We have weekend guests and tonight seemed like a great night to stay in, watch the Olympic opening ceremonies, and enjoy a meal. I ran around all day doing errands and such, so had no time to work on a meal. Yet tonight we enjoyed French Dip sandwiches, baby carrots, and a sort of-authentic English trifle. All homemade (ok, rolls for the sandwiches were already in the freezer) and all satisfying and delicious.
My point isn’t to make a big deal about the food we ate; rather, I want to impress that making a good meal doesn’t have to take a lot of time or effort. With a well-stocked pantry and a certain level of comfort in the kitchen, healthy, well-balanced, and tasty menus aren’t hard to pull off. I’d imagine I’m preaching to the choir on this as most who read these posts are already turning out fantastic food on a regular basis. But if there are those out there (I’m talking to you, sister-in-law) who think that cooking is a lot of work, I’m here to say that it doesn’t have to be.
About that pantry and comfort level: The well-stocked pantry is subjective. What my family likes to eat is different from what yours does, so only you know what it makes sense to have on hand at all times. The comfort level means you’re not afraid to mistakes and you have a good handle on cooking techniques and how to combine ingredients. Familiarity with and access to recipe ideas help, too. (Which, as a reader of food blogs, you already know.)
Our Olympic feast tonight started with a quick flip through a favorite slow cooker cookbook, which turned up a recipe for French Dip sandwiches. Calling for only a few ingredients (soy sauce, water, a few dried herbs), it was simple to throw together this morning. I took out a package of rolls from the freezer to thaw and asked my husband to pick up a bag of baby carrots on the way home from work.
Dessert was a bit trickier, though only because I hadn’t planned ahead. The original thought was to serve ice cream. But somehow this afternoon I got to thinking trifle and when I remembered I had pound cake in the freezer, there was no turning back. In the half-hour before dinner, I cubed slightly thawed pound cake, then tossed it lightly with about 1/4 cup each sherry and Marsala wines. I’d picked up cream for the whipped layers, but remembered after doing a quick recipe search that trifles also have pudding layers. I made vanilla pudding (from-scratch was easy enough, but of course box mixes work, too), chilled it, then layered it up in a glass bowl along with the soaked cake cubes, blueberries, sliced strawberries, and whipped cream.
The trifle was a hit and when I looked at the meal as a whole I was pleased. We ate well and I hadn’t done much in the way of blood, sweat, and tears. The meal came together well because my pantry was stocked (beef, rolls, carrots, pound cake, wine, berries) and I knew enough about ingredients, menus, and recipes to turn vision into reality. I also knew that if something went horribly wrong, we could always order pizza. If the trifle was unappetizing, we had Girl Scout cookies in the freezer. No worries, right?
There’s a lot I’m anxious about in my life (moms are like that, I think), but putting a good meal on the table is not one of them. And I’d love it if everyone who thinks making great meals from scratch is only for those with great talent and lots of time know that it’s more about thinking things through, being prepared, and jumping in to cook. Seems a philosophy that would serve well in most situations, and it certainly holds true in the kitchen.