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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?
 
 
 
Tapatitapati on September 2nd, 2008 04:29 am (UTC)
starving student recipes
Eggs in Purgatory
1 jar spaghetti sauce
3 eggs
Heat spaghetti sauce over medium heat until sputtering. Crack eggs directly into sauce and cook until whites have set. Serve on top of bread or spaghetti.

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Frito casserole
1 lb. ground beef
1 sm. onion, minced
8 oz. can red enchilada sauce
1 large bag fritos
1 large bag shredded taco cheese
8 oz. sour cream
Preheat oven to 350. Brown ground beef in a pan with chopped onion. Drain juices. Combine with enchilada sauce and fritos in a casserole. Top with sour cream and cheese. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve.

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This is not exactly a gourmet delight, but it is easy, will feed a small crowd, and is generally liked by college students.
--Break up two tubes of refrigerated biscuits (I warned you that it wasn't gourmet!) and spread around a 9x13 greased pan
--Brown a pound of ground beef and sprinkle over biscuits
--Pour over a jar or two of spaghetti sauce
--Add whatever other pizza toppings you like or have around: onions, peppers, etc.
--Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake at 350 for about 40 minutes.

This is a very forgiving recipe: kids can add or subtract ingredients, alter the amounts, and still end up with something fairly edible. The good news is that they become better cooks and eaters as time goes on!
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Container of pop-open pizza dough.
Un-roll this out over a loaf pan with the sides draped over the long edges.
Tip: I'd get a disposable aluminum one if I was taking it to a party...then I could leave it and not have to remember to take home my dish.

Then fill this cavity with any toppings you'd put on a pizza along with a bit of spaghetti sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese.
Suggestion: I'd usually get a few links of mild sausage at the grocery, take the outside casings off and brown in a skillet. Then add in black olives and mushrooms...but it'd also work with ham & pineapple or whatever combination you like.

Then wrap the edges up over the filling and press together with your fingers. Then bake according to package directons on the dough wrapper.

I usually let it cool a bit while everyone was devouring chips & salsa or other appetizer. Once it's almost room temp I'd take the whole 'loaf' out and slice like bread. Serve one hearty slice (~1.5" thick) with a side of salad-in-a-bag per guest.

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Easy Easy Chicken and Vegies
3 carrots, sliced, 3 stalks celery, sliced, 1 large onion, cut into thin wedges, 3 cups cubed cooked chicken, 1 (10 3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of celery soup, 3/4 cup chicken broth - Place vegetables in the bottom of slow cooker. Top with chicken. Add the soup and broth. (No need to mix). Cover and cook for 4 to 6 hours on low.

Really Easy Pot Roast
6 small potatoes, 6 small onions, 6 medium carrots, 1 boneless beef chuck roast (approximately 3 pounds), Salt and pepper (any other favorite seasonings), 1 cup water or beef stock. Combine all in crockpot - low for 8 hrs.

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Tuna Casserole - Mix canned tuna with cream of celery soup, cooked noodles and frozen peas. Top with Velveeta and something crunchy. (Saltines, cereal, etc) Bake at 350 until bubby.

Cheese Souffle - Tear 2 loaves of old french or italian bread into chunks and soak in a mixture of 2 cups milk and 6 eggs, salt and pepper and mustard. Mix in lots of Velvetta and bake at 350 until bubbly.
litlebananalitlebanana on September 2nd, 2008 04:45 am (UTC)
Re: starving student recipes
Wow thanks, I'll have to bookmark this..
Tapatitapati on September 2nd, 2008 06:04 am (UTC)
save the whole topic and I'll keep adding recipes
Recipe: Red Lentil Soup With Lemon

Time: 45 minutes

3 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling

1 large onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Pinch of ground chili powder or cayenne, more to taste

1 quart chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup red lentils

1 large carrot, peeled and diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro.

1. In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.

2. Stir in tomato paste, cumin, salt, black pepper and chili powder or cayenne, and sauté for 2 minutes longer.

3. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary.

4. Using an immersion or regular blender or a food processor, purée half the soup then add it back to pot. Soup should be somewhat chunky.

5. Reheat soup if necessary, then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve soup drizzled with good olive oil and dusted lightly with chili powder if desired.

Yield: 4 servings.