When I was a young(er) man, I didn’t think too hard about what I ate. My mother, bless her heart, cooked dinner for us every night when I was a kid, but she was no gourmet, and her meals were never particularly complex—or particularly healthy, if memory serves me. There was a lot of butter, a lot of red meat, and while I have some pretty standard memories being forced to sit at the table until I ate my vegetables, I also remember that vegetables only comprised about 1/5th of any dinner.
In my 20s, living on my own and barely scraping by on a pittance of a salary, what I mainly remember eating is gigantic pizza slices from Benny’s, Ramen, hot dogs, and beer, which probably supplied about 75% of my caloric intake (yes, mine was a glamorous youth). It’s a wonder I survived into my dotage.
Yet here I am! And I’m at an age when I’m actually thinking about the food I eat—where it comes from, what’s in it, exactly how much it will plug up my arteries and how many years it will shave off my life. My wife and I love to eat out, and living in Hoboken (and being so near the burgeoning scene in Jersey City) it’s easy to spend your entire retirement account on delicious restaurant meals all the time. But every now and then the wife and I sit down and cook the books and realize that in addition to those books we should be cooking dinner a bit more often. And the wife makes it very clear that if we want to actually enjoy those meals, I’m the one who should be cooking. And so I leap into action, which is to say I pour myself a stiff whiskey and think on the question of how to eat well at home without going broke or killing yourself with processed sort-of food. And then, probably a nap. And another whiskey. But then! Definitely I start planning dinner, which means I head out to our friendly local supermarket, Kings at Shipyard Lane.
Jeff Leaps into The Kitchen
If I’m cooking dinner, there are a couple of prerequisites:
- It has to be simple. I do not like the word recipe as it immediately makes think of the words for and disaster. Any dinner I make can’t have more than five ingredients or three or so steps.
- It has to be good stuff. Because I’m lazy, I like to shop places where I can rely on someone else having done the due diligence of making sure the food I’m eating isn’t 99% spider legs or asbestos.
I have no interest in being a chef, I just want to eat pretty well for a small amount of money. We like Kings because it’s local, it makes most of its prepared food and baked goods right there on the premises every day, and it takes a thoughtful approach to everything it stocks. Plus, everything is super fresh—chatting with the manager at the Shipyard Lane location, I found out that they actually pull stuff off the shelves and discard/donate it way before it’s Sell-By date, so when you bring it home you can leave it on your shelf for a while without suffering any loss of quality.
But what to make? Heavy lies the head of the husband charged with making dinner for his wife. So I started looking around.
I started in the bread aisle, because every meal needs bread. Kings actually has a range of pretty rad freshly-baked bread, and the Sprouted Grains and Oats sang out to me, mainly because my inner scientist wanted to find out what sprouted grains were by consuming some and, presumably, learning about it via digestion and osmosis.
Then some spiralized butternut squash. Butternut Squash because it’s delicious and because I enjoy saying the word “squash” way more than I should, and spiralized because it’s trendy and I like to be a man of my time. I know a lot of people use the spiralized veggies as a pasta substitute, but …
… Kings actually has some of the best pasta I’ve ever had. They import it directly from Italy, so this is the real stuff, and if you take a minute to make it the right way at home, it’s absolutely incredible.
Pasta is of course a classic go-to for the at-home dinner. It’s hard to screw it up, it’s easy to make, and it’s hearty. So I headed to the sauce aisle, where I made the executive decision to go with the vodka sauce because I love vodka sauce. I didn’t even ask my wife if that was okay, because I am a grown man and this is what passes for rebellion in my life.
Heart pounding from my brush with domestic danger, I took a tour of the store to make sure I wasn’t missing some better idea …
… I picked up some cage-free eggs (actually, all of Kings’ eggs are cage-free these days) because fresh eggs are always a good idea …
… lingered by the frozen pizzas because they are really good and the only thing easier than pasta is sliding a frozen pizza into the oven …
… considered just picking up a prepared dinner but then thought the wife might give me the yellow eye if I was that lazy …
… stood staring at the desserts long enough to worry the employees, and with some sweet Italian sausage, I finally headed home with my haul. Time to cook!
The Non-Recipe Dinner
The beauty of pasta, of course, is there really isn’t a recipe, but what I created in the kitchen that night was still a fantastic meal. Here’s how you too can Eat like Jeff with these ingredients:
- Start drinking cocktails about one hour before cooking. Maybe two. This simultaneously makes kitchen disasters hilarious and everything more delicious.
- I sautéed the butternut squash in a sauce pan with some oil and some garlic.
- I boiled the pappardelle in water with a pinch of salt for 5 minutes.
- I pan-fried the sweet sausage (a little water in the pan, fry for ten minutes with a lid on top, then keep frying for 5 minutes without a cover; remember to unplug the fire alarm).
- I heated the sauce in a saucepan.
- I toasted the bread (possibly the most challenging aspect of the whole meal; people think toasting pre-sliced bread is easy, but it’s incredibly challenging).
Add in a bottle of the Saved Red Blend (purchased at Delite Market on Washington, which is an unsung hero of the wine offerings in Hoboken) and you have a meal for the ages in just 15 minutes.
So it can be done: For under $20 (not counting the wine) dinner for two with plenty leftover, and because of Kings’ policies you know it’s all good food, not just the cheapest suppliers they could find, and it’s fresh because they don’t let anything linger.
What about you—what’s your favorite supermarket in town? What’s your easiest affordable stay-in dinner?