A few years ago I subscribed to Cooking Light magazine. I love cookbooks and cooking magazines – especially if there are pictures. I don’t always cook from them, but I love to read them and dream that maybe someday I’ll make that really cool looking dish. Well, about a year ago Garry picked up one of the Cooking Light magazines and was fascinated with all the great looking recipes. We decided it was time to start eating healthier (again!) so decided that once a week – Wednesdays – we would cook a meal from the magazine. We would trade weeks and we would surprise each other with what we made. The first meal was a huge success. The night of the second one a family friend, Brian, happened to come by and he wanted to join the cooking nights so ever since then the three of us trade off Cooking Light nights at our house.
The first few months were pretty funny. Because we would try to surprise each other with what we were going to make we all went to great lengths to disguise the meal. I would cut labels off of cans. Garry would hide food. No one was allowed to spy in the kitchen while things got crazy and wild during the cooking time. Then at the last minute dishes were put out and the chef of the night unveiled the masterpiece(s) and describe them in detail. There have been many successes and a few failures.
One thing I must stress is that Cooking Light is not necessarily diet cooking. The concept is to cook healthier, but not deprive yourself. Our biggest problem is the age old one of portion control. So many of the dishes prepared were soooooo good that a main course meant to serve 4 or 6 frequently was gobbled down. Usually with a few drinks or glasses of wine. Oh, well.
Over the past many months we have refined cooking night substantially. At first Garry and Brian would go buy all their ingredients only to get to the house and find out I already had it. I have ended up with tons of red chili pepper flakes, cumin, and various other spices (many of them very expensive). Now the chef of the night will call me and do a pantry check, then only purchase the necessary item.
Another thing is that since I am home more, I tend to do more recipes that need a lot of prep work with chopping and slicing. The guys would get here and it becomes a whirlwind of activity with food and things flying everywhere. Now we are not as paranoid about secrecy, so if the chef of the night needs some prep help we jump in. That really helps us to be eating our dinner before midnight.
A big lesson learned, especially by Garry and Brian, is to read the recipe all the way to the end before you decide to make it. Two weeks ago Garry was fixing something he thought would be fast and so he started late, then got to the part where he had to cook something down for 1/2 hour, let it cool awhile, then bake the dish for 25 minutes. We ate later that night. And just last week Brian was purchasing food when he saw at the end of the recipe it was to marinate for 24 hours. Oops! Last minute call to me on pantry check again.
Here are some samples of what we each of made:
- Bacon and Wild Mushroom Risotto with Baby Spinach
- Bistro Braised Chicken
- Chicken, Red Grape , and Pesto Pizza
- Zesty Broccoli Casserole
- Slow Cooker Steak and Black Bean Chili
- Turnip-Parsnip Gratin
- Cumin-scented Samosas with Mint Raita
- Braised Lamb Shanks
- Mini Meat Loaves
- Easy Spanish Rice
- Lemon-Oregano Lamb Chops
- Pork Medallions with Pomegranate-Cherry sauce
- Grilled Corn with Lime Butter
- Chicken with Cider and Bacon sauce
- Steamed Carrots with Garlic-Ginger butter
- Sirloin Steaks with Mushroom Sauce and Chive-Garlic Potatoes
- Gratin Dauphinois (Scalloped Potatoes with Cheese)
- Roasted Asparagus
- Chicken Portobello Lasagna
- Twice Baked Spinach Potatoes
Cooking night is not always cheap! Can’t believe the cost of fresh herbs and some of the spices we need. I’m starting to consider growing some of my own herbs. We’ve also had to buy a wok and fortunately have been given an awesome Dutch oven by my mother!
Cooking night is not tidy! The kitchen is usually trashed by time we are done, but the rule is the chef also does their own clean up. Most of the time we all pitch in, though, so it all works out nicely.
We miss very few Wednesday nights. Several of my friends won’t call til later on Wednesday night just to hear what we cooked that night. Today is Cinco de Mayo and the guys need to be working on the motorhome tonight, so we are not having an official cooking night because it is Garry’s turn. But I am going to cook the last recipe he did which is Chicken Enchiladas and make some homemade guacamole, so it will be partly cooking light. Oh, yeah, except for the margaritas! Ole!