My husband and I established our evening routine of cooking together very early on, when we first moved in together back in 2001. We were barely out of college and interestingly, though we had already been together a long time, outside of our relationship we had very separate lives — career-wise and socially — so our time together on weeknights had a kind of self-conscious “coupled up” vibe: there was a little thrill in the otherwise mundane. Planning meals together, and then preparing them for ourselves and for company, cemented the grown-up status our shared lease seemed to have earned us.
Because we were young and living in the north-waterfront edge of San Francisco, we did our food shopping at Marina Safeway on Sundays — which was (is?), categorically, the worst time and place to do grocery shopping, possibly anywhere. Packed to the gills with all kinds of hungover-but-still-beautiful single people preening aimlessly through the aisles, checkout lines extending for hours, it was like a badly-lit footnote to the beer-soaked night before. The whole scene would invariably send my husband into an “Oh my God I hate this place get me out of here” downward spiral, and we would laugh and hurry through the list, always forgetting something and, on at least one occasion, accidentally shoplifting a sheet pan or a parcel of paper towels we’d stashed under the cart in our haste.
But back in our fourth-floor walk-up, the cooking was always fun. The Giants played on the TV we perched on top of the fridge as my husband grilled on a tiny hibachi stashed on the fire escape. We read cookbooks, and experimented and self-taught. We shared bottles of wine at the kitchen table we placed in the enormous picture window over the eastern slope of Russian Hill, and dreamed about the life we were building together.
But all this nostalgia aside, what I really remember from those nights is all the damn salmon. In our defense, we hadn’t yet discovered things like chicken thighs or pork cutlets or eggs-for-dinner or (heaven forbid) meals not involving animal protein.
We just ate a boatload of salmon.
Salmon was healthy! Salmon was fancy! Perhaps most importantly, salmon wasn’t boneless-skinless chicken breast, which was single-girl food. Salmon was for grown-ups. Yay for salmon!
Sometime around 2006 I decided I would start crying if we cooked another meal of salmon-and-salad and stopped buying it almost completely (except for the kids). But lately I kind of miss it. It kind of sounds good, the way a boneless-skinless chicken breast kind of sounds good. The way something totally simple and boring and overplayed sometimes sounds perfect. Maybe things are just too hectic. Maybe I’ve eaten one too many garbanzo beans.
So let’s kick off this Recipe Roundup by loving on salmon again, shall we?
Salmon Sunday: As far as my children are concerned, there is one way to cook salmon, and that is on the stovetop, in a very hot pan with olive or coconut oil and salt, so that it gets very crispy on the outside.
For grown-ups, I also really like this baked salsa verde version. (The recipe is from Donna Hay’s New Food Fast but this guy nails it on his blog because her cooking times are whackadoodle. So heed his warning.) Bonus if you have extra herbs lying around because you can honestly just use this recipe as a jumping off point (see here for other extra-herb thoughts). Keep the capers and anchovies, though. They really give it the extra umami (ooh, how pretentious that sounds). Serve with roasted tomatoes on the vine if you want to look impressive (say, if you use words like umami in a sentence, or if you happen to be 23 and hosting a dinner party for your parents).
Photo: John Storey, borrowed from SFGate.com
Monday: I saw the roasted veggie platter featured here in a restaurant review in the Chronicle last week and was all, YES: VEGGIE PLATTER. But then my husband pointed out that it is, simply, a plate of vegetables on a piece of wood, and might benefit from something…else. So I’m making a side of quinoa & lentils (aka kosheri) and a tahini-yogurt dip (tahini, lemon, yogurt, water, salt) to round it out.
Tuesday: Tuesday schedules are rough with the dance and the soccer and the homework club and the overtired kids-on-a-Tuesday-who-want-pizza (and the mom-wine-party that is the hour when the kids are in dance, if I’m being honest). Best to keep the grown-up dinner simple: a beet salad with smoked salmon and apple-cider vinaigrette.
Do this: buy pre-roasted beets, and one of those filets of smoked salmon at Trader Joe’s. Then about a half hour before you want to eat, toss a drained can of cannelini beans with about four chopped-up shallots and olive oil, and roast at 400 degrees for a half hour. Throw everything together at the end with greens and this dressing. Feel virtuous (in spite of the wine).
Wednesday: Oh, bok choi. How you confound me. I’d like to give you a chance but you never taste as delicious as I wish you would. That said, I would like to try this recipe with fish sauce (any excuse to use up my massive bottle of fish sauce…). And then I’m going to bake some petrale sole in parchment with lime, top it all with chili oil, and call it a meal.
Thursday: Tacos are my favorite…I make them at least once a week…and it’s squash season…and I have a late-season tomato I can turn into homemade salsa…So yes. Harvest veggie tacos. Specifically, the ones below. They are so good and they just feel like fall when you make them.
In closing: Long before Instagram was A Thing and people all over the land starting photo-documenting their meals, one of us took this terrible, blurry photo. It is titled “Anniversary Apps1” (literally, we named it, we are such nerds) and was snapped in our London apartment on our third wedding anniversary in 2005. We had lamb for dinner that night, prepared in the world’s tiniest kitchen. It thrills me that I found it on my computer just now: proof that, in spite of all that has changed (for the better, but for the more), we still like to celebrate together the same way.
Also: I am drinking out of one of those glasses as I type (the water ones…the wine ones broke many moons ago).
All the wonderful, in-focus photos in this piece were taken by professional photographers:
John Storey as credited, and the rest by Lauren Hemmingsen, at the San Francisco Ferry Building.
Roasted Winter Squash Tacos with Garlicky Black Beans & Greens
Adapted from the San Francisco Chronicle, 2011
Note: Delicata or butternut squash are best for this recipe. I use any greens I have — spinach, kale, chard.
For the beans:
2 tablespoons bacon drippings or olive oil
1 medium onion, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
One 14-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
Salt & pepper
For the vegetables:
1 medium hard-shelled squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch rings or 1-inch chunks (Pro tip: you don’t need to peel delicata squash. And most grocery stores now sell peeled and diced butternut squash, for convenience.)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 jalapeno pepper, half the seeds removed, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 cups loosely packed sturdy greens
Fresh corn tortillas, warmed for serving
Garnishes: avocado, sour cream, queso fresco, cilantro, salsa
- Make your beans: Heat the bacon drippings or olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the onion, lower heat slightly, and cook, stirring, until caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add the minced garlic; cook, stirring, until fragrant and beginning to soften – about 3 minutes. Stir in the beans, then mash slightly with the back of a fork. Season with salt and pepper.
- Make your squash: Preheat the oven to 450°. Toss the squash with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the cinnamon and a few generous pinches of salt and grinds of pepper. Spread on a sheet tray in a single layer and roast until crisp on the outside and tender inside, about 20 minutes, turning once.
- Make your greens: Heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the jalapeno and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft. Add the 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves and cook until fragrant but not brown. Add the greens in batches and cook until wilted.
- Assemble & serve: Spoon the squash into warm tortillas, then top with desired accompaniments. Serve with the beans and greens on the side.