Dear Claire, I’m a busy career gal with not a whole lot of time to cook, which means I often buy lunch. But I just moved and my budget won’t allow me to make these purchases anymore. Do you have some tips on making great meals on a budget that are good as leftovers too?
A: Your budget will love you for making your own lunch! Okay, a few tips: stay away from pasta – it’s usually pretty terrible the next day. With almost everything else, just cook double. This works especially well with proteins: if you’re roasting a chicken breast, or marinating a tofu steak, go ahead and and make two portions. The first becomes dinner and the second becomes two sandwiches or salads – your lunch will be already made for the next two days.
Another fun way to attack the lunch problem is to make a big batch of hearty soup (like this lentil kale recipe or try this Madras chicken soup, pictured) and freeze it in portable single-serving portions. The trick is not to eat it every day for a week but to intersperse with salad or a sandwich so you don’t get tired of the soup.
If you find yourself completely desperate, try this trick: In the morning, take five minutes (really, that’s all it takes) to make a quick omelette. Add whatever’s on hand like cheese or pesto, then fold it up and toss it in a plastic tub. Grab a slice of bread to toss in the toaster at work and there you go – cheap and easy breakfast for lunch!
Dear Claire, What vegetables have the best fridge life? I tend to overbuy produce. I do it because I don’t want to constantly go shopping but at the same time, they keep going to waste because I’m not using them fast enough.
A: There is nothing worse than having to throw out rotten produce from the bottom of the crisper. The trick is only to buy enough for one week – most veggies, properly stored, will last at least that long. Use up tender vegetables like lettuce, peppers and spinach early in the week, and save kale, squash and beets for later in the week. I almost always have a bag of carrots, a head of celery and a bag of onions in the house, and they last forever – even if they start to wilt, they’re still good for stocks, soups and risotto (like for a vegetarian risotto or a maple-carrot soup). I find that most vegetables keep best refrigerated in plastic bags that are left open so the produce is protected, but can still breathe.
And don’t forget about frozen veggies! They are packed at their peak ripeness, so are often better tasting than fresh produce that’s been sitting on grocery shelves for a few days. So stock the freezer with a bag of frozen peas, corn, spinach or edamame (try this edamame saute or this delicious creamed spinach and corn recipe!). Steam, then toss with herbs and a bit of butter.
Remember that tomatoes should never go into the fridge (it makes them tasteless and mushy), and don’t wash anything until you’re ready to cook with it – washing makes veg spoil much more quickly.
Dear Claire, When hosting a meal for a group of people, what is your take on plating the food for each person in the kitchen versus putting all the food on the table for people to help themselves and pass around? Is the latter only suitable for casual occasions?
A: It really depends. For the most part, I prefer to serve everything “family style” on big beautiful platters. It’s less stressful and everyone can choose what and how much they want. If your dining table isn’t big enough to accommodate platters, set them up on the sideboard or even on the kitchen counter.
Plated meals do have more of a formal sensibility – but they have their place. I recently hosted 17 people for dinner (crazy, I know), and in my tiny home there was no way everyone would be able to file through my kitchen, serve themselves and then make it back to the table. So instead, we plated all 17 while two of our guests ferried plates to the table. It worked really well. Just be sure not to make portion sizes too huge and to warm the plates first in the oven.
If you have a question for Claire, please leave it in the comment space below or you can email her at: firstname.lastname@example.org