December 15th, 2011
It happens like clockwork. Every year at the beginning of December thoughts of pies, roasts and latkes flood my brain, firing me into action. On top of making dinner every night, I dash about my kitchen planning, recipe testing and prepping dishes for holiday meals. Then time begins running down and I realize that I haven’t planned, tested or prepped quite enough. There’s more to do—oh, so much more!—and dinner starts to fall by the wayside in favor of getting the holidays squared away on time.
No big deal, I think at first. This is what a stocked freezer is for, but then my freezer stash dwindles. On one hand, this is good news since I need the room for all that holiday dough (and I ain’t talking about cash money). On the other, it’s bad because dinner starts to feel like a burden.
Really, kids? You need to eat tonight? Can’t you just WAIT TIL CHRISTMAS?!
My first thought when this all goes down, as it does every year right about now, is “take out!” Hey, I love to cook, but I’m also human and being a food writer and recipe developer does not mean I get any less stressed about getting it all done as the rest of you. Though my work almost never feels like work, times like these are when it gets real. And, actually, there’s more going on this year than just the holidays.
If you’ve been reading a while, you know that we’ve been dealing with a bit of a medical mystery with the Hungry Baby. The latest round of blood work had some odd results and though it seems like everything might be fine, we are in the thick of what feels like never ending appointments and tests, many of which are to rule out very scary possibilities. So, yea, times here are real, all right. But luckily, times like these are also when I get most creative and practical. Times like these are when I come up with what I hope are the kinds of solutions that make dinner a reality under the hardest circumstances.
Right now, with all that’s going on in my house, I’ve been relying on easy to make and store sauces that can be used to dress up a variety of quick meals. I love this Thai Peanut Sauce which lasts for weeks in the fridge and goes on nearly anything (beef or chicken satay, noodles, steamed veggies, etc.). I’ve also whipped up a couple of double batches of different kinds of pesto to keep in the freezer (doesn’t take up a lot of room!). Pesto has saved several pasta dinners and a fish dinner in the last two weeks. Also, if you make it with kale or spinach, then you just have to add frozen peas to the final dish and veggies are taken care of.
My new favorite thing is Curry Mayonnaise. You can use it as a dipping sauce to jazz up left over or store bought rotisserie chicken or turn both ingredients into a chicken salad with apples and/or dried cranberries that you can serve as a sammy or over couscous. Swap eggs for chicken and you’ve got a quick, high protein dinner that makes a meal served with salad or what I call crudite (um, fancy for “eat some raw veggies that I cut up for you”). The best thing that I’ve made with this mayo is Curry Grilled Cheese: bakery sourdough bread with a smear of curry mayo on one side and apricot jam on the other filled with melty sharp cheddar cheese. You can even add thin slices of crispy fennel.
The right mindset + a few good sauces + staples like roast or poached chicken, eggs, bread and veggies = healthy quick dinners even when you’re tired, stressed and completely out of time. Of course you’ll breakdown and order a pizza here and there—that’s just necessary sometimes!—but it can be a special treat in an otherwise great week of easy, healthy meals.
I know you’re busy and probably cruising around looking for holiday recipes. But I also know that you can manage the holiday madness, whatever’s going on in your personal life, work and even making dinner at night. I can, too. We so have this!
Homemade Curry Mayonnaise, adapted from Martha Stewart
makes 3 cups
(can be adapted for kids 10+ mos)*
3 large egg yolks
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lemon
2 to 2 1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tablespoons best curry powder
3 tablespoons sweetened coconut milk, optional
1. In a blender, combine egg yolks, vinegar, mustard, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Blend until thoroughly combined. With blender running, add 2 cups vegetable oil in a slow, steady stream. Add enough of the remaining oil to achieve a thick, creamy consistency.
2. Add curry powder to a small non-stick pan set over medium-low heat. Toast powder until fragrant and just a little darker, about 2 minutes, stirring all the while as to keep from burning the powder.
3. Stir toasted curry power into mayo until well combined. If you want to add a sweetness, stir in coconut milk, too. Mayonnaise will keep, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 1 week.
Note: To adapt for kids or if you’re not sure where your eggs are from, skip step one and use jarred mayonnaise in step three. If you know where your eggs are from and are comfortable consuming raw yolks, be sure to use only grade A or AA eggs that are fresh, clean and have no cracks whatsoever.