Monday, April 2, 2012

By request: Food: How to make it really good, really fast

A couple of weeks ago, I put a link to a survey up top, and after a couple of modifications (read: if you took it before last Wednesday, please feel free to take it again because it's different) I've started getting some feedback.  Yay!  One of the new questions is about what topics you'd like to see me address in terms of Getting A Grip.

Our first requested topic?  Food.  Amy in Texas would like some ideas for quick easy dinners.  I'm on it.

Let's back up a little and take a look at what the staples are in your pantry.  Cooking dinner for a family on a weeknight requires preparation--you can't just walk in the door after work and bibbidy-bobbidy-boo up a healthy tasty meal without a little forethought.  If the only thing you could make from scratch is D Batteries basted in Pickle Juice, you need to go to the store.

What do you always have on hand?  If you go to The Google and type "pantry staples", you come up with 2 million results for things you should keep in your cupboards at all times.  I like the list that How Stuff Works has--these are basics, and if you have them, you can come up with all kinds of good stuff.  Add in some family favorites (at our house, Rotel tomatoes are a party in a can, and we like the big bag of frozen vegetables from Costco...) and you'll have a good foundation for a week's worth of food, including leftovers.

On the bottom shelf of the rice/pasta aisle is where the bags of bulk beans live.  Buy one of those bags.  Yes, it's a lot of beans.  Pinto beans are the khaki pants of the kitchen--they're not fancy, but they go with everything else you own.  Trust me.  Fill your stockpot about 1/3 of the way with beans and the rest of the way with water, and soak for 24 hours.  Then, put them in quart freezer bags, and they're an easy addition to just about any dish.

In our freezer, we always have boneless skinless chicken breasts, pork chops, ground beef, tilapia, shrimp, and Italian sausage.  Ideally, I will put one of the above in the fridge the night before so it's ready to cook when I get home.  If I forget to do that, putting it in a sink full of lukewarm water gets the job done in about half an hour.

Pork chops and chicken breasts are super easy to cook, and it's not hard to make them interesting in the process.  Before you handle the meat (that's what she said), grab your seasonings and such.  Kosher salt, ground pepper, thyme, sage, cumin, garlic or onion powder are all in my regular rotation.

With chops (I like big thick boneless ones), set them on a piece of plastic wrap (because you don't want the trichinosis...).   Heat a skillet that's big enough to hold all of the chops without crowding them, drizzle olive oil and a pat of butter (YES I SAID BUTTER) and let that start to bubble over medium-high heat.  Season each side of the chops with whatever combination of flavors you like, then flip them over and repeat.  Put the meat in the pan and brown so it's got a nice crisp crust on top and bottom.  Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until it's done in the middle with a little bit of pink, about 20 minutes.  Maybe flip them once more while they're covered.

Chicken breasts can be cooked just like chops are, but I like to dredge in an egg wash with some Frank's Red Hot and some flour before I season them.  It makes me feel like I'm eating fried chicken, which is a guilty pleasure.

When you remove the meat (heh) there are these great drippings and stuff in the pan.  You want to dazzle your family?  Deglaze the pan and make a sauce.  Leave the pan on the flame, toss in some diced onions and saute for a minute or two.  Add some crushed tomatoes (too fancy?  ketchup or barbecue sauce work) and some chicken broth or wine, and voila!  Fancy main dish.  Serve with some steamed vegetables sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and your family won't know what hit them.

Cook more than you need, and you'll be able to take the leftovers for lunch a couple of times, and you can even incorporate the meat into a salad later in the week.  WINNING.

So there we go.  I like to cook for my family, for no other reason than it's something I'm good at and a kickass meal is one way I show my love.

Let me know if you try this, and how it turns out!


  1. Yay! So. Easy.

    Another thing to try is bulk cooking/packaging. Premake a bunch of your favs and freeze. Making lasagna? How hard is it to make 2 and freeze one? Same with meatloaf. Sloppy joes. Tacos. Spaghetti sauce. Throw them in a large bag in the freezer with whatever would finish off the time-buns, shells, veggies, pasta, etc. Every morning pull something out, thaw during the day and assemble in the evening. Viola! Fam favs in 1/2 the time.

  2. I love it! Can't wait to try it w/ pork chops. I admit- I'm intimidated by pork. But this I could do. Love the beans suggestion too. Fabulous idea! Thank you, friend!!