Happy New Year! I hope you will eat well in 2022. Perhaps this post can provide some inspiration for that. The three questions I get asked the most regarding cooking are:
- How can you eat all that food and not get fat? (Answer: it is not about what you eat, but how much.)
- Why don’t you open a restaurant? (Answer: because I would have to cook the same dishes over and over, and it is very difficult to make money with a restaurant.)
- Do you always put a lot of effort into the meals you prepare?
This post is an attempt to answer the third question. Because it is a matter of perspective what you consider as “a lot of effort”. For the last two months, I have taken notes of what we had eaten for dinner when it was just the two of us (so no dinner parties or other special occasions, and I did not include any dinners outside of our house). I ended up with a list of 39 home-cooked meals (some of them consisting of multiple dishes). The photos you see in this article are the original photos of when I first blogged about the dish.
All of these meals were prepared in 15-30 minutes, although some of them required preparations beforehand that I did (usually ‘in bulk’) in weekends. When I am done working, I go to the kitchen (as we are working from home, so the commute from my workplace to my kitchen is very short) and 15-30 minutes later dinner will be ready! The list of meals is representative of how we eat on a daily basis, although taking notes did help to prevent repetition of the same dish and prompted me to prepare some dishes that I had not prepared for a while. But these are all dishes that are on my repertoire of ‘daily cooking’ and we eat on a regular basis.
Orecchiette with mussels and broccoli. This is a simple but healthy and delicious pasta dish that we eat regularly. The combination of mussels and broccoli works very well, and the ‘juice’ that is left from cooking the mussels makes a very tasty sauce. This photo is from a blog post of 2012, and I still prepare it pretty much the same way (although I cook the broccoli a bit less than shown in the photo).
Gnocchetti sardi with sausage and fennel is one of our favorite pasta dishes, that I prepare on a regular basis. The flavors of the fennel, fennel seed, sausage, and pecorino cheese blend into one fantastic flavor. I make the Italian pork sausage (salssicia) in bulk and freeze it.
Pork shoulder sous vide with chipotles and mushrooms is a variation on a Mexican dish of chicken with mushrooms, chipotles, and cream. We actually had it with wheat tortillas instead of rice as shown on the photo. I prepare a large batch of homemade chipotle in adobo and freeze it. I buy a whole pork neck/shoulder roast and cook it sous vide in portions, some portions with chopped chipotle in adobo, and freeze it. This way, I can put this dish on the table in less than 10 minutes (when I put the frozen sous vide cooked pork in the sous vide to defrost and reheat 1-2 hours before dinner time).
We had this miso-cured salmon, cooked sous vide, with fried rice, and stir-fried bok choy. I make the cure in the weekend (which only takes 5 minutes) and then allow the salmon to cure in the refrigerator for 2 days before cooking it sous vide.
Pasta alla Norma is a dish from Sicily with eggplant in a tomato sauce with sheep’s cheese (ricotta salata). This photo is from the early days of my blog and the dish deserves a better photo. I still prepare it the same, although now I use actual ricotta salata, which I have always in my refrigerator (vacuum sealed it keeps for a very long time).
Since the pasta alla Norma does not contain enough protein to constitute a complete meal, we had it as a primo piatto and was followed by a sole meunière as secondo piatto. This just takes a couple of minutes to fry.
The next day we had a dish that is actually not on the blog yet and that should be remedied because it is very good even though it is not an authentic Italian dish: orecchiette with slow-roasted cauliflower and sous vide pulled beef. The closest dish on the blog is pasta with roasted cauliflower and fat from beef stock. I make cook the beef sous vide in a large batch and freeze it in single portions. I reheat it, pull it, and then mix the pulled beef with the juices from the sous vide bag.
Veal cheek with mashed potatoes and runner beans can be served quickly because I prepare the veal cheeks in bulk and freeze them. This is one of the rare occasions that we eat “meat, potatoes, and vegetables”, as used to be the standard in the Netherlands (and in many households still is).
Kimchi stew has great depth of flavor because it is spicy, savory, sweet, and sour. I make homemade kimchi in a large batch, and then prepare this stew in a large batch and freeze it in portions. To serve, I only have to cook some rice and defrost and reheat the stew sous vide, so this is a perfect meal if I don’t have time or don’t feel like doing a lot of cooking (which does not happen very often).
When we have cauliflower, it is usually slow-roasted cauliflower. As I am working from home due to the pandemic, I can now prepare this on weekdays. It takes 2 hours to roast the cauliflower, so I take a short break from working around 5pm to put the cauliflower in the oven, so we can have dinner around 7:30pm. This pasta is one of the many ways of serving the slow-roasted cauliflower. Because this doesn’t contain enough protein to constitute a full meal, we had it as a primo piatto, and it was followed by a ribeye steak as secondo piatto.
Texas chill sous vide is another dish that I prepare in bulk and then freeze in single portions. It can be served with rice or tortillas, and even with beans (although that is not Texan).
For this Thai red fish curry with squash, I often use homemade Thai red curry paste from the freezer. That way, it is ready in half an hour. Making the red curry paste fresh would add an additional 15 minutes or so, but most of the effort is in the shopping, because local shops do not carry all the required ingredients.
Spaghetti alle vongole is one of our favorite dishes. This pasta with clams has great depth of flavor because of the juices that the clams will release when you cook them. Apart from the time needed to allow the clams to purge themselves, it only takes as long as it takes to cook the spaghetti.
To add vegetables to the meal, we had a witlof salad with walnuts and mandarins after the spaghetti alle vongole.
Thai eggplant and chicken stir fry with Nam Prik Pao and basil is a recent addition to my repertoire and an instant favorite. I keep a jar with homemade Nam Phrik Phao in the refrigerator to be able to make this quickly. Unfortunately I have to drive to Amsterdam to buy Thai basil, otherwise we would have this even more often.
This pasta with chicken, green beans and pesto is not a traditional Italian dish, but it is delicious and I have been preparing it for about 25 years now. This was actually the first recipe that I ever published online, on my homepage in 1998! (That is the time when ‘homepages’ still existed.) Back then I used pesto from a jar, but for a long time I have been using homemade pesto as it is so much better and only takes 5 minutes to prepare (using a blender).
Char Siu is pork that is marinated in a sweet spicy red sauce and then barbecued. In my sous vide version I use pork shoulder/neck, and it can also be finished under the broiler. I make a large batch, freeze it in portions, and then defrost a portion in the refrigerator. Broiling the defrosted meat will not only sear the outside, but also heat up the inside. I make a sauce from the juices in the bag. Unlike what you see on the photo, I served it with:
Fusilli pasta with spinach and ricotta is very tasty and fusilli are the ideal pasta shape to ‘absorb’ the spinach.
Saltimbocca are very quick to prepare, as the thin slices of veal are cooked in just minutes. We had them as secondo piatto after the primo piatto of fusilli with ricotta and spinach.
I make fish tacos on a regular basis in many variations. Lately, I’ve been serving them with toasted wheat tortillas.
Spaghetti cacio e pepe is one of those Italian dishes that demonstrate that you can make a delicious dish with very ingredients. In this case: spaghetti, pecorino cheese, freshly ground black pepper, and salt. The ‘secret’ ingredient is the cooking water of the spaghetti, that turns the cheese into a delicious sauce.
This was actually the first time I prepared braised blade of beef with peperonata and salsa verde, but I am certain this will become a regular dish on our menu. I already have 6 more portions of the braised beef in my freezer, waiting for more peperonata and salsa verde. Peperonata is an old favorite that has been on my blog since 2012.
Beef rendang is the national dish of Indonesia. It takes a long time to prepare, but I make a large batch sous vide and freeze it in single portions. This allows me to serve this in the time I need to cook the green beans and rice that go with it, because the rendang itself only needs to be defrosted and reheated sous vide.
Pasta with roasted celeriac is a dish I prepare very often in winter, because celeriac is one of the few local vegetables that is available in winter.
We had the pasta with celeriac as primo piatto, followed by sea bass cooked sous vide for 10 minutes and then pan fried on the skin side only for a crispy skin as secondo piatto. Another perk of working from home is that I can take a short break from work to get fresh sea bass from the fishmonger, which closes at 5pm.
Compared to 10 years ago, there is a lot more Asian and Mexican food on our menu. A good example is this Ground Beef and XO Fried Rice, that I served with stir fried bok choy.
Spiralized Zucchini (also known as zoodles) are well known as a substitute for actual pasta, but I actually mix them with actual pasta and add ‘deconstructed pesto’ for a very tasty dish of tagliatelle (or spaghetti as in the photo) with spiralized zucchini, basil, toasted pine nuts, and parmigiano. This was our primo piatto, followed by:
Lamb neck fillet sous vide. This is one of the tastiest cuts of lamb, because it is well marbled and has a lot of connective tissue. I cook it sous vide in a large batch, and then freeze it in single portions that can be reheated and seared quickly.
Another long time favorite is Spaghetti alla Carbonara. The real thing, with egg and without cream (which is how you can tell a fake Italian restaurant). We had it as primo piatto, with as secondo piatto:
Cod alla palermitana. To my surprise that dish is not yet on the blog (so I will blog about it soon), so the photo shows swordfish alla palermitana.
Risotto takes a bit more work, so I usually make it on Fridays or Sundays when I have a bit more time for cooking. Risotto ai funghi is one of our favorites. We had it as a primo piatto, followed by some pan fried left-over Zander (from making this elaborate dish for a dinner party the day before) and slow-roasted cauliflower.
Kung Pao chicken is a full meal when served with stir fried bell peppers and rice.
Pasta with broccoli, anchovies, garlic, and peperoncino is often on the menu as primo piatto.
In this case, it was followed by some simple pan fried salmon as secondo piatto.
Another Asian favorite is duck with hoisin sauce, like in these lettuce wraps with duck.
Spaghetti with sous vide leeks and pancetta can be prepared quickly by precooking and freezing the leeks, because cooking the leeks sous vide takes 2 hours. I make homemade pancetta every winter and keep it in single portions in the freezer.
Another favorite is pasta ai frutti di mare, where the ‘sauce’ is made from the heads and shells of the shrimp and the liquid released by the shells.
A typical Dutch dish is endive with potatoes and bacon bits. I’ve turned this into an Italian dish by substituting orecchiette pasta for the potatoes and pancetta for the bacon, to end up with orecchiette with endive and pancetta. This is a summer favorite, but can be made as long as fresh endive is available.
The simplest Italian dishes are the best, like spaghetti with tomato sauce. In summer I prepare spaghetti al pomodoro with fresh tomatoes; in winter with canned tomatoes.
After the spaghetti al pomodoro as primo piatto, we had some duck breast sous vide as secondo piatto.
One of my favorite dishes from Taiwan is 3 cup chicken, which is called this way because the sauce has equal parts of three ingredients (sesame oil, soy sauce, and rice wine). The main ingredient is however Thai basil. We had it with fried rice and stir fried cabbage.
This dish is a bit of fusion between Italian and French cuisine: pasta with lamb, eggplant, zucchini, bell peppers, and a red wine sauce. I’ve been making this dish for a long time. I used to make it with lamb fillet before I cooked sous vide, but now I use leg of lamb steaks cooked sous vide, which I cook in batches and store in the freezer.
Carnitas can be prepared quickly by using store-bought wheat tortillas and precooking the pork with spices sous vide in batches, and then freezing in single portions.
Spaghetti all’Amatriciana is another famous, simple and delicious spaghetti dish from Rome, next to Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe. I prepare it with my homemade pancetta, because guanciale is difficult to come by in the Netherlands (although I have made homemade guanciale). We had this as primo piatto, followed by:
A simple chicken leg, cooked sous vide and then broiled to crisp up the skin. I often buy whole chickens and then use the breast and legs to make dishes, and use the carcass for home made chicken stock. I use the stock for risotto, or freeze it to use it later.
I prepare large batches of ragù alla bolognese sous vide and freeze it in single portions, so I can quickly whip up tagliatelle alla bolognese. By using a stand mixer with pasta attachment, I sometimes even make fresh tagliatelle on a weekday, but this is also great with store-bought tagliatelle.
I’ve included this rice with chicken and broccoli in this list of dishes because I do eat it often. Not for dinner, but as post-workout lunch.
And this concludes the list of dishes I cook on a regular basis. I hope it will provide some inspiration and leave it up to you to decide whether it is worth the effort for you. For me it is certainly worth the effort to eat nutritious and delicious food every day.
- I’ve used sous vide to prepare 49% of the meals
- 72% meat / 28% seafood
- 59% Italian, 28% Asian, 13% Mexican
Note: these statistics are per meal, not per dish. So if we had a vegetarian primo piatto followed by a secondo piatto of sous vide cooked meat, then I counted this as 1 sous vide and 1 meat.
Compared to 10 years ago, I prepare a lot more Asian and Mexican food; back then it was mostly Italian, compared to ‘only’ 59% now. I do prepare Dutch food once in a while, but not during this sample period.