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the gift of dinner

Move over tuna noodle casserole: Market-fresh finds mean giving the gift of dinner is easy, cheap and stress-free.

Dinner is a very personal affair. Cooking dinner for others, though simple enough in theory, is a minefield of culinary and customary peril. There is nothing worse than serving up the result of your hard labor and personal creativity only to see forced smiles and veiled excuses. Food allergies, plus the myriad selective diets out there, also mean that you’d better know your neighbors well before you presume to cook for them. In fact, the days of bringing over a casserole to the new neighbors, a cake for the new baby, or soup for the sick are all but gone.

But they don’t have to be. One can be the gracious neighbor and the ever-appropriate domestic goddess all at the same time by embracing some simple principles of our modern foodie movement: simple, local, and seasonal.

Go to the market, see what looks good, and give it a simple preparation. Market fresh meals are special because they embody what’s good right now. Like a limited-time offer, the enthusiasm of sharing the best, most beautiful produce is a kind gesture even before the cooking starts. Furthermore, market-fresh meals are cheaper and simpler to prepare than their layered, laden counterparts.

A final note about packaging: As a society, I have to believe that we have moved beyond Tupperware. Neighbors are not afraid to drop off a dish after washing it. It is certainly not a big enough hassle to warrant wasting plastic or foil. Let’s revert back to the times when we borrowed, shared, and lived together.

Roasted Kitchen Sink Soup
What you’ll need:
Salt, pepper, cayenne, olive oil, a good market, a mason jar

  1. Go to farmer’s market, coop, farm, or grocer and pick some roastin’ veggies in the green and gold color families: squashes, onions, fennel, turnips, garlic, etc.
  2. Buy what looks good (3 parts gold and 1 part green), leave what doesn’t.
  3. Skin and chop veggies to roughly uniform size and toss in olive oil.
  4. Liberally cover with salt, pepper and fresh herbs (thyme is my fav!) and spread thinly on a baking sheet or roasting dish.
  5. Roast at about 450 degrees for approximately 25 minutes covered with foil, then uncovered until everything is both soft and starting to crisp on the ends.
  6. Carefully transfer everything into a blender and spin to a puree.
  7. Add more fresh herbs and stock (chicken or veggie) to thin until you reach a hearty but smooth consistency.
  8. Mix in more salt and pepper to taste and a pinch or two of cayenne.
  9. Let cool and transfer to a mason jar.
  10. Tie a bow and give away the goodness!

Green Veggie Love Fest
What you’ll need:
Salt, pepper, pecans, a lemon for zesting, olive oil

  1. Go to farmer’s market, coop, farm, or grocer and pick some sturdy green veggies: brussels sprouts, asparagus, kale, or green beans.
  2. Buy only what looks good and leave what doesn’t.
  3. Steam veggies while toasting 1 cup of chopped pecans for every pound of veggies.
  4. Carefully transfer steamed veggies to a roasting pan and put in 375 degree oven uncovered for 10 minutes to crisp up edges and remove excess water.
  5. Drizzle veggies with olive oil and sprinkle pecans on top.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste and zest lemon over the top of the whole shebang.

Hearty, simple dishes like these keep for days, and take little slaving – over a hot stove or otherwise. The recipes may lack exact measurements and specific pan sizes, but they are meant to set you mind to work and to keep your head in the food when you shop, not in your recipe. Trust yourself. It’ll turn out great. And if it doesn’t on the first try, feed it to the kids.

Photo by Charley
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