean and restored to its proper order.
Don't make me cry
The first snowfall is always the best. The trees have been barren just long enough to make fall seem distant, and the cold hasn’t had a chance to settle into one’s bones just yet. It’s the perfect excuse to do all those cliched things one does at the start of winter: drink hot chocolate with marshmallows, go sledding with all the neighborhood kids, and make hearty winter fare.
There’s something so soothing and cheerful about a warm, wintry soup, and the one I want to share with you today is a perfect dinner or post-run snack for warding off winter’s chill. And topped with golden melted muenster and slices of toasted sourdough bread, it feels almost luxurious.
Wintry onion soup