Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Wink, wink

This past weekend we went to BT and BI's wedding in Boston, which was totally fun. You know how it is when you go to those weddings where the ceremony really reflects the bride and groom, plus they look so happy throughout the whole day, plus you really feel like they're great for each other? It was one of those kind of weddings.

Also, 4th of July is an awesome anniversary to have. It's the day B and I met, six years ago; fireworks went off, if you will. And now it's like the fireworks are in our honor every year!

Besides the wedding and the fireworks (the latter of which we ultimately watched on TV because we couldn't bear the thought of the crowds on the Esplanade), I also had the chance to catch up with a number of college friends who live on the East Coast. I heard in person how much some of them like the blog, which is obviously flattering. My favorite comment, from TS, was that the blog was "well-done" (which may be how I hope my writing comes across as, but not how I generally cook meat). Some people (ES!) also had specific requests about particular foods or types of meals that they would like to see on the blog. So, without further ado, I unveil a new (and hopefully regular) feature: Week-Night Kitchen, or WNK. Everything I write about, including today's recipe, should be ready to eat in thirty minutes or less.

To complement this new section, I think it's really important to lay out some guidelines about how to maximize efficiency in the kitchen.

1. Plan your meals. I would love to be able to say that I come home from a long day of work, rummage around in the fridge, and come up with a gourmet, table-ready (sort of like shovel-ready?) meal in a half-hour, but the truth is that it takes forethought. I would also love to be able to say that I come home from a long day of work, stop by the store to pick up a few things, and throw together a quick and delicious meal, but the activation energy to go to the store when you're feeling at all tired is daunting. So, planning ahead of time is a crucial catalyst.

JB shared with me at the wedding that she makes a list of dinners for the week, and then goes shopping once a week on Sunday afternoons. B and I rely on our easy-to-use household Google Wiki site, where we have a page devoted to "Dinners This Week" that we can both modify. I usually end up going to the store every four days or so, probably because I'm not as efficient as JB (and I'm sure I'm more forgetful, even with list in hand).

2. Multi-task. To continue with the science analogies, it's easiest to prepare things in series, but it's much more efficient to prepare them in parallel. I'm not advocating racing around the kitchen like Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America (which is a Tivo-worthy show, by the way), but while you're simmering something for ten minutes on the stove, get to work on your vegetable side-dish or cleaning up the dishes you've dirtied thus far in the cooking process. Multi-tasking takes practice, but you know what they say: practice makes perfect.

3. Get new recipes. Consider investing in a $12 per year subscription to Gourmet or Bon Appetit; the Gourmet "Quick Kitchen" section is super-useful. Great weeknight cookbooks include A Twist of the Wrist (the one by Nancy Silverton on Amazon, NOT the motorcycle road-racer's handbook I also saw for sale!) or Jacques Pepin's Fast Food My Way. You don't need to make dishes word for word, but these sources are great for addition to the indispensable new WNK section, of course.

4. Use your freezer. Mark Bittman wrote an excellent article about freezing a few months ago. The activation energy to get to the insane level of freezer-usage that he recommends may be insurmountably high for most people (including me), but there are some staples that I always have in my freezer. Three cheers for Costco! Pre-purchased, I keep on hand raw shrimp, chicken breasts (split breasts with bone as well as boneless/skinless), sourdough bread, fruit including blueberries and cranberries, peas, salted and unsalted butter, English muffins, crumpets from Trader Joe's, and tortillas. Homemade freezer items include pesto, marinara sauce, chicken stock, egg noodles, gnocchi dough, ice cream, bananas (which come out looking like veritable banana slugs, but are great for baking), and various random leftovers. I'm sure we have more in both categories, but that's what I can think of off the top of my head.

5. Use your fridge. J told me this weekend that a few of her friends always make "just enough" for dinner. I, on the other hand, nearly always make too much. Too much to eat on the spot, that is, but I love leftovers. Hot lunches are always nice, or you can eat some leftovers for dinner one night.

6. Try, try again (sort of like Fry, fry again?). Not every recipe is going to take exactly thirty minutes the first time you make it. This does not mean that you or your recipe are a failure. You just need to get used to each other!

Six easy steps to quick kitchen success. Got it? Good. Now, onwards with the inaugural WNK recipe.

I have a feeling that many of the recipes in the WNK category, like the one for today, will require some sort of bread, whether sourdough, pita, or a bun. Not ideal for Atkins' followers, but that's so 2003 anyway. Today's recipe requires sourdough, or some other crusty bread (whatever you have lying around in your freezer), for making panini. JB gave me and B a panini press as a housewarming present several years ago; she knew I wanted one, but I don't think she had any idea how much we would really use it! Panini sandwiches make a perfect weeknight dinner (or for me today, lunch). They're fancier than simple grilled cheese, but definitely from the same toasty-cheesy category of goodness. B and I used to make all kinds of panini, but now we've pretty much settled on our two favorite kinds: artichoke-mushroom-fontina (recipe to follow) and a modified caprese (chicken-tomato-mozzarella-basil; you remember how B feels about protein).

The artichoke-mushroom panini are best hot off the press in terms of texture, but the flavor is still excellent hours later. I made some last week for us to take on the airplane to Boston as a lunchtime snack (I dislike airplane food, but I absolutely abhor paying for it).

Now I know that I have a gadgety kitchen and that not everyone has (or wants!) a panini press cluttering up their shelves. Never fear: if you don't have a panini grill, you can still make these sandwiches. You'll need to rub the outer surface of the sandwich with a little bit of extra olive oil, and then use a grill pan or a skillet, flipping and pressing frequently. Whatever method you use, get to work! It only takes twenty minutes or so to make the sandwiches, but the aromas will make you hungry before then. I love panini with a simple green salad (whip it up while they're grilling) or, as you can see below, fruit. Enjoy!

Artichoke-Mushroom-Fontina Panini

Makes: four to five sandwiches
Time: 20 min active, 25 min total

2 T. olive oil
1/2 lb. crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
6 oz. jar of marinated artichokes, such as Cara Mia
8-10 thin slices crusty bread
1/2 lb. Fontina (Danish or Italian O.K.)

Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms, and saute until lightly browned, about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, drain the artichokes and slice in half lengthwise; then add to the mushroom mixture and saute for another minute.

Lay out half the bread slices on a board. Divide the mushroom-artichoke mixture evenly over the bread slices. Dot with pieces of Fontina, and cover with the other half of the bread slices. Grill in a panini press for 5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and nice grill marks are apparent.

P.S. I love comments, so please keep them coming. You may notice that a number of them have been published all of a sudden, because I realized that I had set some sort of comment moderation but then forgot to actually moderate. Oops. All better now. Plus, now I've commented on some of the comments!

P.P.S. Isn't T adorable? We met her this weekend. Usually more smiley than this serious picture would suggest though.


  1. Aha! So that's what I spied on the kitchen cart near the counter. Obviously this sandwich won't work in our household without the omission/substitution of one ingredient. We love our panini press and don't use it as often as we should. I especially like the bit about the fireworks.

  2. love the post! will show BI. we both need to get more motivated in the kitchen. -BT

  3. BI and BT indeed had a fab time at their wedding. Bitten's freezing article is very handy. Even more handy is your recipe list! I'll just use all your recipes to plan our meals. Easy peasy. Thanks MB. -BI

  4. Hurrah! I'm already very excited about this series. And this sandy. Nom nom.