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Chat Leftovers: What's for dinner?

By Jane Touzalin

Whew. We're past the goblins, and headed toward the gobblin'. Thoughts have definitely turned to heartier food and, pretty soon, Thanksgiving dinner. This week's Food section fills you in on a fall staple that's making a comeback: chestnuts. If you've never tried them, you must. My first taste of a dessert crepe folded around sweetened chestnut puree and topped with creme Chantilly was a life-altering experience, I kid you not.

Anyway, it's Wednesday, which means it's time for the weekly Free Range chat. Got food questions, either general or holiday-related? Bring 'em on at noon. Most folks will get answers, and some will even get prizes. So tune in.

If you don't get your question answered today, there's always a chance you'll see it in this space next Wednesday. Here's a leftover from last week's chat:

I have started eating at home more, and while I love cooking, I am not a fan of eating dinner at 8 or 9 at night. I think the best way to manage my time might be to spend Sunday preparing and cooking for the rest of the week to cut down on my kitchen time each night, but I'm not sure how to start. Can you recommend any recipes that can be mostly prepared ahead and are also healthy?

The idea of cooking for the week is great, but I'd be criminally remiss if I didn't point you to our weekly Dinner in Minutes feature, which (if you get the print edition of the paper) is almost always found on Page 2 of Food. There's no dish that can't be made in, say, 40 minutes or less (sometimes much less), which should definitely put you at the dinner table before 8.

It does usually require a trip to the grocery store, however. One goal for you might be to shop on Sunday for the previous week's recipe, then put it together on Monday or Tuesday. (You can get a head start on the recipe by doing some prep the morning of.) You didn't say how large your household is, but these usually make at least four servings, so if there are only two of you, you'll have the added advantage of leftovers.

If you haven't carefully stored your Food sections in archival binders -- but really, who hasn't? -- you can find Dinner in Minutes recipes in our Recipe Finder database. I just did a database search using two parameters, Fast and Main Course, and came up with 600 recipes. Restrict it further by adding Healthy, and you get nearly 200. Check it out; you'll find scores of meals you'll want to make.

Mushroom, Barley and Beef Stew(Julia Ewan/The Washington Post)

A cooking cliche, but one that really works for me, is to make a big pot of stew or soup or something similar on Sunday and make it last for a couple or even a few meals during the week. Stew/soup-type foods are great for that because they pick up flavor after a day or so. Make it on Sunday, it'll be even better on Tuesday or Wednesday. (Here's one to get you started: Mushroom, Barley and Beef Stew.)

But I try to make sure it's not quite the same dish two days in a row. For instance, if I've made a chicken stew, on the second day I might saute some mushrooms and add them, or add olives, or toss some frozen peas into the stew when I'm reheating it. Or I might roast a small turkey breast and match it up with different side dishes or chutneys on different days. Oh, and whatever I make, I'll freeze a couple of portions for a future evening when I come home and don't feel like cooking.

You can also use Sunday to make components that you can serve in different ways. For instance, you can put together a tomato or meat sauce, such as Beef Ragout, then later in the week serve it over pasta, then polenta. You can freeze the leftovers and pull them out when you need them. I like to make compound butters and have them on hand for quick-cooking chicken breasts or fish. A Dinner in Minutes recipe for Sear-Roasted Salmon Fillets With Lemon Ginger Butter includes a delicious flavored butter that you can also use on meat, vegetables or other kinds of fish. Really, the list is endless.

Start with a modest goal -- say, decide you'll eat home-cooked meals on at least three nights during the week without resorting to carryout pizza or TV dinners -- and go from there. Good luck.

-- Jane Touzalin

By Jane Touzalin  | November 3, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Chat Leftovers  | Tags:  Chat Leftovers, Free Range, Jane Touzalin  
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I usually make roast chicken or a beef roast or pork loin on Sunday. That makes leftovers for Monday or Tuesday, which can be repurposed lots of ways. Last week, it was chicken made into pot pie. This week, it was beef roast, served the second day with gravy and roasted potatoes. A little planning ahead makes a big difference on busy days.

Posted by: margaret6 | November 3, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

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