If for the rest of your life, you could only eat one dish, what would you choose? Breakfast, lunch, and dinner? You can chose a dish with several ingredients, but not a soup, with a side of sushi, a side of steak, and a side of chocolate cake.
I think I would go for some kind of stew. It is healthy and warm, you can have it cold in summer, and it keeps you full. I love beef and lentil stew, and also beans and chorizo stew. I would rather have that than anything sweet, I’d get bored very quickly with a desert dish.
As I talked back in November about ways to simplify your life in order to concentrate on what is really important to you, food was an example. If you stop staring at the fridge every morning, make a batch of breakfast burritos on Sunday and eat that for a week, you will have more time to think, create, work, play, even watch your favorite show’s new season!
While I like to eat, and genuinely enjoy a gourmet meal, I know some people just eat to get full, and wouldn’t mind eating the same thing every day. My mum just eats to keep herself alive. Once a week, she goes to the supermarket and comes back with the same things all the time. Ready meals to microwave, cooked chicken, peeled shrimps, baby tomatoes… I don’t think she ever spends more than three minutes preparing a meal, except for very rare occasions when she would grill a steak and boil some rice.
You will never see my mum chopping vegetables, or baking a cake. By keeping her cooking effort minimum, she has time to do other things. As a teacher, she tutors kids at night. When she comes back, her meal is ready in three minutes, and she relaxes and watches TV. She doesn’t miss the cooking because a good meal is not very important to her.
I am quite the opposite. While I could probably eat my stew every day, being given other options I’d rather not.
Here are a few tips to get the best of both worlds, keep your cooking low and your palate happy.
Using every variation of an ingredient
On Monday, I can
buy butcher a whole chicken and have my favorite chicken dishes all over the week. Fried chicken, chicken pad thai, chicken soup, a risotto with the chicken broth come to mind.
PROS: Nothing goes to waste, you use every possible part of your chicken and save money.
CONS: Lots of recipes mean a lot of time spent in the kitchen.
Making a big batch of something
Every time I make pizza, I prepare enough dough to make a second pizza, and freeze it. Same thing with stew, or anything really, I always cook for at least another meal.
PROS: Again, I am saving money by making bigger portions, as I am using my oven once and I can buy staples in bulk. I am also saving time by cooking once a big enough quantity for a few meals.
CONS: If I don’t preserve the food properly, it could go to waste. I like to freeze things in small portions so that if I unfreeze I don’t have to eat that food for days. Some dishes can’t be frozen, like salad, and if you don’t want to throw it then you have to eat it in the next 24 hours or so.
Recycling your previous meal
When I prepare a roast with side vegetables, I can turn the extra veggies into a wok with rice and soy sauce, or purée them, or make a soup. The extra roast can become a cold meat sandwich, be chopped into a stir fry, or sliced into tacos.
PROS: You are technically eating the same thing, but you don’t feel like it. Less waste, more money in your wallet.
CONS: Someone at your table will probably notice and say ”isn’t that the roast from yesterday, and the day before?”. There is only so much you can invent in order to recycle certain ingredients. Laurie over at The Frugal Farmer is a real artist at is, check out her before/after pictures, you would swear it’s not the same dish.
Spice it up!
A few spices can totally change a meal. If you cook some potatoes and eat part of it mashed, you can oven bake another part with thyme and rosemary, or make patatas bravas with paprika, and so on.
PROS: Cheap, will change a bland rice into an Asian or Mexican or Cajun rice, usually for zero added calories, unless you go heavy on the BBQ sauce.
CONS: Your other half may not tolerate pipping hot chilies and have forgotten to tell you.
What other tips do you have to keep cooking simple and save time/money?