We love good food. Both Mr. Handsome and I love to cook. It’s an important way to socialize with each other, to keep connected to our respective cultures, and to stay healthy. Our groceries food budget (more or less equaling total food budget because we don’t eat out often) is currently at 16% of our total living budget. As a comparison, the average American spends only 7% on food at home, but 5.4% on food away from home (http://www.visualeconomics.com/how-the-average-us-consumer-spends-their-paycheck/). We don’t buy anything fancy but we do buy whole healthy ingredients, fresh and organic vegetables – and cooking everything from scratch does have its price too (which is completely unfair, but I digress). Alas, we’re passionate about it, so we agreed that it’s worth it.
Now, given that high percentage of budget for food, that means that the fridge is usually full of it, and it’s perishable. On the other hand, there isn’t too much time for us for cooking on weekdays – either of us will get home late or very late from work (7pm to 9.30pm), and the person coming home half hour earlier might not be feel the highest motivational drive to work any magic in the kitchen. I’m sure many of you know that dilemma (I’m tired! What do I do? Order take out?)
Which is what inspired me to share our weekdays cooking philosophy
Now where I come from, cooking means preparing some sort of protein (meat), and serve it with some starchy food aside (pasta, rice, potatoes), and vegetables. Add the preparation of a heavy sauce to pour on top over it all. You need at least and five pots. Lots of my grandma’s recipes were like that; elaborate meals that require lots of ingredients and preparation time. I can totally understand that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by everything that a recipe wants you to do. Myself, I am too impatient to reading recipe books, memorizing exactly at what point to add the scraped lemon peel (for which of course I need to buy a lemon peeler), having to run to the store to buy the particular missing spice for the dish, or leave something sitting over night that then needs to be put in the oven the following morning. However, these are no valid reasons to quit and order takeout 😉
So here is what I think:
The only ‘knowledge’ that is truly ‘necessary’ for cooking is how to prepare ingredients. The rest leads to itself, results may vary.
Couple of days ago I was the one who came home early (admittedly, it was quite early). We had some acorn squash that needed to be eaten and leftovers from the night before (cooked rice and a piece of chicken).
1. Basic main ingredient (squash) knowledge: cut, scrape out seeds, wrap in foil and bake for an hour or boil until its soup. That is the necessary part – steps 2 and 3 are optional!
2. Shop around for inspiration: one of my favourite sources of inspiration is Jamie Oliver, because he is very good at putting together nice combinations of basic ingredients. I often pop by his website to see what I can do that could go in a similar direction of taste or preparation as his recipes. For example, I looked for said squash: http://www.jamieoliver.com/recipes/vegeterian-recipes/hamilton-squash?clicked_from_search_results=true&query=squash
As simple as the recipe looked, in my tired state of mind it reduced itself to the following words: Put rice into squash and bake.
3. Spice up with what’s available: A while ago I started chopping and freezing vegetables after shopping, which saves quite a bit of time in the evenings. I fried a handful of them (chives, leek, mushrooms), threw on top the leftovers, added condiments, and stuffed everything in the squash that then got wrapped in tin foil.
4. Cook, eat: Oven baked food is great when you’re tired – just preheat it, pop the food inside and check back later. The squash took an hour, but other recipes (casserole, or marinated chicken and vegetables) are good after only half an hour. If it needs to go even faster, use a steamer basket – Fish and veggies can be ready in as fast as 15 minutes, add some rice to the rice cooker and switch it on, done. If you don’t feel as tired, stir-fry is a great option (10-20 minutes).
5. If all else fails, grab a sandwich, add lettuce, tomato, hummus, and whatever else deli fish vegetable pickle or cheese there is in the fridge. Prep time 5 minutes, faster than any take out delivery service can get to your door! Or fry an egg – 3 minutes, add toast. Or cook in batch on the weekend before that sits in the freezer as an emergency back up.
Cooking simple food from scratch is good to both body and budget. Take-out and restaurant food is super high in grease and sodium, it’s just not meant to be consumed every day. When I’m really tired I force myself to start cooking, because I know that I only have to sit through 5-15-20-30-45-60 more minutes (a matter of choice) in order to get something that’s really good for us in return.