I don’t often get a chance to cook for more than one or two, so when I go up to Cincinnati to visit my in-laws, I’ve fallen into the pleasurable habit of doing all the cooking. It’s almost a given that I’ll be doing it, too. My mother-in-law prepares an envelope full of cash, so they subsidize all of the grocery shopping. My sister-in-law’s kitchen is pretty well stocked, but each trip always means she’ll be getting something new. Last time, she got a food processor out of the deal, this time, all she got was an oven thermometer and a few new utensils.
My menus are never particularly elaborate — in fact, when I do try to get too fancy, it usually fails. The trickiest part is to make sure that there’s enough variety each meal so that there’s something that falls into everyone’s dietary comfort zone. My wife and I, for example, can’t do a meal that relies too heavily on carbs, like pasta. My mother-in-law will only eat vegetables, and no red-meat. Each meal also ends up having the left overs from the day before rolled in, either wholesale or reincorporated.
This year, I started with two grilled and bbq’d spatchcocked chickens, with grilled asparagus, corn on the cob and cole slaw.
The next day was rainy, so I knew I needed to cook indoors. I was going to try pan fried trout and baked beans, but when I got to the store, the only trout they had was still floating, alive in a fish tank. While part of me knew that they’d be the absolute freshest fish I could ever get, another part of me just couldn’t bear to order the execution of 5 of these trout. If they were already fillets in the butcher case, I wouldn’t have thought twice. So I ended up making baked flounder fillets with fresh pesto, brown rice risotto, more corn on the cob, plus salad and cole slaw.
The third night, I was cooking for 9 people, total, so I made grilled strip steaks, and a whole salmon fillet, along with grilled yellow squash, salad, coleslaw, and fresh corn bread, with leftover corn. (I tried to turn the fish and rice left over from the night before into fish cakes, but I ended up using all of my eggs in the double batch of corn bread, and the fish cakes disintegrated in the frying pan with nothing to hold them together.) For dessert, a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler with vanilla ice cream.
The final night, the goal was to finish off everything that was left over, so it was the most varied menu of the week. I grilled up some marinated bratwurst and italian sausages, plus the leftover steaks from the night before, as well as the last of the chicken (a wing and a thigh). The leftover salmon was turned into a cold salad with macaroni. I made some more grilled asparagus and yellow squash. For dessert, angel food cake with blackberry preserves, and fresh berries, topped with whipped cream.
As I said — this isn’t haute cuisine, by any stretch. And there also wasn’t a cookbook in sight. The recipes were stuff I either make so often, I know them by heart, or I improvised. Nevertheless, I end up pleasing everyone at the table, and they all leave happy and satisfied, so what more can you ask than that?