Welcome to HACSI – half-assed cooking semi illustrated! We’re a handful of folks who live in a queer, vegetarian cooperative house in Boston (the coop is vegetarian, but not all it’s members – we’re all queer, though), and one of the things we cooperatively do is cook dinner for each other five nights of the week. Trying to keep these house dinners interesting, tasty, nutritious, cheap, and voluminous enough to feed six hungry adults (plus enough leftovers for assorted next-day lunches and the occasional friend who drops by for dinner) using the groceries we buy together and the assortment of seasonal vegetables we get in our rotation of CSA shares can be a challenge. Doing all of that in the midst of busy work, social, volunteer, and self-enrichment commitments can be alternately exhausting and invigorating. Enter HACSI – the little shortcuts, tricks, and ways of prioritizing that make foods scale up easier and your work in the kitchen less laborious, but hopefully don’t negatively impact people’s satisfaction and enjoyment of your meals.
The ground rules: In our coop, we have certain agreements and expectations around meal cooking that it might be helpful for anyone reading this to know for context and sense-making. Everyone in the coop cooks dinner one night of the week, except for one roommate who works nights (but she does lots of other great stuff for the house that makes our lives better), and the average cooking shift seems to hover around 3 to 4 hours, including clean up. Our shared food and shared meals are vegetarian – this means no meat (including fish, poultry, etc.) but animal products like eggs, dairy, and honey are a-okay. In terms of nutrition, it’s more-or-less expected that most meals include some kind of protein, a whole grain, and a hearty dose of vegetables. For quantity, we aim to make enough food that everyone gets to eat their fill at dinner and ideally there are leftovers enough for everyone to take some to work for lunch the next day – essentially this means 12 sizable servings. Different days of the week vary in terms of how many of us tend to be home, and we try to communicate with that night’s dinner-maker if we won’t be around, so they can adjust quantity-expectations accordingly. Lastly, our ingredients are limited to the staple groceries we’ve decided to keep on hand (which are too numerous to list here, but might be the subject of a later post), whatever combo of seasonal and grocery-bought produce that’s appropriate to the time of year, and an occasional cook’s-discretionary-purchase of a special ingredient for no more than $5-10 and once or twice a month at most. Other than that, the sky’s the limit. Some recent house dinners have included: breakfast for dinner with waffles, mini quiches, and purple potato hash; all manner of roasted winter root vegetables and baked/marinated tofu and tempeh; faux japchae; wintery soups; tofu and veggie calzones with homemade tomato sauce; grain salads and pilafs and risottos; and the ever popular (no, I’m totally not joking) massaged raw kale salad with garlic and lemon juice. So, we do okay for ourselves. And maybe we can help you do okay too.