Monday, March 17, 2008

My Kitchen Method: Cooking During Stolen Moments, Part 1

This is the beginning of an as yet unnumbered series I'll be doing on the cooking method I've developed for our home. It has streamlined my entire day, reduced stress in all of us, and allowed us to continue eating frugal, well-planned, healthy, and from-scratch meals with seemingly very little effort. The goal of my plan is to take advantage of the little free snatches of time that pop up throughout the day to prepare dinner so that you can have a healthy, form-scratch meal on the table with no more effort than opening a box. This also enables you to avoid that dreaded dinner rush hour when everyone needs you and everything seems to go wrong. This process grew out of necessity. As we've had more children, my desire to serve my family meals made from scratch has only grown, as my time to spend in the kitchen has decreased.

To sum up, my cooking during stolen moments method means dinner is done by noon everyday and I can pretty much shut the kitchen down until dinnertime if I choose. You can spend all day preparing delicious and nutritious food for your family (in 10 minute intervals here and there) without feeling like you've spent any time in the kitchen at all; or you can take advantage of the night before and the morning hours to have lunch and dinner completed by 10 am.

Here is a working example of how I use this method. (Trust me, it is pretty much perfected by now because it contains my stand-by recipes for those days when I'm just not feeling very creative, which happens more frequently than I care to admit!)

The menu plan for the day:
B: Oatmeal, toast, bananas
L: Tuna pasta salad, apple slices
D: Shepherd's Pie, (optional: lettuce w/dressing)

The Game Plan:
7:00am - Make breakfast. Put 2 c. quick oats, 3 1/2 c. water and pinch of salt in a big microwave safe bowl. Cook for 3 minutes. While oatmeal cooks, toast and butter bread and slice bananas, if needed. Top oatmeal with brown sugar, cinnamon, and/or maple syrup. Eat. While eating, start boiling water for pasta for lunch.
7:20am - Done eating. Throw pasta & salt into the boiling water. In a large bowl, combine 1/2 c. mayonnaise, 1 T. dill, 2 T. pickle relish, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1 can drained tuna. Drain pasta and rinse in cold water. Add pasta to bowl, stir to coat, cover, and refrigerate. Lunch is done.
7:35am - Wash 8 medium-sized potatoes and cut each into eighths. Drop into a large pot of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low-boil, and cook until fork-tender, about 25 minutes. While the potatoes cook, dice 1/2 of a medium-sized onion. In a large saute pan, brown 1/2-1 lb. ground beef and onion. Sprinkle with garlic salt while cooking. DO NOT DRAIN FAT! Stir in 1/4 c. flour and cook for 1 minute. Add 2 c. beef stock, 1 1/2 t. thyme, and 1/4 t. pepper. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until gravy consistency. Stir in 3 c. frozen mixed veggies. Pour the mixture into a 13 x 9 casserole dish. Drain potatoes. Return to pot and mash with 1/4 c. butter, 1/2 c. milk, 3/4 c. sour cream, and garlic salt & pepper to taste. Mash until desired consistency, adding more milk if needed. Top beef mixture with mashed potatoes, cover and refrigerate. Clean up dishes and close down kitchen, if desired. It is now not even 8:30 and your cooking is done for the day!
At lunch time, slice some apples and serve with pasta salad.
At dinner time, pull the Shepherd's Pie out of the refrigerator to take the chill off while heating the oven to 350 degrees. If desired, tear up some lettuce and toss with dressing to serve with dinner. Put the casserole in the oven for 25 minutes. Top with 1 c. shredded cheddar cheese (optional) and return to the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Dinner is served!

This method has been tweaked and reworked, and tweaked again over the past few years, and I must we (the method & I) are now in a pretty agreeable and enjoyable place. I love that dinner time is no longer the hectic mess it used to be, as do Eric and our children.

Next up in the series: How to make this method work for you if you can't afford a fairly uniterruped hour and a half to two block of time all at once.


Teresa 10:51 AM  

You would think I would know to do this already, but no. I actually set a timer to remind me to start my bread for dinner. Now tell me, why couldn't I just put it on in the morning when we're making breakfast? lol Makes more sense now that I think about it. Thanks for sharing this!

Renee 9:31 PM  

That's really explained well. Do you still follow the same type of plan if you're not having a casserole sort of meal for dinner?

Thanks for visiting my blog!

Kate 9:42 PM  

Renee, I do follow this plan (or a variation thereof) for virtually every meal I cook. I'm doing this as a series, and I'll do a similar breakdown of a days cooking next week, except this time without a casserole for dinner.

Thanks for stopping by!

Grammy 12:39 PM  

I like the stolen moments Ideal. With the kids grown up and gone. It is lack of motivation on my part to plan any more.
Have a great week.

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