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A Few of My Favorite Meals

Our house was rocked by a wicked stomach bug this weekend so there was no cooking and very little eating here unless you count ginger ale, oranges and saltines. But during my three days on the couch near the Christmas tree (when you live in a small apartment you have to mark your territory early), I was lucky enough to catch a couple of episodes of “The French Chef” with Julia Child on one of the local public television stations.

She was making Bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise – a Mediterranean fish chowder. Despite my queasy stomach, I was mesmerized by Julia as she cleaned, scaled and discarded the gills of rockfish, haddock, shellfish and, yes a giant eel. This woman was an adventurous cook. My husband calls me an adventurous cook, which is very amusing since I could barely watch Julia dissect fish – let alone attempt it myself. I don’t cook much seafood aside from salmon and tilapia on occasion and we don’t eat meat. What he really means is that I try to mix things up and will try out any combination or tweak any recipe just to see what the results are. Hardly adventurous, but I appreciate his point.

While I do like variety in my cooking, sometimes I just want boring and reliable. That is when I call in my “no-fail” dishes that always seem to please. In my mom’s case, she relied on three primary meals – fake crabmeat with her special cream sauce made from Knorrs Vegetable Soup Mix, chicken and rice with Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup and spaghetti with Ragu (sometimes with ground beef).

Last week, my husband feverishly called me from Trader Joe’s desperate to know what ingredients I needed to make the Black Bean Tacos dish from last month.  Apparently, I was going to make it again that night for dinner. As such, I think this dish has earned its rank among my favorite simple, reliable weeknight meals.

BBQ Jerk Seitan: Ryan and I had first had this at my friend Kate’s house. Her fiancé served it over corn salad. The recipe is from one of Philly’s best vegetarian restaurants – Horizons. I’ve made this dish at least a dozen times. The jerk mixture is a perfect complement to the tender seitan, which nicely holds its own against chicken or pork in this version. I like it over corn salad in the summer or over polenta or rice in the colder months. Here is the recipe for the sauce, which is also found in the Horizons Cookbook.

      BBQ Sauce

  • 1/4 cup ketchup
  • 1 teaspoon molasses
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 1/4 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon ginger juice (grate fresh ginger and squeeze)
  • 2 teaspoon jerk or Cajun spice   

Frittata and Salad: We know I love a good frittata and eggs and potatoes are two key staples in our house. My favorite frittata from the past year was a basil, onion, swiss cheese and red potato version that Ryan and I devoured one night after work. Serve with a nice salad and a baguette and you’ve got a well-balanced dinner in less than 45 minutes.

Pasta Fagioli: My grandmother made the best pasta fagioli and my aunt has taken over that tradition quite nicely. There is nothing better than being sent home with a huge container of your own to enjoy.

This recipe is borrowed from CHOW. My grandmother’s recipe is a bit simpler, but this one has the makings of a great contender. Since I prefer mine on the thick side, I’d reduce the liquid consistency by 1/3, but you really can’t go wrong with either method.


  • 1 cup dried tubettini pasta (you can substitute ditalini, conchigliette, or small maccheroni)
  • 2 cups cooked small white beans such as cannellini
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 10 small fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
  • Leaves from 2 fresh rosemary sprigs, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 4 cups reserved bean-cooking liquid
  • 2 ounces Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
  • Olive oil, for drizzling


  1. Fill a medium saucepan with heavily salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add pasta and boil until partially cooked, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside. Combine 1/2 cup of the cooked beans and the water in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Set aside.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. When oil shimmers, add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in garlic, sage, and rosemary, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Stir in tomato paste and cook until it caramelizes and melts in with other ingredients, about 2 minutes.
  3. Thin tomato-paste mixture with bean-cooking liquid, add remaining 1 1/2 cups beans, and let simmer for 10 minutes. Add pasta and bean purée to soup, and simmer until pasta is al dente, about 5 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper if necessary, sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil, and serve.
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