In the Weeknight Kitchen With: Rebecca Firkser

In the Weeknight Kitchen With: Rebecca Firkser

At Heyday, we are ALL about making it easy and effortless to whip up delightful meals. We're chatting with some of our favorite chefs and recipe developers to learn more about they approach weeknight cooking. Today, Rebecca Firkser is joining us to chat all things easy cooking, fun flavors, and pantry staples. 

Rebecca, welcome to the Heyday kitchen! For those not already in the know, tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do!

I'm a Brooklyn-based freelance food writer and recipe developer. I’m from northern New Jersey, and I feel very strongly in favor of Taylor ham and Jersey Sloppy Joes. I firmly believe in finding joy in eating, and never moralizing food. Most of my work consists of translating professional cooking into content that’s digestible—figuratively and literally, hah!—to home cooks. I especially love writing “cool” budget-conscious recipes. I also do a lot of baking, and I'm currently working on a cookbook about galettes! (Sorry to anyone in Williamsburg trying to buy butter, it's all in my freezer.) In addition to the front-facing stuff, I do some behind-the-scenes food media work: editing and cross-testing recipes; food styling and culinary production for photo and video shoots. 


How would you describe your general approach to weeknight cooking?

My weeknight cooking approach is generally half-vegetables, half-pantry staples in the form of cans/boxes/jars. I tend to peek into my fridge at some point in the morning to see which vegetables need to be used (today, that happens to be eggplant and arugula), and start to noodle on which flavors I might be interested in eating later. At dinnertime, I rely on packaged pantry staples to round out the produce, typically some combination of a grain, canned or dried legume, and spicy condiment. I also try my best to dirty no more than three pots/pans/bowls when cooking a casual weeknight meal, including my serving plate. Sometimes that's more annoying than just using another one, but I hate washing more dishes than I need. 

And in case you're wondering about that produce: Right now I'm thinking I'll saute the eggplant with anchovies, white beans, and harissa; then toss in farro and arugula. But I also may slather the eggplant in miso and olive oil, roast it, plop it on a bed of rice with the arugula, then spoon over some silken tofu and chile crisp. What do you think?


Imagine that one day you wake up and have a pantry filled with aaaaaall the goodies you’d need to whip up delicious weeknight meals. What are the top 5 things you’d hope to see in there?

1. canned white beans or chickpeas 
2. pasta, farro, or rice 
3. chile crisp or harissa
4. tinned sardines or mackerel 
5. is this imaginary pantry refrigerated? if yes, I can't decide between preserved lemon and full-fat Greek yogurt!  
I also hope olive oil and salt are freebies, because I can't go through a dinner without them! 


What are some of your top tunes, playlists, or podcasts to listen to while you're cheffin' it up in the kitchen? 

 I typically listen to podcasts while I cook! I spend a lot of time alone in the kitchen during the workday so I've found I love listening to people have conversations—weird? I'm not sure. But I have a solid system of WNYC in the morning for some news/current events (I am turning into my parents!), then in the afternoon and evening when I need a pick-me-up, it's a rotation of Every Outfit, Las Culturistas, Maintenance Phase, Maybe Baby, and Armchair Expert podcasts. When that becomes too many voices in my head, I'll switch to music: I'm in a big Maggie Rogers phase right now.


We saw that you recently posted a recipe for “clean out the fridge” beans on toast! What are your go to dishes for the days when you just need to make do with the leftover groceries in your fridge?

Honestly this is exactly how I cook most weeknights! In the colder months I often turn leftovers and aging produce into something stewy-soupy, with toast or a pot of rice on the side (big tip: always keep broth and sourdough bread in the freezer!). Now that it's getting warm I'm leaning more toward stirring cold leftover roasted veg or proteins into cooked grains with lots of lemon juice, maybe topped with a dollop of Greek yogurt or a jammy egg. I also love a quick bean/egg/tuna/chicken salad—smashed up with mayo, onion, pickles (or kimchi!), celery and any tender herbs if I have them, with potato chips or crackers for scooping.


What's a quick meal you've made recently that turned out unexpectedly good? 

Last night's was pretty good! I had some zucchini that needed to be cooked, so I charred halves in a cast iron skillet. While those cooked I made a dressing with red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, oregano, honey, red pepper flake, and golden raisins. Added the warm zucchini and a can of chickpeas (cannellinis would've been better but we make do!) to the dressing, then crumbled over pita chips. I love chips-in-salad moments. The whole thing probably took 30 minutes.


One of Heyday's goals is making cooking and accessible for everyone! What are some meals you'd recommend to someone just starting out on their cooking journey? 

Anything from my Heyday Before Payday collection!! They're budget-friendly and super-simple to throw together. I think it's great to start with really good prepared condiments or other shortcuts so you can focus on a couple techniques, then as you get more comfortable in the kitchen (if you have time/desire), add more DIY components to each meal. I don't eat a lot of meat, but tinned fish or a rotisserie chicken are two favorite weeknight cooking shortcuts aside from canned beans/sauces. When in doubt, I say look for one pot/one pan recipes—plenty of cooking to inspire you, fewer dishes to do after all that exertion.


Okay and now the real reason we're here - beans!! What're your favorite beany meals? 
If it wasn't already obvious, I'm always throwing in a can of beans to meals. But in a perfect world, I'd always have a container of perfectly seasoned, creamy gigante beans that I cooked from dry with lots of aromatics, salt, and oil. This is my go-to method. If I haven't already blathered on enough about them, I love to treat a can of beans as if I cooked them from dry: I saute onion, garlic, and dry chiles in olive oil to just take the raw off, then add a can of beans and salt; let that sit on low heat for as much time as I have to marinate (20, 30 minutes) then add a big splash of vinegar. *Always* finish beans with vinegar!


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