Did you know that decision fatigue, that deterioration of your judgment that kicks in after you’ve made one too many choices, usually sets in by three or four p.m.? I don’t know about you, but I’ve still got at least three or four hours of parenting to put in and I have to get dinner on the table. I’ve tried meal-planning services (even an Ayurvedic one!) and so many books that claim to tell me exactly what to do to “cook once, eat all week.” None of them seemed to be what I was looking for. Either I wasn’t really into the food or everything gave me heartburn or I still had to figure out what to do for all those lunches, too. Plus, I missed my food! I just hated meal planning, though.
I finally got fed up and said, “You know what? My food’s better than this and a lot of it can be made ahead if I’m smart about it.” So, I tagged all of my “make-ahead” recipes in Evernote and I pull out around three at a time plus a soup and something to bake. That way, Louisa can help me make food (or I can make it during her nap) when I’m not completely worn out at the end of the day. I either finish cooking dinner or reheat it right before we sit down.
I’m going to start sharing a lot more of my make-ahead recipes, because you just might be in the same boat, whether or not you have kids. That late-afternoon period can be rough but I think we can get through it together. Try this recipe for Gardener’s Pie; it’s perfect for this time of year with all the zucchini and tomatoes just begging to be used. I love the crunchy, cheesy topping combined with the ooey gooey vegetables. I like to serve it with a baked sweet potato or a hunk of crusty bread. A simple cheese course is a nice (and easy) addition.
To make ahead, refrigerate topping separately. Then, put the filling in a two-quart (two-liter) baking dish, cover, and refrigerate. To bake, put uncovered dish with filling in oven, bring to 350˚, then top with topping and return to oven to bake for half an hour. If you’d like to only bake part of the recipe at one time, divide into smaller baking dishes. The filling can be frozen.
3 oz (85 g) breadcrumbs
2 oz (55 g) Cheddar, grated
1 oz (30 g) walnuts, chopped
1 oz (30 g) blanched almonds, chopped
3 tablespoons walnut oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 lbs zucchini (900 g courgettes), cut into 1/2″ (1 cm) slices
1 lb (450 g) tomatoes, chopped (with their juice) OR 15-oz can (400 g tin) chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste (purée in the UK)
4 basil leaves, chiffonade
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350˚ Fahrenheit (180˚ Celsius). Combine topping ingredients in a large mixing bowl and set aside.
Heat the walnut oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the onions and garlic and cook 5 minutes, turning heat down to avoid browning.
Stir in zucchini, tomatoes, tomato paste, and basil leaves. Bring to a boil and cook 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Pour filling into a 2-quart (2-liter) casserole. Sprinkle topping mixture over the vegetables and bake 30 minutes.
Serves 4 to 6
Adapted from Favourite Dorset Recipes.