A bit of weekend prep work goes a long way.
Keda Black has written the cookbook I wish I'd thought of. It's called Batch Cooking: Prep and cook your weeknight dinners in less than 2 hours, and it's a must-read for anyone who is looking for ways to cut down on cooking time while still getting delicious homemade meals on the table every night. (That's all of us, right?)
The concept is brilliant. There are 13 weeks in total, and each week has five menus based on the season, plus a single dessert. There's a beautifully photographed shopping list, followed by detailed instructions for prep work to be done on Sunday. This includes washing and chopping vegetables, making dressings and sauces, cooking soups, stews, or curries, etc. After no more than two hours of work, everything is transferred to containers in the fridge.As each weeknight rolls around, the prepared ingredients are combined with others to create a meal – a process that isn't supposed to exceed 15 minutes. There is clever overlap of ingredients, such as a beef stew that is served with potatoes on a Monday, then mixed with sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and parsley to create a sauce for tagliatelle on Wednesday. Another week calls for cabbage to top a pizza with fennel and mozzarella, then uses it in split pea soup the next day. This is a helpful way to reduce food waste.
TreeHugger readers will appreciate how few meat-based recipes there are in the book. Several of the weeks are entirely vegetarian, and those with meat tend to use it sparingly and always offer vegetarian substitutions, e.g. zucchini fritters in place of meatballs or a vegetable tart instead of chicken kebabs.
I was interested to see Black's discussion of containers at the beginning of the book, when she mentions the problems associated with plastic. I haven't seen that in a cookbook before, but I suspect we'll see more of it now:
"Use glass rather than plastic where possible: glass lasts a lifetime and plastic may contain toxic chemicals that can be transferred to the food, especially when the food contains fat or is hot. If using plastic, choose classification types #2, #4 and #5, as these are normally non-toxic."
She recommends frugal solutions, such as storing food in mixing bowls and covering with a plate or homemade beeswax wraps, and reusing jam pots and other glassware. (More ideas here: How to store leftovers without plastic)
The recipes are good, basic, healthy, and filling, which is everything I ask for on a busy weeknight; and the food photography is lovely, especially when it depicts a full week's worth of colorful ingredients stacked in glass jars.
The only downside is that there are no full recipes printed anywhere in the book, so if you want to make a single recipe without doing the entire week of food prep, it's challenging to pick out exactly what you need. But then maybe you should be looking at a different cookbook! The whole point of this one is to change the way we cook to make it easier for families – and doesn't that sound like a dream come true?