Every Wednesday, Bon Appétit food editor at large Carla Lalli Music takes over our newsletter with a sleeper-hit recipe from the Test Kitchen vault, a cooking technique she’s really into, or an ingredient she can’t stop thinking about. It gets better: If you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll get this letter before everyone else.
I love my family, and I love dinner, but I don’t always love making dinner for my family. You can call it fatigue, malaise, burnout, or a bad case of the never-ending Mondays, but when the thought of cooking another meal makes me bonk my forehead against the kitchen counter, I make “Picnic Dinner.” This is when I pepper the table with a haphazard smörgåsbord of cured meats, cheeses, toast, condiments, a salad of some sort, and a bowl of hard-boiled eggs. And even though it’s my white flag of surrender, this party platter inspires nothing but delight from my brood.
“Yay, French dinner,” my husband will yell. He equates picnics with a European fantasy of parking a scooter by the side of a country road and noshing on a crunchy baguette.
“German style,” my younger son will exclaim. This is because we used to have a German neighbor who regularly ate dry sausages, cheese, and pickles for his evening meal.
Then my older son will bottom-line the situation: “We’re having leftovers?”
He’s not wrong. Along with preserving one’s dwindling sanity, not cooking is an opportunity to resurrect vegetables from previous meals and explore their potential as toast toppers. I also use it as an excuse to slice up leftover roast chicken, partial pork chops, or other cooked proteins and re-sell them as deli meats. It’s a real anything-goes situation and a shameless fridge-dive, and you just don’t know what you might get! I have not always had a salami hanging around, and on those occasions I’ve made a plate of crispy bacon instead. When I don’t have leafy lettuces, I have shredded up cabbage (we have never not had cabbage this whole time), which I’ll dress with cider vinegar, grated ginger, salt, and a few glugs of olive oil. A plate of cucumbers could appear, or a bowl of apple wedges. Is it a Kindergarten snack? Maybe! Sometimes I have a hefty wedge of crumbly cheddar or a round of Brie-like cheese, and sometimes I have a bunch of random nubs of cheese that I’ll slice up and present all together because they need to get used up one way or another. Pickles, olives, hot sauce, mayo, room-temperature butter, and kimchi are set down on the table without explanation. Use them! Or don’t! I really don’t care.
The one non-negotiable thing on these nights is a hard-boiled egg. I like to cut them in half and then use my fork to smash them onto my mayo’d bread, then top it with salt and pepper and whatever is passing as “salad” that night. I cook them the way Chris Morocco taught me: Any quantity of eggs are lowered into a pot of boiling water, then boiled gently for 10 minutes (I think this is even better than the Julia Child way: cover eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, then cover and let sit off heat for 17 minutes). After they’re done, I shock the eggs in ice water so they don’t overcook, and every time I do this I realize that it’s impossible for me to put up dinner without cooking something. I guess I just like to cook? Except when I don’t. Not every meal will be as simple as a bunch of leftovers and a hard-boiled egg, but on these nights, it’s all I can do, and it’s plenty.