Little Big Kitchen: Dinner with a little help from my friends

28 Apr

I received an abundance of wonderful ideas for getting dinner on the table every night in the comments of my previous post. I wanted to gather them all, organize them, and present them here because 1. I’m a librarian; it’s what I do and 2. I’m hoping this will help some other poor soul who, like me, turns to the internet when they are fed up with making dinner. See the comments in the original post here.

GREAT MINDS

I noticed some themes that came up over and over again in the comments. Roasting a whole chicken, for example, then using the leftovers throughout the week, reinventing it or adding it to salads. Using the carcass for stock. Basically, you know an idea is sound when several people in different circumstances come up with it. Buying a whole chicken is much more economical than buying the bird piecemeal. Using the whole thing is healthy, saves time and money, and, in my opinion, respects the bird. Erin suggested roasting it using Belinda’s Kafka method which I tried awhile back. It worked out beautifully, even though I roasted the bird upside down. Elizabeth pointed out that if you didn’t want to go to the trouble of roasting the bird yourself, buying a rotisserie option from the grocery store couldn’t be easier.

Planning, shopping, and prep work were recommended across the board. I can’t manage to get dinner on the table without some sort of preliminary thought and neither can other people, it seems. I can’t tell you how reassuring this is. Julie’s comment about doing the shopping and the meal prep together as quality time spent with loved ones really opened my eyes. Instead of viewing that time as a chore I need to realize that is quality time spent with my husband, plus it’s a healthy habit to introduce to my daughter. Time spent together, plus the mindset of making healthy food for our bodies, is a vital lesson that as a parent I need to pass on. I couldn’t agree with her more.

A stocked pantry is essential. Fortunately, I developed a pretty kickass pantry in my childless days. It’s taken ten years but my pantry rocks and I can say from experience that a well-stocked pantry can save many and evening. Dingey had the wonderful suggestion of stocking up on bulk grains at Co-ops and to have a variety of spices and condiments on hand. Cooking for yourself is only worth it if you like what you make so investing in flavor makes perfect sense. Peter thinks a well stocked pantry goes a long way towards improvising meals on the fly, and I agree with him. April recommends keeping these items on hand: pasta sauces, cheese, prepped veggies, salad dressings and marinades.

Don’t forget your freezer as an extension of your pantry! Julie sometimes makes extra of something to freeze when she knows her routine might get interrupted and Erin buys organic chickens when they are on sale and freezes them to make her purchase last.

The crock pot is a friend of both April and Bonnie. April makes soups in hers once a week and Bonnie likes that she can prep her meals the night before and set them up in the crock pot in the morning. Erin loves Kalua pork from the crock pot that can usually stretch to fit more than one meal. I’ve heard you can roast a chicken in one but I’ve yet to try it.

RESOURCES

Peter suggested this link that I absolutely love. It’s great for meal inspiration.

Elizabeth recommends Bon Appetite’s website particularly their Fast Easy Fresh column.

Erin suggested two blogs and and I must say that I highly recommend simply recipes as well.

Several cookbooks have been recommended and as someone who has a soft spot for cookbooks, I could not be more pleased. Bonnie recommended “Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day” and I have heard so much about this cookbook that it’s already on my wish list. Elizabeth highly spoke of “Jamie’s Dinners” for its foundational recipes particularly. Dingey suggests “The Flavor Bible” for learning about how flavors complement each other and I think I’m going to put this on reserve at the library immediately. Bonnie recommends a collection of books available in Canada that I might have to search for in the states called “Jean Pare’s Company’s Coming.”

SUNDRY TIPS, TRICKS, AND COOKING ADVICE

April

  1. Grill up burgers on the weekend to have on hand for lunch during the week
  2. Make casseroles on the weekend to round out your week’s meals
  3. Take a pack of chicken and marinate each piece in a different marinade
  4. Prep and marinate vegetables on the weekend. During the week lay them on the grill or sauté them on the stove.
  5. Save the dishes that have a bigger time commitment for the weekend.

Julie

  1. Shop and cook together on the weekends for quality time
  2. Keep healthy snacks on hand for grazers and frequent eaters
  3. Make your meals to double-duty by reinventing leftovers
  4. Make extra to freeze as back up
  5. Create meals assembly-line style to breakup the workload.

Peter

  1. Improv meals from a well stocked pantry

Omar

  1. Prep your vegetables
  2. use your gas grill to create fast, flavorful dinners

Erin

  1. Stock up on expensive, organic chicken when on sale and freeze
  2. Use frozen pizza dough to create fabulous, healthy, inexpensive gourmet pizza
  3. Roast a chicken to last a couple meals
  4. Use your crock pot to get multiple meals from one meal’s work

Elizabeth

  1. Roast chicken goes far. Rotisserie chicken from the grocery store is a good value.
  2. Frittata and other egg dishes is a quick way to get a lot of healthy protein inexpensively
  3. Keep good-quality sausage in the freezer for lots of meal options
  4. Learn the basics of foundation recipes

Dingey

  1. Stock up to keep stuff on hand for improved meals
  2. Stock up in bulk to save money
  3. Make grain salads ahead of time – they last, are healthy, and filling
  4. Learn to pair your flavors

Bonnie

  1. Prepping the night before with the crock pot turns into something delicious the next day
  2. Keep track of recipes you’d like to try and ingredients you’ll need
  3. Have a stash of recipes that you can go to when you need something fast
  4. Stir fries are delicious and healthy
  5. Frozen pizza dough only needs toppings and you have a delicious pie for the oven

There you have it, folks, a wealth of information on how to answer the one inevitable question in life: what’s for dinner?  I think we just might have the answer.

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No Responses to “Little Big Kitchen: Dinner with a little help from my friends”

  1. Erin April 28, 2010 at 11:37 am #

    OH!

    Another thing that I thought of that we do – make our own tomato sauce, not from scratch, but sorta…. I have a gigantic stockpot (cheap, aluminum, holds about 40 quarts, I think, we bought it at Sam’s Club) that we use to make marinara in HUGE batches. We buy the restaurant size of canned diced tomatoes (3-4) and tomato sauce (1), and add garlic, onions, herbs, and then cook it down ourselves. You can puree it if you want a smooth sauce, or leave it chunky for a more marinara-type texture. We freeze ours in quart bags in the freezer (perfect for pasta), but if you were feeling intrepid you could easily can it, since tomatoes are so acidic. I think it ends up costing us (and remember, we’re in Alaska so everything is more expensive) about $1 per baggie, which itself makes 2-4 servings. So, instead of buying jarred sauce, make your own! Quick, easy pasta with delicious, almost homemade sauce. It’s super easy to incorporate whatever is fresh into the sauce – I put grated carrots into the batch that I made this weekend, and they added a nice sweetness to it. Just another idea. Pasta with tomato sauce and bread is so easy and satisfying. Not organic (though I’m sure you could make it so), nor particularly healthy, but… better than jarred sauce, I suppose. And far less expensive.

    I really love sharing food planning ideas, and the blog. Keep it coming!

  2. Elizabeth April 28, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    I would like to note that we roasted a chicken on Monday in the cast iron – I haven’t posted about it yet, but will soon – and used 1/2 of the leftovers in tonight’s fancy macaroni and cheese. The other 1/2 will go into chicken tacos tomorrow night, and the carcass was used to make stock which I accidentally simmered down to almost nothing, then added more water, then simmered down to 3 cups from probably 10 to start. The chicken was something like $7. A great deal!

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  1. Dinner Update II « Little Big - September 28, 2010

    […] learned a lot from that initial post and the subsequent post made up of all of your wonderful advice. I made some decisions and went forward with a new plan: a set weekly menu. The concept of […]

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