Saturday, January 17, 2009

Getting real about cooking and baking

If you have read from the beginning you know that this blog started out with recipes and cooking tips. That was it. It has since expanded, but my love of all things culinary is still quite evident. I started recipe of the week for 2009 and hope you enjoy it. Some weeks are quick and easy, some will be a little more complicated. Either way, it will be fun and I will keep it real.
In that same light, I want to tell you this. Its quite a confession, so I hope you are ready:

I use boil in the bag rice.
There I said it.

OK, I am saying this because as much as I love cooking and baking, often its about necessity over desire to do it. We have to eat. We don't do fast food, and I am not a fan of prepared boxed meals. This leaves going out to dinner or actually cooking as the only two options (I guess there is always not eating as an option). Cooking and baking for fun happens on the weekend.

To be fair, my reason for being against boxed meals is first, I don't like the flavor, second, I don't like the preservatives and sodium. We are by no means health nuts, but every person/family has their views on what they eat and that's ours. I still by some boxed side dishes, and will always have a deep love and devotion for Macaroni and Cheese in the blue box.

I am not a cooking expert, but over time I have come up with a few tricks that can take the pain out of the necessity that is cooking. Feel free to follow along.

1. Make a list and check it twice. I work until between 5 and 6 every day and trying to figure out what to make after that is a drag.
I meal plan a week at a time. I found two weeks to be too overwhelming and would get frustrated. Frustration translates to being discouraged, and that will have you hating cooking.
Scan the cupboards and refrigerator and make sure you have it all. Put it on the list and head to the grocery.

2 Post the list. Anywhere you will see it helps. You may need to rearrange if your schedule changes and its good to know what meat needs pulled from the freezer.

3 Plan a leftovers meal. I don't do this every week, but it is a regular on the meal plan.You don't have to have Mondays meal on Tuesday as leftovers. Wait til Wednesday or Thursday. It gives you a night off!
It may seem like this is not a possibility for larger families. I can't speak to this from experience since there are just two of us. However, if you have a recipe/meal that easily doubles (spaghetti and meatballs, cheeseburger or chicken pot pie) give it a try. Double the recipe, make two, etc. Save the extra portion and pull it out for dinner
I don't have children, so I don't want to be one of those people. However, I do have a husband who was anti-leftovers. I played along at first, but then I stopped. Is it a little boring? Of course. Is it easier for the person doing the cooking? Um, yeah, and sometimes that just wins out. It's leftovers or whatever you can find on your own to eat. Tough love baby!

4 Have ingredients for standby/backup meals on hand all the time.
You would be surprised what you can make with baking mix (like bisqu!ck).
I keep bacon and baking mix on hand. Bacon thaws quickly and there is nothing like an occasional breakfast for dinner.
We always have two boxes of pasta and spaghetti sauce in the pantry, and garlic bread in the freezer. Quick, filling meal that doesn't take long. If you want to jazz that up, try this:
Cook 1 pound ground beef. In large pan or bowl add the cooked ground beef to two jars of spaghetti sauce. Divide between two freezer containers and place in freezer. You now have hearty sauce for two spaghetti dinners. You don't even need to worry about thawing. Just can toss the frozen sauce in a saucepan and slowly heat through. (If it won't come out of the container right away, place the sealed container in hot water to start the thawing and then remove)

5 Try new things. Pork chops every Monday, Chicken every Tuesday, and Lasagna every Wednesday gets boring. Not just for the people eating the food, but for the person cooking it as well. Try to change it up and be confident about what you are cooking.
Allrecipes and Betty Crocker are two great sources for recipes with reviews by recipe users and tips to help you cook.

6 Slow Cooker love.
If you are gone for long days, you can get a slow cooker with several temperature settings, a removable cooking container, and a timer that turns the heat to warm for less than $50 if you watch sales. Or you can buy a basic slow cooker and an appliance timer (keeping in mind that the appliance timer will turn the slow cooker off completely and since I have never done this I can't attest to its quality)
Its great to literally plop some food in the slow cooker, turn it on and have a tasty meal 6-8 hours later.
The slow cooker gets its feelings hurt when people think it can only be used for roasts and stews.
Try Stephanies site (one of the first blogs I ever visited) for great ideas, google search crockpot and any word (chicken, pork, etc), search slow cooker in All recipes. Also, the Fix it and Forget series of cookbooks is great.
Not everyone is cool with leaving the slow cooker on all day unattended, and I understand. However, Saturdays and Sundays require dinner too. This could be an option for weekends so you can spend more time relaxing, enjoying family, nurturing your hobbies, etc. You're still home, and dinner is magically cooking away. If this is how you will use the slow cooker, you won't need any fancy bells and whistles and a simple, inexpensive slow cooker will serve you well.

7 Treat yourself. Going out to dinner may not be an option every week, but try to plan a meal out, take out, or pizza night every once in a while.

I hope this helps some of you. If you have questions, email me or ask in the comment section. I would love to answer.


ManicMandee said...

Those are some great tips you gave there!
I think you are pretty amazing for being so dedicated to cooking. I sometimes feel like it isn't worth it unless all 6 of us are there. Like if my husband wont be making it to dinner, I just bag the whole idea of cooking and we eat PB&J.
Your husband is one lucky guy to have you!

Heather said...

I love this post. We are a bigger than average family of 7 so we have to have a menu each week. Plus with all the running and practices and games some nights need to be easier (for dad) and we need to know what nights we can have a 'good' meal (if I'm home). Most of your items listed we already try to follow. I'm going to have to go check out some of your recipes now. :)

ckrae said...

Great Ideas...Do you hire out? I should hire you as my personal menu person. Love =all of your ideas.

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