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Learning to cook smaller meals, until the family can be together again

Learning to cook smaller meals, until the family can be together again

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Only $5 for 5 months

For our Sunday dinner this week, it’ll be just the two of us. Again. It’s been more than a month of dinners for two.

I prefer to cook for 10. Seriously. I look forward to a house full of happy eaters. We are ready. Soon, we hope.

Until then, I keep working on my skills, challenging myself to cook more efficiently with ingredients on hand. Be more flexible with substitutions. Make fewer dirty dishes and waste. Cook less food.

Fond memories of partying with extended family members and out-of-town guests in Chicago’s Greektown inspires this menu. No flaming saganaki, the famous cheese appetizer invented there, but plenty of delicious vegetable-based side dishes to accompany lemon- and oregano-marinated pork chops.

A ridged grill pan or the outdoor grill adds char to the meat and the delicious taste of better days ahead. When I can find them, I use fancy loin chops with the bones cleaned (frenched, is the term) for a beautiful presentation.

However, this bright, herbaceous marinade works just as well with boneless chops, chicken breasts, lamb chops and thick fish steaks. If you have frozen raw shrimp, thaw it before marinating for 30 minutes and then stir-fry the shrimp right in the marinade over high heat.

But what really calls me to the kitchen are the dips and spreads we order at local restaurants. Mounds of creamy fish roe dip, roasted eggplant spread and red pepper blended with feta, mopped up with slabs of sesame seed-crusted bread, and washed down with rosé wine, fill us to the brim before the main course arrives.

Melitzanosalata, a chunky and garlicky eggplant concoction, single-handedly turned our family into eggplant fans. Likewise, feta lovers emerged from orders of tirokafteri, a slightly spicy dip enlivened with rich red peppers and olive oil. Tzatziki, that creamy yogurt and cucumber dip served with gyros, comes together quickly and adds freshness to meats and salads.

Supermarkets might not have all the ingredients in stock during these difficult times. Feel free to fill in with one of the substitutions.

I intentionally cook enough of these favorites to have leftovers for other meals. Stir either relish into warm cooked pasta or rice. Scrambled eggs topped with the red pepper dip prove amazing; try it as a bread spread for grilled cheese sandwiches. Make open-face toast with a thick spread of the eggplant mixture and top it with sliced avocado or shreds of roast chicken. Pile leftover pork, thinly sliced, on a salad or tucked in a pita drizzled with tzatziki.

Save the recipes. They all double nicely for the entertaining days surely coming in the near future.

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