By Bonnie Fishman / San Francisco Bay Area
As Covid hopefully wanes and we enter a new phase of the pandemic–a full two years after it began– many Americans are finally returning to the actual work force, in offices, schools, shops, restaurants, and factories. The “luxury” of being home and having the time to plan meals and cook might be coming to a close. Our hectic pace of setting an alarm, getting dressed in proper work attire, possibly herding children off to school, being out until dinner time, doesn’t leave us much time for meal preparation. This has been a constant problem for generations of working folks: What to make for dinner that doesn’t take lots of time.
When I taught cooking classes for over 35 years In suburban Detroit, first at Bonnie’s Patisserie and then at Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering, one of my most popular subjects was Good Food Fast. Who doesn’t want to have a nice dinner on the table in 30-45 minutes without popping a frozen pizza in the oven? I had so many students clamor for more recipes that I ended up teaching 20 different classes on the subject over the years. With many of these recipes, you can throw together a quick salad to round out the meal.
By this point, I’d consider myself an expert on making meals quickly. There are three useful components to being successful in getting dinner ready. First, planning is of utmost importance. When you plan is totally up to you. I’ve seen people plan a whole week’s worth of dinners, creating the ingredient list, and shopping for it all in one fell swoop. This method would freak me out–I’m not that organized!
I prefer to begin thinking about it in the morning. Hmmm, what to make for dinner? I do my best planning while I’m swimming laps almost every day. There are no distractions–you can’t hear or talk to anyone and no one can reach you. In my mind, I’ll survey what I feel like eating, what style of preparation, what is seasonal, what flavor profile that I might have a hankering for. I NEVER ask my husband. That just complicates things and he also is happy to eat whatever I put in front of him!
The second point is to maintain a stocked pantry, which is essential. You can refer here to my first column in The Insider to review what and how to create this. It will also cut down on how many trips to the grocery store you have to make.
Last, another thing to consider is leftovers. If you make a quick chicken sauté one night, plan to cook more than you need and rework it into a pasta dish the next. Think of it as killing two birds with one stone. In this same spirit, let’s say you’re roasting potatoes for one dinner. Roast extra ones and the next night parlay them into an omelet or a hash with leftover meat. See, it just takes planning and thought.
Many “quick” recipes call for sautéing as the cooking method because the protein in the pan will only take several minutes a side to cook. Unless I’m baking, I may go weeks without turning on my oven because I’m fond of sautéing and braising, both stovetop techniques.
Grilling can also be fast as long as you’re not cooking ribs or chicken on the bone. If you want a casserole or a baked dish, consider prepping your meal in the morning or the day before and just popping it in the oven when you return from work. It will take more time in the oven but at least you’ll be free to get out of your work clothes, check on the kids, check your email, or even put your feet up with a glass of wine.
My recipe offering for today is one of my all-time favorites, Cream of Tomato Dill Soup. Of course it’s quick to make and can be served paired with grilled cheese sandwiches. It can even stand up to being a first course for a fancy dinner party.
If you decide on the classic duo of tomato soup and grilled cheese, please go the distance and make that a great sandwich. How about using a thick cut sour dough, spreading it with pesto, filling it with a nice slab of extra sharp Cheddar and tomato slices? Use a panini press if you have one or grill it in clarified butter on the top of the stove. About the soup: the minimum amount of cream you want to add is a half-cup. For a richer taste and texture, add a full cup. Lastly, if you want to make a big flavor change, substitute the dill for thinly sliced basil. A winner!
Quick Cream of Tomato Dill Soup
Yield: 8 servings
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 c. finely diced onions
1 medium carrot, peeled & finely diced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
16 oz. can tomato juice
8 oz. water
1 Tbsp. + 2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. dried thyme
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 small bay leaf
1/2 - 1 c. heavy cream
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill
Sauté the onions and carrots in the oil over moderate heat until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato juice, water, sugar, salt, thyme, pepper, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Puree with an immersion blender, regular blender, or Cuisinart. Whisk in the cream and dill. Adjust the seasoning.
Bonnie Fishman attended the Cordon Bleu Cookery School in London. Later, she owned and operated Bonnie’s Patisserie in Southfield, Mich. and Bonnie’s Kitchen and Catering in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. She has taught cooking for over 35 years and created hundreds of recipes. She is now living in Northern California.