This got so long, I had to split it into multiple posts again. This one covers my basic cooking method and meal template. The next post will have actual recipes.
I told you in the previous post there would be no criticizing my food. I am touchy about this, and I think we all should be a little touchy about it, actually, instead of just taking the food abuse and hanging our heads in collective food shame. This blog is a food shame-free zone.
Food snobbery has run amok recently, especially online – and this is coming from someone who likes fancy food and has decent cooking skills. But knocking myself out one night results in not cooking at all for the next twenty, so I tend not to. That’s just how I’m wired. Like many people, I run on spoons. Some days more, some days less.
This blog is definitely not the place for food snobbery of any kind. Your style of eating works for you, and I fully support your right to buy and cook and eat anything you want – whether that means raw, vegan, organic food, or processed food from a box. I think they are both fine choices, depending on the person and their life. The key here is that the way you cook and eat may work for you – not necessarily everyone.
If you enjoy fancy cooking and do it every night, good for you! Now be grateful and don’t rub other people’s noses in it.
If you’re a fancy cook who doesn’t judge other people’s less-than-fancy meals, then I love you. You are welcome here.
If you don’t know how to cook, or are just learning to cook, or don’t care about cooking at all, I also love you and you are also welcome here. I will not let anyone shame you.
My basic template for dinners is classic American: protein, starch, and vegetable. Sometimes something sweet for dessert. But if I have the basic three, I’m usually happy.
Protein can be eggs, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, or legumes.
Starch can be potatoes, pasta, rice, or some other kind of grain. Sometimes just bread.
Vegetables are usually salad or steamed frozen veggies (broccoli is my favourite), but I also love steamed fresh spinach, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, sweet potato (kind of does double-duty as a starch, too), or even raw crudites with dip. Sometimes I will get fancy and cook a vegetable side dish that requires a recipe, with sauce and everything, or will use a bunch of different vegetables in a stir-fry, but usually not on a weeknight because that requires lots of chopping and I am lazy. Canned tomatoes of all varieties are my best friend.
I consider beans to be a protein and a starch, and also sort of a vegetable since they are fibre-y. I will eat them on their own if I need to, but of course everything is better with rice. I am in love with the sheer efficiency of beans.
When I am cooking, this is the order I do things in:
-2) The night before, preferably while cleaning up from dinner, put meat to thaw in the refrigerator, or put beans in a bowl to soak on the counter. If I forget to do this, the microwave or canned beans will save me.
-1) After breakfast in the morning, wash up any dishes that I will need later, wipe the counters, and if feeling very organized, put out the pans, cans, spices and recipe card on the counter.
-0.5) Halfway between lunch and dinner, eat an afternoon snack so no one gets injured during the cooking process.
0) An hour or half-hour before dinner needs to be on the table, turn on music, get myself a beer or a glass of wine if I have some.
1) Put away any clean dishes that are in the dish rack or dishwasher, and set the table (though I often forget this until the last minute, and just yell desperately for someone to come do it while I drain the pasta.)
2) If there will be multiple pots or pans involved, fill one half of my sink (the side closest to the stove) with hot, soapy water. All dirty dishes produced by the cooking process will be tossed in here to soak while we eat.
3) Get everything that I will need on the counter – pots, pans, cans, spices, meat, vegetables, knife, cutting board, measuring spoons/cups, mixing bowls if needed, and recipe card. If I already put stuff out in the morning, then all I need is to get the refrigerated ingredients out.
3.5) If I failed to defrost my meat the night before, or if it is still partially frozen due to my damn fridge, defrost it in the microwave using the “Defrost by Weight” setting. Seems to work better laying flat on a plate than in a bowl.
4) Get water boiling in a big pot if I will be boiling anything, preheat the oven if there will be broiling or baking, making sure to put the oven rack in the right spot. If I am going to sauté something, I will start the oil heating in the pan on medium-low heat to avoid smoking (I can turn it up just before things actually go into the pan.)
5) If there are potatoes involved, start prepping them since they take the longest to cook. Wash, peel, cut into chunks, etc.
6) Start chopping onions or other vegetables, if needed, keeping a bowl for garbage scraps right on the counter. Or the plastic bag the vegetables came in, if there is one. (Turns out, this is actually handy, not just something they forced us to do in school.)
7) If potatoes need to go in the now-boiling water, I do that. If I need to start cooking plain rice, or a packaged side dish that can tolerate standing around for a few minutes after it’s done, I start that. If it’s pasta, I will usually wait until the sauce is started cooking, because I really like my pasta al dente.
8) While other things are cooking, if there will be frozen veggies, I put them in a microwave-safe bowl (my smallest glass mixing bowl), add a tablespoon or two of water, then put the lid on (I don’t have a lid, so I use an upside-down salad plate, which happens to fit perfectly on my smallest mixing bowl. I prefer not to use plastic wrap, but I will if necessary.) I stick the whole thing in the microwave, but I don’t cook it yet. Leave the door open if you’re liable to forget.
9) If I’m broiling or baking something, I get it set up on the pan and start it now. If I need to sauté something, I start that now. I definitely use a timer if it’s in the oven.
10) Pasta can go in the water now. I make sure to stir it well, and add oil if I need to leave it alone for a while and attend to other things.
11) In the last 5 minutes of cooking, I close the microwave door and cook my veggies for 5 minutes. It takes a bit longer than the package says because I use a plate as a lid, remember. They may need stirring halfway through, and I have to use oven mitts to hold the bowl and open the lid because steam is evil.
12) When the timer goes off, measure the temperature of the meat, if necessary, or bite a piece of the pasta to test doneness, and then turn off the oven and any burners. Drain the pasta and mix into the sauce.
13) Throw any stray bowls, pans, measuring cups or utensils into the sink or dishwasher, then plate the food (or yell for people to come and get it themselves) and eat.
When all is said and done, I am not the world’s fanciest cook, but if push comes to shove, I can pull off something more elaborate. I just know that elaborate is the enemy of the every day, and perfect is the enemy of the good-enough. If I want to get fed with decent food on more than a monthly basis, I need to not be a perfectionist.
I can push myself to reach up to the second or third shelf, but reaching for a 10 too often results in falling on my ass into a pile of takeout menus.
One last request – No advice-giving in comments, unless someone specifically requests it. If you would LIKE to receive some advice, please add a little “Help, please?” or something to the end of your comment, to make everything nice and clear.
I know most advice is well-meaning, but sometimes it can feel hurtful or dismissive when someone is just trying to express their feelings or their frustration.
I will also try my best not to give unsolicited advice, since I am often guilty of it myself.