Jennifer Maiser writes about locally and sustainably grown food. The Cooking with a Friend series chronicles her cooking and menu planning adventures with her neighbor, J.

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J. and I sat at the table on Sunday night wondering what hit us. This was supposed to be an easy week. Both of us are eating several meals out this week so we'd supposedly planned a light menu, and thought the cooking should be minimal. But we ended up with a menu that took longer to cook and cost more than what we'd remembered in a while.

It wasn't really a bad thing, but we were puzzled that it all took so long. Looking at the list now, however, it's easy to see why things got tough. Each dish had several components and took many steps to put together. The tortilla soup was a re-do from week six. It involved cooking a chicken, shredding it, and frying fresh tortilla chips. The skirt steak salad required marinating the steak, cooking it, and prepping the salad ingredients. And the list goes on—each menu item had quite a bit of chopping, blanching, sautéing, baking and preparation built in.

One thing I haven't mentioned is that J. and I build a Sunday night dinner into our plan when we both have the time. While preparing our food for the week, I usually put together a quick additional mean for us to eat once we're finished cooking. I like it because it's an opportunity to eat something fresh that wouldn't necessarily be good for menu planning because it wouldn't keep, or it requires too much last-minute preparation.

This week, I decided to make a meal from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, the beautiful cookbook by Suzanne Goin. The dish—wild salmon salad with beets, potato, eggs and mustard vinaigrette—is reminiscent of a Salade Nicoise, but with a delicately cooked salmon instead of tuna. It was a phenomenal dish, but it required quite a bit of our cooking time and added greatly to our costs this week. That said, I think that J. and I would both make the dish again in a minute. As an added bonus, I pan fried the leftover salmon this morning and ate it with a poached egg for a decadent weekday breakfast.

We made calabacitas this week, which was the first dish I'd cooked that truly announced summertime. When classically made in my family, calabacitas are diced zucchini, corn, tomatoes and onion sautéed together then mixed with cheddar cheese. Except for the fact that it's made by the Mexican side of my family, I don't know what makes it particularly Mexican. It's possible that traditionally it has oregano or some spice added. This week, J. and I did away with the cheddar cheese and were left with a sauté of early summer vegetables.

I think the takeaway reminder of week 10 is that we have to really take a look at the menu as a whole before finalizing it to check for preparation time, dish by dish. If we'd done away with one dish (i.e., the skirt steak salad) and replaced it with something that required no work (i.e., a crock pot dish), the week probably would have been much less intense.

Final Menu, Week 10

Cost: $48 each

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