?

Log in

No account? Create an account
 
 
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 05:49 am (UTC)
lentil soup
lentil soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrot
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 pound lentils, picked and rinsed
1 cup peeled and chopped tomatoes (or stewed from a can minus liquid)
2 quarts chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground toasted cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika

black pepper to taste

Place the olive oil into a large 6-quart Dutch oven and set over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion, carrot, celery and salt and sweat until the onions are translucent, approximately 6 to 7 minutes. Add the lentils, tomatoes, broth, coriander and cumin and stir to combine. Increase the heat to high and bring just to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook at a low simmer until the lentils are tender, approximately 35 to 45 minutes.

Variations:

for lentil dal, use peanut oil (not olive) hold the spices until the end, increase amounts of coriander, cumin, and paprika to 1 tsp, add also 1/4 tsp ground ginger or half a tsp grated ginger and 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 1/2 tsp turmeric and 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds. Using a separate little pan over low medium heat, add oil and then seeds. As seeds start to pop add ground spices, swirl in oil to coat evenly. Just as mixture barely begins to smoke, add to pot of cooked lentils and veggies and stir. (Be cautious as the oil mixture will sputter as it hits the water.) Let simmer a few more minutes before serving.

---

For a greek-style variation lower the amount of salt by 1/2 tsp, omit tomatoes, and add the juice of one lemon, some chopped spinach just before serving, and oregano, thyme, and basil. Sprinkle a bit of feta on top of each bowl.

---

Mexican style

omit celery, increase cumin to 1 tsp, add tomato salsa at the end just before serving, also a few drops of liquid smoke, 1/2 tsp chili powder, and top with cilantro and grated cheddar cheese. You can serve on top crushed tortilla chips or serve chips on the side for dipping.