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A Recipe for a Simple Weeknight Meal (or, More Likely, Disaster)

There’s nothing like a simple weeknight meal. Now, I don’t mean peanut butter (or sunbutter) straight out of the jar with a handful of potato chips, or peanut butter spread onto gluten-free bread with potato chips on the side, or even leftovers.

tired girl on kitchen floor with coffee maker

This girl should’ve made coffee before starting on her simple meal.
Photo © Evil Erin | Flickr

I’m talking about those gorgeous complete meals that come together in such a snap you feel like you must have cheated to get there. Everyone’s happy, no one’s hungry, and you have time left in the evening to, say, write a blog post.

I’m not the only one who loves these meals. Cookbooks are devoted to them; moms and dads sing their praises; and especially after Thanksgiving, I bet many of you in the US plan to fall back on them for a while.

But, although I believe these perfect meals exist, the formula eludes me. My “quick” meal ideas usually turn into inefficient, lengthy, messy, multiple-pot culinary odysseys. They taste good, but they take forever.

Since I got positive feedback the last time I shared a recipe, I thought I’d share this one with you, too. Your suggestions and criticisms are, as always, welcome. Maybe, with your help, I’ll manage to complete a meal in 30 minutes…someday.


A Simple Weeknight Meal

Yields: 1 dinner, with leftovers (if you weren’t so hungry by the time you finished that you ate it all), and 1 big mess

Prep time: 30 minutes to 4 hours, not counting time spent gathering inspiration on Pinterest (this section of recipes is always BS anyway)

Cook time: varies by recipe and other variables (including but not limited to evenness of pan heating, stove and oven hot spots, vegetable sizes, and altitude of your house), whose effects recipes rarely address and always underestimate

Ingredients

1 to 3 exhausted but ambitious cooks (see Notes)
1 recipe you’ve never tried before and plan to heavily adapt
1 to 2 additional recipes from which you’d like to draw inspiration (optional but highly recommended)
1 or more dietary restriction (again, optional but recommended—see Notes)
Optional garnishes: poor knife skills, inadequately stocked kitchen, multiple other things you intended to achieve that evening, and a low stress threshold

If this is you at the thought of cooking something, you're probably ready. Photo © Brittney Bush Bollay | Flickr

If this is you at the thought of cooking something, you’re probably ready.
Photo © Brittney Bush Bollay | Flickr

Directions

  1. Prep half of the ingredients and leave the rest to peel, chop, slice, etc., later, when you’ll be too distracted trying to stop the onions on the stove from burning to do either bit properly.
  2. Forget to preheat the oven, bring water to boil, or press the tofu until much, much later.
  3. Realize that you’re missing one or more ingredients. Don’t panic; instead, begin a lengthy debate over what in your cupboards might work as a substitute, with recourse to Google as necessary. If consensus cannot be reached, draw straws to decide who will “run out” to the store for the ingredient. Or give up and eat popcorn, since it’s not like you’ve done much yet anyway.
  4. Assuming you’re forging on with the meal, take a few minutes to select some appropriate musical accompaniment.
  5. Next you’ll want to at least scrape the crud off of the cast-iron skillet that has been sitting on the stove since your last simple weeknight meal, unless the flavor profile was similar, in which case forget it.
  6. Start those onions sizzling while you check your bookmarks and open tabs for a side dish idea. Should one appear, start prepping ingredients for that, ideally before finishing what remains for the original recipe.
  7. Text the person who has gone off to the store to request a few more missing ingredients for the new recipe.
  8. Start adding water to the onions because they are seriously going to catch on fire and you can’t believe you haven’t finished mincing the garlic yet.
  9. Accept an incoming phone call and let the onions “brown” a little longer while you chat and attempt to cut up vegetables with the phone wedged against your shoulder.
  10. Jump guiltily when you hear your fellow cook at the door and tell the person on the other end that you’re right in the middle of cooking and really can’t talk. Pretend you only just picked up.
  11. If you are trying to prepare a gluten-free (or allergy-free, or vegan, or what-have-you) meal, inspect the package labels of the new ingredients and ask the buyer if he/she is sure this brand is safe. Regardless of the response, check the manufacturer’s website yourself (with sneakiness to taste).
  12. Fend off any lingering impulse to just eat popcorn. Although you may not have accomplished much, per se, you’re in too far to turn back now.
  13. Set your jaw in a grim line and turn your attention to prepping and cooking in earnest. Bicker as desired.
  14. Begin checking the clock and moaning about how late it has gotten and how this ALWAYS HAPPENS. Repeat until every shred of patience and good will has been used up.
  15. Let the assembled dish bake/reduce/thicken just as long as you can—invariably less than the specified time because you’ll be too starving to care about taste or texture. Throw some plates on the table and serve immediately. (Optional: waste several seconds deciding between plates and bowls.)
  16. Enjoy while you can! Soon enough, you’ll be doing it again. But better. (Optimism will keep in an airtight container indefinitely and is even better the next day.)

Notes

Adages bedarned, this method works best with more than one cook in the kitchen; two cooks can inspire each other to greater and more absurd heights of complexity, and having a partner will lend to each the sense of security that the total prep time will be halved. Three is most likely the upper limit, beyond which point differing tastes and colliding elbows create the danger that no meal will result at all. In a pinch, a single cook will do, particularly if said cook is a fan of Top Chef and/or plans to post about the meal on a blog.

A food processor is not recommended. Let’s not baby ourselves.

Speaking of which…I myself do not have children, and therefore cannot vouch for them as an ingredient in this recipe. However, if you do add them to the mix, I suggest including such optional steps as teaching younguns to chop carrots (after starting the onions, mind) and taking breaks to nag older ones to do their homework and/or set the table.

If you eat meat, you may find it more difficult to stretch out the preparation process quite as interminably as I do. If you find yourself taking less than an hour to put together your meals, I strongly recommend vegetarianism.

Does this sound more or less like your own recipe for a simple weeknight meal, or have you mastered the formula? Share your tips and suggestions for actual simple meals in the comments.

I shared this on Vegetarian Mamma‘s Gluten-Free Fridays.

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300 Sandwiches: The Gluten-Free Edition

Here’s a story for you. It’s the best kind: a love story.

[Note: This post won’t make any sense unless you’re already familiar with this article about the blog 300 Sandwiches—so check it out if you’re not.]

Once upon a time, I managed to secure a gluten-free boyfriend. This boyfriend—let’s call him D—missed sandwiches more than anything. To D, a sandwich was like a kiss or a hug (whatever that means).

One day, after months of cajoling, I made him a sandwich. D bolted it down and exclaimed, “Babesicle, this is delicious! You’re 300 gluten-free sandwiches away from an engagement ring!”

I paused.

How likely was I to find another man who fulfilled all of my criteria? D was gluten-free, male, and even vegetarian. Wouldn’t it be prudent to hold onto him? Three hundred sandwiches…that’s not so much to pay for lifelong companionship.

I accepted the challenge.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #1

The Beginner’s Luck

I tied on my apron and started off strong, with fried tofu and home-pickled cucumbers on “rye” bread. D smacked his lips. I smiled. 299 sandwiches more and this domestic bliss could be mine forever.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #2

The Sophomore Slump

On half of an Everybody Eats baguette, this Vietnamese tofu bánh mì was a thing of beauty.

“But,” said D, polishing off the last morsel, “I’m getting a bit sick of tofu.”

Hearing this, I was disappointed, but also relieved. Pressing, freezing, thawing, re-pressing, marinating, searing, baking, and basting tofu to get that meaty taste and texture was thrilling and all, but doing it every day could get tiring. And I wouldn’t want to lose steam so early in the race.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #3

The Just-Okaynini

Low on inspiration, after a late day at work, I kept it simple: grilled cheese on Rudi’s multigrain. I threw in some spinach and a handful of potato chips in an attempt to add interest, but I knew the result was flat.

“It’s…okay,” D concurred.

I vowed to prioritize my work and social life less in the future.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #4

The Breakfast in Bed

Having calculated how long it would take me to meet my 300-sandwich goal and feeling my biological clock ticking, I decided to kick it into overdrive. If there’s one thing a man loves more than a sandwich for dinner, it’s a sandwich for dinner and a sandwich for brunch.

Although a single gluten-free bagel costs roughly the same amount as a whole pack of regular, and doesn’t even taste like a bagel without the barley malt, I took a stab at a breakfast sammie anyway.

“Not bad,” D said appreciatively. “Try an English muffin next time.”

Gluten-Free Sandwich #5

The Structurally Unsoundwich

This elaborate roasted-veggie sandwich looked great on the plate, but as gluten-free sandwiches are wont to do, it fell apart under the weight of its toppings.

“What kind of sandwich is this?” he grumbled.

“We don’t have to count this one,” I replied. After all, it wasn’t D’s fault celiac disease causes grumpiness.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #6 (or #5a)

The One You Eat with a Fork

Not to be defeated by a floppy piece of bread, I tried a compromise: the open-faced ‘wich. Someday, I reasoned, when we had a country house where we’d entertain guests, I’d be glad to have a few open-faced sandwich recipes in my back pocket (or should I say pocketbook—no lady wears clothing with pockets).

Gluten-Free Sandwich #7

The Poor Man’swich

I did some more calculations and realized how expensive it would be to make 300 sandwiches on store-bought gluten-free bread. And it would be nearly as costly to buy the seven different flours plus xanthan gum needed to bake bread myself—to say nothing of my somewhat valuable time. Going for home-economical, I made a tempeh lettuce wrap instead. Though I served it triumphantly, D was not convinced this counted, either.

Gluten-Free Sandwich #8

The Sandwich That Wasn’t

First thing after rolling out of bed at 1 pm, my faithful D made his usual polite request: “Make me a sandwich.”

But while getting out the cutting board and knife, I realized something: I was tired of sandwiches.

Reaching for the mustard, I realized something else: I don’t even like sandwiches.

And when my brand-new loaf of Udi’s turned out to contain an air hole nearly equal to the volume of the loaf, I realized one more thing: It was the twenty-first century. I didn’t have to make that sandwich.

I turned to D. “Would you marry me even if I didn’t make you 300 sandwiches?”

“What?” he returned, puzzled. “Are you talking? Shouldn’t you be slicing something?”

And that’s when I came to my final realization: no man is worth 300 sandwiches, gluten-free or otherwise, if you’re making them because he demands it. A relationship in which either party feels compelled to jump through hoops to win the other’s affections is as empty as the inside of a quality-non-assured loaf of bread. And life’s too short to spend it making someone else’s sandwiches.

“You know what, D?” I said—and by now I hope you know what that stands for—”Make your own damn sandwich.”

After all, I had more important things to do…like look for a new boyfriend.


The 300 Sandwiches blogger now claims that the whole thing was a joke—though her blog itself makes no such claim. What do you think? Is it funny? Sad? Infuriating? Should we be past caring about stuff like this? And which sandwich idea sounds best to you?

I must admit, she’s posted some stellar-looking sandwiches that I’d love to make GF, including these blondie ice cream sandwiches, featured in—from a feminist perspective—one of her most cringe-worthy posts, and—from a hungry perspective—one of my favorites.

Note, Oct. 4, 2013: A reader helpfully noted that none of the photos are of truly gluten-free sandwiches. I have strict policies for photo sourcing and mostly use Flickr’s Creative Commons to find shareable photos. As with anywhere, I found few GF options there. If you’re a food blogger who wants to grant me rights to post a photo of your fabulous GF bánh mì here, get at me.

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Socca tartlets, four ways: Yes, that’s right, it’s a recipe.

I love food blogs. I started reading them when I started cooking for myself, and I read them more now than ever, because it’s a good way to stay connected with other gluten-free people, because it’s practically a requirement for my job (I work on cookbooks, among others), and because there’s nothing quite like some good food porn.

Though I talk about cooking surprisingly little on this blog, I do it pretty much every day. And not only because, being gluten-free, I sorta have to: I love it, too. But I’ve never really considered this a food blog. My focus has always been on stories about gluten-free life, so even though I’m constantly using and making recipes, I’ve steered clear of posting them.

I’ve decided to make an exception, though, because 1) the recipe is worth it, and 2) recipes are kinda like stories, if you think about it. I certainly read food blogs for pleasure, not just utility. A recent New Yorker piece backs me up with the perceptive claim that “cookbooks are like novels…This is what recipes are: stories of pretend meals.”

This recipe—my first ever on this blog—tells a story of the housewarming party my sister and I threw back in August, a story that I have until now neglected to tell. It’s a story of careful planning and intense preparation to serve a spread of food that wasn’t imitating anything gluten-y but didn’t leave anyone thinking, “good for gluten-free.” It’s a story of summer produce and steamy kitchens, told when it’s become just chilly enough to think of those things nostalgically. It’s a story of hard work and great payoff: everyone praised the food and, more importantly, had fun.

It’s also a story of why I don’t usually post recipes. You’ll see what I mean.

The proud hosts with the full spread (minus desserts; I'll tell you about those soon)

The proud hosts, the full spread (minus desserts; I’ll tell you about those soon). The DJ is back there in the corner, too. Kindly ignore.

Socca is an amazing food. I first discovered it through David Lebovitz’s blog, then saw it again on The Kitchn, and then found out it’s apparently Mark Bittman’s favorite food—all of which puts me (and you, should you choose to join) in good company.

It’s a chickpea flour flatbread that can be thin and broiler-blistered, or thick and soft, plain or topped with garlic and onions or pizza toppings, or with the toppings mixed right into the batter. It’s good with every kind of sauce, spread, vegetable, cheese, and seed I’ve ever tried throwing at it. You can make it taste like a pizza or a tart or a frittata. You can even make it into crackers and dip it into hummus, for an incestuous snack. It’s good hot, warm, room temp, and cold. Depending on toppings, it’s vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, low-carb, even grain-free—though not low-FODMAP, and probably not paleo. (But if you’re going to cheat, you couldn’t choose much better.)

In short, if you’ve never before bought a bag of chickpea flour and think of it as nothing more than the odd aftertaste to some gluten-free cookies, then boy, are you missing out. Try this recipe next time you’re entertaining or just feel like serving yourself an elegant starter.

We worked from a recipe on The Kitchn, tripling it and making four different toppings. We also had two different sizes of muffin tin, so we had regular mini tarts and extra-mini tarts. Socca itself is incredibly simple and forgiving, but my MO in the kitchen (and in life…?) is to take simple things and make them complicated. You can re-simplify as desired.

Here we go!

gluten-free socca recipe

Get ready for more stunning food photography such as this “process shot” of the plain crusts.

How many does the recipe make? Good question.

As a cookbook editor, I’m well aware that recipes require yields. However, I must inform you we did not count our tartlets. As you can see in the pictures, there were approximately a billion.

The original non-tripled recipe makes two thin 10-inch-diameter soccas, so the total area will be about 2 x π52 = 50π, which you can then divide by the area of your muffin pan cups (about .93752π for a mini or 1.3752π for a regular), which means that if you made the single batch you should get about 57 extra-tiny tartlets or 26 regular-tiny tartlets.

If you make the triple batch as listed below, you’ll have about 171 extra-tinies or 78 regular-tinies (or somewhere in between, if you used a mix of both sizes, as we did, and no, I am not going to attempt any further calculations). This is the most math I’ve done in a long time and if it’s wrong I take no responsibility.

The bare bones you need for socca crust—toppings below (note: you can make a more reasonable batch by dividing each of these amounts by 3)

3 cups chickpea flour
3 cups water
4-1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the pan
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

muffin tin socca

Cute silicone muffin liners, right? Just please, please, don’t be an idiot like us and spray them with cooking spray. IT NEVER COMES OFF.

What to do!

  1. If it’s summer, turn on the air conditioner. Do this several hours before beginning. Forget about the bill.
  2. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
  3. Mix the socca ingredients together and let sit. The minimum recommendation I’ve seen is 10 minutes, but I believe I’ve read that the texture gets better the longer the ingredients sit. Then again, maybe it doesn’t matter.
  4. Make all the toppings. HAHAHA, just kidding, you’d better have done that part in advance. (See below.)
  5. Grease mini muffin or muffin pans with cooking spray. Or, if you’re using silicone, please don’t grease. We did, and it ain’t pretty.
  6. Pour very small amounts of socca batter into each muffin hole. You’re going for just barely covering the bottom of the cup, but half the time you will accidentally pour for too long and get thicker tartlets no matter how hard you try to make them uniform. Ours were all slightly different thicknesses, and they were all good, so don’t worry.
  7. Bake for about 10 minutes. We were opening our oven a lot and no doubt cooling it down, so you may actually want to bake for less than 10 if you aren’t. I think we left them in for longer than 10, actually, but you’ll want to start checking by 10. When they’re brown around the edges, you should be good. If they brown too much, they’re still great. Again, don’t worry too much.
  8. Let cool, probably in the muffin pans for a bit and then on a wire rack if you have one. We don’t yet, so they went directly onto serving platters. They were still awesome.
  9. Painstakingly spread toppings onto each of the billion tartlet crusts you’ve created.
  10. If you have guests arriving within hours who will not take kindly to the oven still being on, you may wish to broil the topped tartlets for a minute or so before serving. If you have a kitchen torch, you may wish to go nuts with that instead. You may, however, wish instead to find time to shower before your party, in which case you may
    decide to skip this step.
  11. Take pictures. Collect compliments. EAT.

Zucchini Butter Topping

Use this recipe, also on The Kitchn. We used olive oil and garlic, and only made a half batch because one of our “farm-fresh” zucchinis turned out to be half-rotten. We also added fresh parsley and topped the tartlets with thinly sliced cherry tomatoes. VEGAN! If you want them to be not vegan, you know what to do.

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable little placards made by Althea

Zucchini butter & sweet potato tartlets, with adorable placards made by Althea

Sweet Potato Topping

Microwave two large sweet potatoes. Let cool, then remove peel. Save in Tupperware in your fridge to “use in another meal.” Add to compost three weeks later. Meanwhile, mash the peeled sweet potatoes and add all those Italian herbs (oregano, thyme, basil) and salt and pepper. Garnish the tartlets with little bitsles of fresh rosemary. VEGAN! No, you don’t need to add butter to the mash.

The apple, onion & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

The fig & goat cheese is the ugliest, but so good. Prettifying suggestions welcome for next time.

Fig & Goat Cheese Topping

Make incredible orange-zingy fig jam by simmering a pack of chopped dried figs with water, sugar, orange zest, a cinnamon stick, and a dash of cloves until jammy. Blend until even jammier using an immersion blender or a standalone. Althea masterminded this and thinks other ingredients went in there, too, but she can’t remember. (Brain fog.) So, throw in whatever sounds good to you. Spread tartlets with cooled fig spread, then goat cheese, then a dab of honey for show. NOT VEGAN. But make yourself some nut cheese and sub in agave for honey and you’re golden (provided your sugar wasn’t filtered through bone char…erlack!).

Fig goat cheese rosemary socca recipe

Apple, onion, goat cheese & copious rosemary

Apple, Blue Cheese & Caramelized Onion Topping

Slice yellow onions thinly. Don’t cut off any digits with the mandoline. Caramelize. No, but really. Do yourself a favor and really caramelize, for longer than 20 minutes. Do it for an hour. Or more. Go crazy. I hear this even works in a slow cooker. Slice granny smith apples thinly and sauté with rosemary and a bit of cinnamon. Layer strands of onions, slices of apples, and blue cheese onto the tartlets. NOT VEGAN. But still probably awesome without the cheese, or with a vegan kind. I really don’t know because I was busy putting blue cheese on everything.

And we all ate happily ever after (or, at least, it felt like we were eating forever). The end.

Have you tried socca before? If not, what’s your favorite gluten-free dish? If so, isn’t it GREAT? How do you like to make it?

Gluten-Free-Wednesdays-Thumbnail

Because I’ve always kinda wanted to have something suited to the purpose, I’ve linked up this post in the Gluten-Free Homemaker‘s Gluten-Free Wednesdays carnival….

…and Vegetarian Mamma‘s Gluten-Free Fridays.

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