It’s official. We’re a year into this pandemic and I’ve lost my cooking mojo. Maybe it’s the lack of inspiration (travel is the best medicine for cooking inspiration, I’ve found!) or perhaps it’s that I’d been using this time to go a bit more over the top with my meals than usual, bringing out crystal and china for grilled cheese sandwiches made with something special from the cheesemonger. Whatever is it, these days, I’m more likely to dip a Triscuit into a tub of cottage cheese while standing in my kitchen scrolling through Instagram than I am to set out to cook a specific recipe.
Yet when I sat down to write this essay, I realized this low point in my culinary pursuits could actually be viewed as “aspirational,” in the most realistic way possible. From time to time, we all get sick of cooking meals day in and day out. So what do we do when there is just no energy to put something on the table? For me, it all comes back to maintaining the ritual of making a meal without the mess of making it a fuss.
Today I’m sharing four of the meals I made in February, from delectable, savory meatballs to an easy grain salad that makes a week’s worth of leftovers.
Swedish Turkey Meatballs
One of my favorite dishes my mom made me when I was growing up was Swedish meatballs. It was a special occasion when we had them, and they’re not usually a quick and easy thing to put on the table. But when I read Julia Turshen’s version of the comfort food classic, I was hit with nostalgia and the realization it didn’t need to be something reserved only for special occasions. I love how this recipe strips my favorite flavors down to only what’s necessary and is easy to prepare when you need a bit of home-cooked love and care.
This recipe, featured in Julia’s newest cookbook, SIMPLY JULIA, is reprinted below with permission from the publisher. I’d also encourage you to order the cookbook for yourself! It’s full of simple, comforting meals I know I’m going to be turning to for years to come.
Makes 20 meatballs (serves 4 with rice or noodles and a vegetable, or 2 with just a salad or a vegetable)
1 pound [453 g] ground turkey (preferably dark meat, but white meat works, too)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup [35 g] dried breadcrumbs (preferably panko)
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 cup [240 ml] chicken stock (homemade, store-bought, or bouillon paste dissolved in boiling water)
1 cup [227 g] sour cream, preferably at room temperature
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 large handful fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped (optional, but if you use it, a little stem is fine)
Place the turkey, egg, breadcrumbs, allspice, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a large bowl and mix together well with your hands.
Form the mixture into 20 equal-sized meatballs. It’s helpful to divide the mixture in half and then in half again and so on to make sure the meatballs are the same size. Wetting your hands with cold water will help keep the mixture from sticking to them. You can also make the meatballs a little smaller or a little larger—just keep them all about the same size so that they cook evenly.
Place the stock, sour cream, and Worcestershire sauce in a medium bowl and whisk well to combine.
Transfer the mixture to a large nonstick skillet over high heat (if you have a non-metal whisk, you can just whisk the mixture in the skillet). The second the mixture comes to a boil, turn the heat to low and add the meatballs in an even layer.
Simmer the meatballs uncovered, using tongs
to turn them every so often to make sure they cook evenly, until the meatballs are very firm to the touch and cooked through (break into one to check it), about 20 minutes.
Sprinkle the meatballs with the parsley (if using). Serve hot, making sure everyone gets plenty of sauce with their serving.
Brothy Beans and Farro with Eggs and Mushrooms
There are plenty of great recipes out there for brothy beans and I particularly love this recipe by Andy Baraghani. The best part about it is you can use what you have on hand to add flavor to the beans—aromatics like a fennel bulb that is about to go bad, an extra clove of garlic, ginger, etc. Baraghani’s recipe elevates the humble bean with delicious toppings like seared mushrooms, egg yolks, and chili oil. But remember, it’s the beans and the broth that are the real stars. I think eating them with toast or a salad could also make for a really lovely and satisfying combination.
Greek-ish Grain Salad (or any kind of grain salad you prefer!)
Depending on what I have on hand, I can make a huge batch of any kind of grain salad and feast on the leftovers all week. To mix it up, I’ll add different toppings like hot sauce, a soft boiled egg, chopped chicken—whatever I fancy. If you are someone who needs to follow a recipe, one of my favorites is this Greek-ish Grain Salad from Carla Lalli Music, author of Where Cooking Begins. I almost always have these ingredients on hand. If you are looking for an easier way to keep up this habit of making a big grain salad each week, try learning to make one without a recipe. Here is a great guide for learning this skill!
These no-recipe recipes are so delicious, combining the perfect amount of salt, acid, heat, and fat to each bite, proving a great tasting meal doesn’t have to be complicated. My favorite way to eat open-faced sammies lately has been to use leftover tuna salad topped with a really lovely cheese that melts well (hello, Wood River Creamery!) atop the end of a loaf of bread that would otherwise sit untouched by anyone else in my family.
BY Kate Arends - February 25, 2021
Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.