Cooking for the Week

by Diane Morgan, Dan Taggart and Kathleen Taggart

Published by Chronicle Books

167 pages, 1999

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Thinking Ahead

Reviewed by Linda L. Richards


There was a time in the not-too-distant long ago that I had the kind of job that demanded regular hours of being somewhere that wasn't my home every single weekday of the world. I know that a lot of people do this but -- when I look back -- I can't imagine how. Not when there are kids peeping for something every minute you're not at work and fitness classes that have to be attended and cars that need tune-ups and groceries screaming to be bought and haircuts that need to happen and and and... and on top of all of this, somehow or another everything has shaken down so that you're the one that's expected to put food on the table. Even if it was never discussed, somehow or another you just know that if you don't do the hunting, gathering and preparing, you'll all be eating slightly warm cardboard pizza forever.

When it was me doing the hunting, gathering and preparing -- on top of the working for a living that demanded my (seemingly) constant presence -- I devoted part of my weekends to preparing the meals that would be consumed on workdays. As it happens, I find food preparation pleasantly relaxing and very satisfying, so a Saturday spent over a bubbling cauldron of something delicious didn't feel like a big, fat waste of time. In fact, it felt quite soothing. Not only did I know where my next meal was coming from, but healthy portions of a big ol' Linda-made pot of marinara sauce or stew or pea soup could be carefully stored in the freezer for future consumption. A future that was likely on a workday when no one felt like cooking but everyone felt hungry.

Sometimes, in my effort to create a stressfree weekday eating environment, I'd go completely nuts and cook my little heart out all weekend. Friday night might see me making a platoon-sized pot of a wonderful (and freezable) soup. On Saturday, I might roast a chicken or two for reassignment on week nights. And Sunday maybe I'd make a vat of stroganoff that could also be frozen in appropriately sized containers. The freezing bit was the final, perfect touch: if you took my plan for future eating seriously enough -- and I did quite often -- you were actually not eating everything created that weekend during the following week. Rather, you were alternating between meals made in previous weeks with the new things. The final result of diligently planned weekends were easy and wonderful -- not to mention homemade -- meals every night of the week.

Cooking for the Week by Diane Morgan and Dan and Kathleen Taggart looks a bit like my little, instinctive plan for working week self-preservation and slingshots it into the realm of haute cuisine. These are not just the casual "what can I make easily and in quantity?" forays I made for my workday salvation. Rather, it's a total plan to eating well and elegantly pretty much all the time.

The book features 13 weeks that include a gorgeous weekend menu and four to six derivative meals. For instance, week eight's weekend menu is a Standing Rib Roast (prime rib); Classic Mashed Potatoes; Caramelized Onions and Carrots; Coffee Granita and Chocolate Sauce. The meals for that week are Potato Pancakes; Apple and Blue Cheese Salad with Pecans; Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms, Caramelized Onions and Carrots; Paprika Beef with Mushrooms and Prime Rib Sandwiches. And then it's time for the weekend again. Feasibly, if you followed the book verbatim, you'd only be repeating each meal plan four times a year. When you consider how many of us grew up on a fairly steady diet of pork chops and tuna casserole, repeating a meal four times a year at regularly scheduled intervals is not inconceivable or even particularly daunting.

The premise of Cooking for the Week is entirely well summed up in the introduction:

Consider: A small leg of lamb might feed four persons adequately. A larger roast will too, and will also provide enough tender cold lamb to slice and stuff into pita breads with sliced tomatoes, shredded lettuce, and yogurt-mint sauce: a sandwich that will produce smiles around the table. Consider, too: A grilled or pan-seared fresh tuna steak with, say, new potatoes and asparagus is a noble meal. So is, a couple of days later, a nicoise salad with olives and potatoes -- especially if you don't have to cook tuna or potatoes a second time.

This is not, by any stretch, a book intended to help feed the vegetarian family. However, the meals included have been concocted for the modern North American table. These are healthy, well-rounded meals with a food guide kept obviously close in mind. The three authors are food professionals who live in Portland, Orgeon and met while they were teaching at a culinary school in the Pacific Northwest. This is this team's fifth cookbook. They are also the authors of Entertaining People, Very Entertaining, The Basic Gourmet and The Basic Gourmet Entertains.

Cooking for the Week is a beautiful book. Award-winning San Francisco food photographer Leigh Beisch's photos are stunning and perfectly styled. (The food manages to look yummy and chic: no mean feat.) The layout is lovely and logical and the recipes are featured in a way that is absolutely non-intimidating. Cooking for the Week is a winner for families who don't have a lot of time to think about food preparation, but still want to eat well: for at least 13 weeks of the year. | August 1999


Linda L. Richards is the editor of January Magazine and the author of Mad Money.