Thursday, October 18, 2012

31 days of simple organization:: Day 18: Eating in part one: Get yourself together to get dinner on the table

Food magazines and recipes
I want to keep
Know yourself
and take advantage of the weekends (or any other time when you have enough energy and desire) to cook. For me, this means Saturdays are spent in the kitchen.  I like to cook, but I usually don't want to do it at the end of the workday when I'm overly hungry, tired and I've already worked all day (and grumpy and stressed out). Not to mention I usually don't want to clean a messy kitchen at the end of a weekday marathon of getting something cooked.  But I'm singing a new song on Saturdays when I've got a load of time and standing in the kitchen sounds like fun, not like a chore. I cook things to freeze and re-heat during the week. I cook things with leftovers to eat during the week or take to work for lunch. I assemble dishes to officially cook in the week. It works out for everyone. 

Cook and Freeze
A few months ago, I came home to find my brother in law and nephew. I immediately got the spaghetti sauce and garlic bread from the freezer and while the noodles cooked, warmed the sauce in the microwave and threw the bread in the oven. In 15 minutes, I had tons of compliments about how quickly I can throw a nice meal together.

On the night before Christmas Eve last year, I got a call from the food ministry at Church asking for food for a family with a sudden death. Even though I was knee deep in my Christmas prep, I was able to say yes without hesitating because I knew I had beef stew in my freezer.

I am a big fan of cooking and freezing and I do it a lot. It comes in handy in so many situations, and its as easy as making a double batch and freezing your leftovers.

One other trick: instead of putting ground meat in the freezer when you get home from the grocery store, cook it first and then put it in the freezer! Imagine how fast you can make dinner with cooked ground beef ready to be called into action!

Try new things
  • Find a food magazine you like and subscribe (the Kraft Food and Family is my very favorite and I keep all the back issues)
  • Keep the magazines that have great recipes together so they are easy to look through again for inspiration
  • Find a paper that has a great food section and read it each week online. Here is a list of some good food sections. Baton Rouge, however, has the best one here  (not just my opinion, they've won awards!)
  • Watch  the food network
  • Food blogs (there are so many!! A few I like: Skinny Taste, and Picky Palate )
  • Try an informal dinner exchange between neighbors (or a more formal supper club.) Sometimes, I make chicken enchilada's for my neighbor and walk them over and she makes me brownies!
  • Find a cooking personality you like and watch her TV show, get her magazine and read her books. I like love  Sandra Lee and Paula Deen. I also read Rachael Ray's magazine, but I must admit.... she is not my favorite.  My husband likes Bobby Flay and Alton Brown.
  • Be on the lookout for new shows. My favorite new show is Home for Dinner with Jamie Deen.

Make a menu
Generally speaking, its  impossible to decide whats for dinner when your standing in the middle of the grocery store looking around like a lost goose (like I was yesterday).  Your menu planning can be as elaborate or as simple as you make it.

So how do you decide what your eating before your standing in the grocery store? A few ideas:
  • Typically school's publish their lunch menus in the paper for the week- just copy it.  
  • Each issue of Rachael Ray's magazine has a one week dinner plan.
  • Write down everything you cook for one month then use it next month as your menu plan
  • Blogs
  • Ask your husband what he wants for dinner next week
  • Ask your best friend what she's cooking and copy it exactly
  • Save your old grocery list and rotate them- buy the exact same things in a week or so for the exact same meals
  • Plan a weekly night of leftovers
  • Plan a weekly breakfast for dinner
  • Plan to try one new recipe a week
  • Plan a weekly crock pot meal
  • Plan to eat with your mother in law once a week (less meals to plan at your house)
Become good friends with the crockpot
Is there any better invention than the crockpot? I love it so much, I have two. One allows you to set the actual temperature with a locking lid and a carry case and the other one has a high or low or warm setting. Almost any recipe you find can be made in the crockpot with few moderation's. One of my favorite chocolate cake recipes is made in the crockpot. (YES! Cake!! in the crockpot!!). Can you think of anything better than leaving your house all day and coming home to find dinner cooked? With minimal effort?!

A few places that will make you love your crockpot even more:
365 Days of Crockpot cooking (a recipe blog)
Fix it and forget it cookbook

Keep the pantry well stocked
A well stocked pantry will get you out of many a jam. There are a rare few people who go to the grocery store everyday. Last Sunday, I didn't feel great and didn't feel like cooking anything but the Mr. was at a golf tournament and wouldn't be home until late (therefore, couldn't bring me dinner home) and I didn't want to get out, so I went to my pantry. I ended up heating a can of corn, a can of baked beans and baking a chicken breast and a frozen roll. It was delicious and more important, it was quick and easy. I can't tell you how many times having things in the pantry have saved me a headache. Its as easy as never just buying one, throwing two or three in the buggy and planning on having back-ups. This is especially easy if you watch the sale ads and just buy whats on sale.

Master a few things
There are a very few things that I have mastered, things that I know I cook well and always have on hand  (well stocked pantry...) to put my skills into action.  One of my first jobs out of law school was so stressful that I would work all week, come home on Friday night, and bake all weekend. After a long week of mental challenges and seeing little immediate results, I needed to do something with my hands and see instant results. I taught myself how to make cheesecakes from scratch. I spent all week searching for different recipes and gathering ingredients, and then I spent the weekend experimenting and baking cheesecakes. I mastered it. Now, six years later, I'm still pretty confident in my cheesecake baking skills. I've also used this method to perfect making cookies, banana bread, baked chicken and chicken and dumplings.  Find a few foods that interest you and then make them in a different way over and over and over until you've found the perfect thing for you and you've mastered them. This will ultimately save you time and mental energy and your guaranteed to have a great dish you can whip up without thinking much about it.... and  you can impress others with your skill as an added benefit.

If you need a little additional help:

e-meals  will send you a weekly menu plan with a grocery store list and approximate price (for a very small monthly fee)

5 simple dinners in one hour does the same thing but advocates cooking 5 meals at once.

Meal delivery services (like this one) deliver meals to your door with instructions on how to cook

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