Cooking and baking are a few of my passions. I try to cook every day for my family of three. I plan weekday meals one week prior. In a pinch, I can always come up with a baked treat for a potluck or party. But on those occasions when San Francisco experiences an ugly heatwave, like the one we had not long ago, or when I am, admittedly, too tired to cook, I rely on no-cook meals and sides to tide me over. Mind you, I use the term no-cook loosely. For this article, “no cook” is defined as not cooking a meal or side from scratch. Reheating is not cooking. Here are a few of my favorites:
Frozen stews or soups
Occasionally, I make a big batch of beef stew, turkey chili, or mung bean soup. For my family of three, a big batch is any dish that serves 8-10 servings. I save three quarters for the week and freeze the remaining amount in 1-quart plastic containers, which I label and date. Whenever I need last minute meal, I defrost in the fridge overnight (place the container on a lipped plate or bowl to catch drips!) and reheat in a pot on the stove for dinner. These containers are reusable, so long as one does not reheat foods in them. Most frozen dishes can last 6-8 months in the freezer, though I’ve reheated stews that were a year old, and they were fine.
Sandwiches or charcuterie
We always have bread on hand, whether it be soft dinner rolls or hearty wheat bread, and an assortment of cheeses, toppings, condiments, and pickled vegetables, so having sandwiches or a charcuterie on a hot night makes for an easy meal. For my daughter, Ilse, we make sure the items are cut small and the pickled vegetables are seeded. A bottle of wine for us parents (sparkling apple juice for Ilse) and fresh fruit round out our meal. Bonus idea: if the weather is nice, make it picnic and eat al fresco at a nearby park.
In the summer, I look forward to the abundance of melons, tomatoes, and stone fruit that invade my local Safeway or Mollie Stones. I sometimes overbuy them, so I can eat them for snacks or to turn them into my favorite salads. Salads can be eaten as side dishes or main dishes. To make any salad heartier for a main dish, add grains like quick-cooking quinoa or couscous and leftover proteins. Leftover roast chicken is fabulous in salads, and don’t forget beans. Canned beans are fine, as long as they are rinsed.
Frozen “Heat-in-bag” vegetables
I stock up at Target and Safeway on “heat-in-bag” vegetables. In a previous article, I wrote about how useful they are to have on hand for weeknight meals. This is another reason to love them: they are great stirred into stews, fried rice, or on their own as sides. Our family favorites are peas, carrots, cut green beans, and mixed vegetables. Just pop one in the microwave, heat, and pour into a serving bowl. One 8oz bag of any of the aforementioned vegetables feeds us for two meals or one meal if we are hungry.
Takeout/Delivery/ Eat out
Lastly, there is always take-out, delivery, or just eating out in a neighborhood restaurant. Sometimes, it’s a delightful treat to let someone else do the cooking. We try not to do this too often, maybe once every two weeks. For takeout/delivery, we love neighborhood favorites Papa Johns, Gourmet Carousel, or our nearby Safeway or Mollie Stones. For dining out, we like Osakaya, Suzu Noodle Bar, Doobu, and Pizzaria Delfina, or we’ll consult the San Francisco Moms Guide to Kid Friendly Restaurants. For hot summer nights, speed of service and variety are key for delivery or takeout. For dining out, all must be Ilse-friendly. Since these meals are a treat for us, we always purchase a little extra, so we can have leftovers for lunch the next day.
When the temperatures rise in the city, and it’s been a long work day, it’s nice to have meal options that don’t heat one’s kitchen or require too much effort. At the end of the day, I’m happy that we are still eating a meal together, even if I didn’t cook it.