This isn't a food blog, and I don't necessarily plan to turn it into one. But Sam and I are in a really good groove right now when it comes to cooking meals for ourselves, so I thought I'd share some of our successes and what works for us. And some recipes!
First of all, though I'm a capable cook, Sam is not. I don't mean to say he won't be, but he's certainly a beginner. Before he lost his job a year ago, he only cooked a few things, and one of them was pasta. The other was grilled meat. He couldn't even scramble eggs. But because he's home so much more than I am now, he's taken on more of the cooking. (I don't know if he likes that this is the case, but I pretty much insisted on it.) So many of the things we eat are simple simple simple for the beginner to make! And quick and easy on the nights when the better cook is in the kitchen.
We also have a fairly extensive list of things we always have in the house. It's remarkable how much you can make with this stuff. I think everyone will have their own staples, because some of the things we keep in the house aren't for everyone, and people like different spices and so on. I didn't take this list from somewhere; over time, as we've economized (unemployment and all), we've learned what works for us and what doesn't.
Things we always have:
- bagels (we each eat one for breakfast daily)
- cream cheese (for the above bagels)
- heads of garlic
- 28 oz canned crushed tomatoes
- fats; butter and oil (preferably olive oil and canola)
- dry pasta (always rigatoni, sometimes bucatini)
- parmesan cheese
- white rice
- peanut butter & jelly
- condiments: soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, mayo, vinegars (more than one, always red wine, white wine and cidar),
- a stocked spice cabinet
- brown and white sugar, flour, basic baking supplies
So in addition to those items, which we restock immediately if we use up, we also have a list of items that we *usually* have but not always:
- frozen tortellini (Costco! We buy the refridgerated stuff, and freeze it. Only frozen torts I really like; many have nutmeg--puke!)
- wheat bread
- an onion or two
- sour cream
- frozen peas
- heavy cream
- chicken or beef broth
- cheddar cheese (shredded or not)
- take and bake rolls
- French (fancy!) butter
With those two lists, you can make a number of pretty tasty meals, when you add in a protein. We buy boneless skinless chicken breasts almost every week, and they always always get used. Heck, you don't even need to add a protein to have a good meal from those lists.
We do have, obviously, some standard meals. Pasta is our most successful, and I've shared this recipe on FB before, but it's so good I'm going to share it again. This is mostly invented, taking techniques from different places, and it's eminently tweakable. Basically, you saute a shallot (diced) in some oil (usually olive oil) until it gets soft. Then you add a clove of crushed garlic and saute for a minute more. Dump in a can of crushed tomatoes, and let cook while you boil pasta. Three minutes before you're done, add a dollop of heavy cream to the sauce. Serve when hot. That's it. There are no quantities because I don't measure anything. Here are some variations we've done: use onion instead of shallot, cut into rings; saute a couple chopped slices of bacon first, and drain, then cook the shallot in bacon fat instead of olive oil; leave out the cream and add milk; leave out the cream; add red pepper flakes with the garlic. You could do anything with spicing that you wanted. You could use other meats. It's very adaptable. And it makes a lot of food. We freeze half, and then we've got a meal for the next week.
Another fallback for us is fried rice. You don't need meat to make it; egg fried rice is tasty by itself. But we like mostly to throw leftover pork of some kind in, or ham and pineapple. You do need day-old cooked rice, so there is a bit of pre-planning needed. Basic recipe: put a LOT of oil in a very large skillet or saute pan. Very large, because you're going to be putting a lot of rice in it. Anyway, put more oil in than you think you need. Scramble four eggs, and when the pan and oil is screaming hot dump the eggs in. (You can salt and pepper the eggs if you like.) Oil will hopefully come up over the edges of the egg. The egg is going to start getting puffy. I can't describe it any other way, but you'll see. When the egg looks mostly cooked (and puffy), and only has a little bit of wet egg in the middle, throw the rice in, along with any meat you're using. Also, any hearty veg can go in at this point. Nothing delicate. Stir. Stir! Rice will sizzle and cook, and when it seems hot, and the meat seems hot (use only pre-cooked meat for this, btw) start adding soy sauce. A good bit. You know how fried rice looks in restaurants? You're going for that dark a color, but you need soy sauce. If you're nervous, add less and taste, add some more, taste, etc. You'll get to a point you like eventually. Stir some more; add some green onions if you like. Done. Eat.
So this is going on and on, but there are other things we do: marinate chicken and grill it, putting it into fresh tortillas with lime and avocado, use Rick Bayless pouched sauces, make ground pork chili, eat bucatini carbonara, try new recipes....we're in the kitchen almost every night. But I'm not going to lie; we go through periods where we dont want to cook, where we end up going through drive-thrus or eating cereal. We don't see that as failing, though. We're just doing the best we can. More recipes later in the week?