Posted 31 August 2012 - 06:41 PM
Interesting responses all. So much is determined by our lifestyles, household size and occupation.
Working in the entertainment business I get home late (usually 7:30), I have to eat out several nights a week, I don't have children, and my partner travels constantly. So shopping for a week's meals is rarely an option.
I try to keep staples in the fridge and pantry so that shopping for a meal is relatively straightforward. I also insist on cooking, as per a New Year's resolution a few years ago, as many nights as possible - for reasons of health, economy and quality, in addition to keeping myself out of trouble.
I have staple dishes like everyone else, and try to save, refrigerate or freeze preparations that make my favorite dishes easy: homemade Thai curry pastes, real manteca, salt pork, rendered suet, Julia Child's dry spice marinade, frozen chicken lamb and pork stocks, various homemade Indian pastes and masalas, preserved lemons, etc. Good-quality anchovies, Danicoop san marzanos, fresh lemons, dried pasta, olive oil, cow ghee, and any whole spice known to man are always in the house. Fresh herbs on the terrace, though recently it's mainly been mint and hyssop due to laziness. We eat a lot of marinated pork chops, roast chicken per Marcella Hazan, spaghetti puttanesca, ground beef kheema with fried onions, fragrant chicken braised in yogurt and various other pastas with good tomatoes and some kind of sauce. We've just started venturing into Fucshia Dunlop's red-braised pork and dry-fried string beans, and I see a lot more Chinese in our future.
But my favorite thing to do is a more involved recipe, and that is almost always a traditional regional recipe rather than something modern or composed. Recently I've made a lot of dishes in my unglazed tagine, which automatically demands much more time due to the slow heating required. We cook all kinds of Indian regional dishes all the time, and for a while we were doing lots and lots of Thai. We're always working on better chilis, usually purist Texas red based on beef and homemade chili powders and pastes from whole dried chiles, and recently dried legumes of all sorts have been part of many nights' dishes, courtesy of rancho gordo and other sources.
If I have to start cooking at 7:30, my partner having started prep at 5:30 or 6, and we end up eating at 9 or 10, then that's fine. On weekends, we'll often end up shopping and cooking all afternoon.
It's pretty much our lives, and the way that we bond together. When he's not here, I'm at loose ends - it's no fun cooking for one. We love to entertain, the more the better, and between our standbys and our new recipes (which frankly don't always work out), it's a constant journey, and one that's really enriched our recent years. For us, or at least for me specifically, it's not about putting food on the table - it's about the moment when you're over the stove and skillet and frying onions, a glass of dry sherry on the left, and intoxicating aromas rising from the stove. Almost better than sitting down to dinner.
(I did make a baloney sandwich with Kraft singles this weekend, on an Arnold hamburger roll with mayo on one side, and it was one of the best things I ate in an entire weekend working on chole, borlotti beans and murgh chana masala... sometimes fast processed food is great too.)