We’re more than halfway through January – a little late for resolutions – but I’ve been thinking that I need to start cooking more at home. In my former life as a communications consultant, I would spend most of my “mental breaks” sitting at my desk reading about food (and as all my coworkers knew, I took a lot of those breaks). I never had a problem coming up with ideas for dinner that night and would head into the kitchen to take stock of the pantry as soon as I got home. I went out a good deal, too, but I was cooking dinner at least three times a week.
Now when I get home from the restaurant, I tend to want to sit down. And once I sit down, standing in the kitchen and waiting for inspiration to strike seems rather unappealing. I’ve been standing and thinking about food for about 10 hours already and I’m not really into it.
I’ve never been great with planning meals for the week (real talk: my food shopping strategy is grabbing whatever looks good) and I generally like coming up with a meal based on what I have on hand. So, I’m going to need to shop smarter to ensure I can have some components of meals prepped for the week in addition to making sure I have a well-stocked vegetable drawer.
As part of getting the new Japanese milk bread (pictured above) on the menu last week, we had to work out a recipe for the whipped honey and benne seed butter that would accompany it. I was tasting butter all day on Monday. Tiny spoonful after tiny spoonful. All. Day. After that, I was ready to EAT ALL THE VEGETABLES.
I’m having three very January cravings right now: brothy soups, hearty salads, and avocado toast. The last one is the easiest since I really only need to remember to get bread and avocados. Here’s some of my inspiration for dinners this week:
- This spicy sweet potato burrito bowl is just a bed of lettuce away from meeting all my requirements.
- This lemon and chicken soup adds brightening lemon to a quick and hearty bean, chicken, and pasta soup.
- This carrot, avocado, and orange salad from April Bloomfield has been on my “to cook” list for a while and is perfect for taking advantage of winter citrus.
- This classic Italian lentil soup looks like a great made-ahead option.
- This carrot-and-chickpea salad with fried almonds is making me rethink my reliance on bags of greens from the grocery store.
- This 30-minute chicken posole could be my ideal way to get my Mexican fix in cold weather.
I make a lot of bread at work. It started off slowly, when I’d help another cook with the 160 mini-loaves of challah that needed to be ready to go to every table for dinner service. Then, I started making brioche once a week – it’s then frozen and used a few loaves at a time – for a French toast dessert. Before long, I took over challah production, and garlic knots to accompany eggplant parmesan were added to my daily responsibilities. This week, the challah was replaced by Japanese milk bread for bread service. I’d worked on the recipe a few months ago, as one of my first at-work bread experiments. There are still some small changes to work out, but the few days of full-scale production have gone well.
I see lots of bread in my future and I’m not at all sorry about it.
Usually, there’s a little extra dough left over after I weigh out all the portions to be made into standard-size loaves. Most of the time, it ends up in the trash. But sometimes, I’ll make it into a little something special to snack on in the prep kitchen. This full-sized loaf is inspired by those tiny, tasty experiments. But while folding, stuffing, or twisting in whatever looks good from the dry-goods shelf (e.g., white or dark chocolate chunks, peanuts, brown sugar) is almost always delicious, it usually isn’t very attractive. So I turned to America’s Test Kitchen for the best cinnamon-sugar filling for this challah. The secret is using powdered sugar instead of granulated so the filling stays put in the swirl, rather than pooling and weighing down the loaf.
The cinnamon filling gets rolled, cinnamon bun-style, into the three pieces of dough, which are then braided. I wasn’t about to tackle a complicated six-string braid on this one. The dough is incredibly easy to handle, so don’t be intimidated by all the rolling and shaping. You don’t even need to flour the counter when rolling it out. The dough recipe is entirely in weight measurements and they’ve never failed me. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, it’s a fantastic investment. I’ve never tried to convert this recipe to volume measurements, though I’m sure you could get approximations online if you were so inclined.
This challah is delicious right out of the oven and makes really excellent toast. Or French toast. Or bread pudding. If only someone could convince me that bread was the staple of a healthy diet, I swear I’d eat it for three meals a day.