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13 August 2008 @ 07:36 pm
The Cheating Cook  
One of my LJ friends was talking about the need for quick meals that employ mixes and other short cuts--she has a small child and is finishing up her medical training as a resident. (Can't imagine that with a small child, my hat's off to you!) You can imagine how tired she must be in the evenings. I remember the years I was in school and working at the women's center and was too tired to do anything elaborate when I got home.

I thought I'd share my slightly embellished response because I suspect you all know something about quick and easy meals for a young mom. Maybe you can share some! I realize I was fortunate also to have a family of women who all cooked, both from scratch and from mixes, so I got a head start in seeing the possibilities. That's no longer necessarily the case for the younger generations.

I had a number of easy recipes that used mixes and stuff when I was going to school and raising my kids alone. I'd get home after a full day of classes and work-study (I did twenty hours on top of my full course load) and I certainly wouldn't be cooking anything from scratch.

You can make a really nice cream pie with a store bought crust and Jello instant pudding mix. :) Mmmmmm, pistachio! You just add less milk for a thicker pudding. For banana cream pie, I use vanilla because the banana tastes too fake, but I put bananas on the bottom before I pour the pudding in. Just refrigerate and voila! A cream pie! You can even make it lower in fat by using 1 per cent milk.

I also have an easy no-bake cheesecake recipe involving cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, and lemon juice, which get blended and poured into a baked pie crust. I used a canned pie filling for topping--cherry or blueberry or even a combination. Top with sliced fresh fruit for a fruit tart. I'll dig that one up and post it.

I intend to have a little section of my family cookbook that I will call "cheating." I'll post a copy of that section when I'm done.

The basic staples of the Indian meal, rice and dahl (bean soup) are quick and easy to get on the stove--5-10 minutes or so--and then they simmer for awhile, filling the house with a beautiful scent. Steam or microwave some veggies and you have a whole meal. Make a big pot of soup and you have leftovers for another night. I'm a big believer in using leftovers--why cook twice when you can cook once?

I'll post a recipe sometime soon. You can use yellow split peas or lentils in dahl if you don't have the more exotic mung or urad dahls from an Indian store. Dahl simmers for about an hour, and rice takes 20 minutes, so you start the dahl first and get it simmering. You can add veggies to the dahl as well as having veggies on the side. Instead of making chapatis or naan, you can use whole wheat tortillas or pita bread with the meal. You can also get frozen naan, parathas, or roti from an Indian grocer.

Living with a man makes it harder to have leftovers, but I've found a strategy that saves my husband from gaining extra pounds. I put some of the meal into storage containers in the fridge before I serve him. I may leave enough for a small second serving. I let him believe that there just isn't any more than that--without lying out right. Basically, guys often eat so fast they don't know they are full yet, and they often just gravitate to a second and third helping they don't really need.

In a pinch, we certainly are spoiled by having a lot of healthy, organic frozen dinners in the health food section of our supermarkets or in health food stores. As a vegetarian I relied on Amy's dinners when I was working overtime. These days they are a luxury, though. I have more time than money so I'm cooking more from scratch. It's the best way to weather a recession, too!

Frozen vegetables have been proven to have more vitamins than most produce at the store which has been picked days earlier and shipped long distances. There are lots of frozen vegetable mixes and even some with good sauces--I saw one recently that has a rosemary sauce that is really good. You steam it right in the microwave. You also don't waste a bunch of vegetables because you are too tired to carry out the good intentions you had when you bought them on the weekend. Less waste equals money saved!

What are some of the easy things you make using short cuts, mixes or prepared foods?
yvilyvil on August 14th, 2008 05:52 am (UTC)
Husband makes a good yellow dahl but does it in a pressure cooker so I think it only takes about 20 minutes to cook. Pressure cooker = awesome. We have a Kuhn Rikon. Still need a slow cooker/crockpot though for the opposite approach.

I'm a baker and not a cook. When I cook for the kids it tends to be a mish mash of stuff stir fryed and added to pasta, rice, or thai noodles. The simplest was TJ's chili that comes in a jar (though I think that one is non-veg)added to cooked macaroni noodles. I simmered in a pan cooking down some of the juices. Most of the time it's some chicken plus veggies plus scrambled egg and chopped pecans stir fryed with some sauce concoction I throw together (with a base of soy sauce, or plum sauce, or whatever strikes my fancy.)

The super quick emergency meal is usually soy vay chicken (saute chicken and Soy Vay, with some sesame seeds).

Obviously substitute your preferred protein source.

Oh, and I've always loved every blue moon serving breakfast for dinner since there are so many breakfast meals that are quick or low overhead to make (pancakes, waffles, eggs.) Waffles in our house are only made from a yeast recipe which requires prepping 8-12 hours in advance. Although we also make double batches and freeze the remainders (which essentially turns them into Eggo's but they are so much better.) It also allow you to add in a little whole wheat or whatever else you like. Let me know if you need a yeasted waffle recipe. Cook's Illustrated has the best and Mark Bittman has the second best.

I will soon be testing out a pizza dough recipe under a similar philosophy. You make the dough at least a day in advance and up to 12 days in advance (gets yummier as it ages). Barring that, TJ's sells pizza dough and pizza is a quick meal once you have the dough (needs to sit out for 20 minutes to warm up though).

Tapatitapati on August 14th, 2008 08:16 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, breakfast for dinner is great and so quick.

Soy Vay is a very good marinade for anything. I got to meet the guy who came up with it once, he's really funny.

Yeah I've used Trader Joe's pizza dough as well as their sauce, or else just made a sauceless pizza with olive oil and garlic under the cheese. I have a pizza cookbook for ideas about toppings but I'm fond of the classic margherita. I've even put an egg on top of the cheese--really yummy! I spread the dough out with saran wrap and olive oil to keep it from sticking, fast and easier than rolling it out since I can't throw it around like the experts. :)

I'd love a yeasted waffle recipe!

I love scrambled eggs paired with refried beans, tortillas and salsa. I sometimes add veggie bacon or veggie sausages.
yvilyvil on August 15th, 2008 07:15 am (UTC)
Oh blarg. I just realized the already-typed-in version of the yeasted waffle recipe is in my old blog which is offline so it will take me a bit longer to go dig it up. But dig it up I will.

Soy Vay man is my neighbor! I really only see him when he comes to fetch his dog who is fond of running past the electro-shock collar fence thingie.
Tapatitapati on August 16th, 2008 02:19 am (UTC)
No rush!

You should see if you can get a discount or at least an autographed bottle, LOL. :)