Cook-ahead cook saves money and enjoys herself


NEW YORK -- Everyone should have a hobby. Pat Adrian's hobby is cooking dinner.

L That's not a hobby, you say? It's a chore, and a boring one.

Not for Ms. Adrian. This Manhattan-based book-club executive spends her weekends cooking and freezing the meals she and her husband eat the next week. And she loves doing it.

It is a plan that works for Ms. Adrian, director of the HomeStyle Books division of Book-of-the-Month Club, and her husband, Richard, a specialist on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Despite two demanding careers, the Adrians manage to eat a home-cooked meal every night, the result of careful planning and a love of cooking.

Ms. Adrian cooks, she said, because "takeout is boring. The best is Chinese, and by the time you've had it twice in a week, you don't want to have it again unless you're Chinese."

And she does it to save money. "In a household of two adults, the budget isn't the main reason. But I certainly have a relic of my childhood cost-consciousness."

When she cooks, she can control the quality of what they eat. "In what other area of our lives do we have such control? I don't have to worry how long something's been sitting around, or if the cook used an egg in the vinaigrette. And I know I use a better grade of olive oil than shops do."

But it's more than the food. Ms. Adrian likes to have dinner at home because, after reading contracts, meeting with marketing directors and lunching with authors and agents during the day, all she wants to do at night is wash off her makeup, kick off her high heels and relax.

Most of all, she cooks because it's fun.

Cooking is Ms. Adrian's hobby, the way she escapes from the tensions of the workweek. She looks forward to rainy Saturdays when she can spend the whole day in the kitchen. In fact, she said, if someone made her an offer of a sous chef to do all the peeling and chopping, she would turn it down.

"I had a stay-at-home mother, and the kitchen was her territory. If I asked what she was making, she'd say, 'I don't need help, go back and do your homework.' For me, cooking is a forbidden treat."

Here's how it works.

On Sunday, she gets a supermarket flier and starts planning what she'll make the next weekend.

Are apples cheap? Is asparagus in season? Are chicken thighs )) going for 59 cents a pound? She notes the best buys and spends evenings all the next week looking through cookbooks, choosing recipes and making a shopping list for the weekend.

"I have the whole week to think of what I want to cook," she said. "The key is to have a well-stocked pantry. Fresh spices, not powder on the bottom of the oregano jar; enough onions and garlic so I never have to run out when I'm in the middle of cooking."

After her Saturday morning coffee, she sets off to the supermarket and the produce market.

By noon, she's in the kitchen, ready to cook.

In two days, she makes all the main courses for the next week. Most are long-cooked, full-flavored dishes with lots of gravy that reheat well and taste better than when they are first made.

Not only is this peasant fare the food both Adrians love, it is also healthful, because it allows her to skim the fat off the top of the sauce when she cools the dishes for freezing.

Every week she makes one hearty main-course soup with beans or grains, and one pasta sauce, either a meat sauce or a spicy marinara sauce to reheat during the week with shrimp or scallops.

She makes two chicken dishes with sauces, such as chicken curry or chicken cacciatore. She sets aside meat from her Sunday roast chicken to use in salads, sandwiches or soup. And she makes a stew or pot roast with plenty of gravy.

When the dishes are done, they are spooned into her "inexhaustible supply of Tupperware" in portions that feed two amply. (Portions, she said with a laugh, that recipes say are enough for three or four. "We must eat more than food writers do. If a recipe is supposed to feed six or eight, we always eat half in one meal.")

Each package is marked with the name of the dish and the date it was made. When the weekend is over, she heads for the city with a bag of frozen food and, in summer, a carton of farm-stand fruits and vegetables.

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