Can 30 minutes or less really be satisfying?

Do you remember the first time you felt anything that took under a half an hour just simply wasn’t going to cut it?  As if time spent truly dictated quality achieved.  Well people, I am here to tell you quality is not always preceded by quantity, you can be lusciously happy in 30, 25, or even 20 minutes.  Allow me to seduce you into a new way treating your family meal time and help you stop thinking you can’t reach dinner time bliss without blowing up your kitchen!

Being a stay at home mom and loving to cook usually spells major frustration around dinner time.  I know, I know, you would think that by staying home, you could have a smooth, fun afternoon of prepping and cooking fabulous meals and then serving your family (little white apron donned and pot holders at the ready) who would of course thank you exhaustively for all your efforts and then insist on cleaning the dishes and kitchen in gracious return.   This of course would happen while you put your feet up, cool glass of wine in your hand, basking in all the appreciation flowing from your family.  What?  You say I must be inhaling too many cleaning fumes?  Ahhh, then you have the same experience I have.  Reality:  You spend most of the day picking up everything from yesterday, doing laundry, chasing the dirty, stinky puppy with a diaper in her mouth and caring for Bubba the baby Gorilla. Then, you put a great deal of time, effort and money into creating a meal, are left with a sink full of dishes and a family that turns into vapor in the aftermath.

O.k., so enough reality.  Let’s get to my point.  After a whole week cooking dinners from Ainsley Harriott’s Gourmet Express, I must report that my life at dinner time has become substantially more satisfying.  The food consistently exceeds my expectations for freshness, quality, edibility, time spent preparing and mess to clean up when it’s all over.  As if that weren’t enough, the ingredients are very easily interchangeable to work with what you have on hand or to fit family preferences.  On more than one occasion I switched up one or two (or a bunch) of items and they were still nummy.  I  was going to review the recipes individually, but then seriously thought, the recipes weren’t the point.  Besides, I already told you they were fab and who really wants to read a recipe blow by blow.  Drag yourself to the library and try Mr. Gourmet Express out for yourself, and then, like me, go buy it so it will be yours for evs.

FIRST STEP IN TAKING THE TROUBLE OUT OF DINNER~Plan, plan…plan

At the beginning of your week (my day is Monday, yours might be Wednesday depending on your Bubba or Hubster) go through your recipes, then go through your pantry and refrigerator (if you’re like me, throw out the mystery food in tupperware that you have no idea how long it’s been there…do not sniff it you will only gag and waste time, just toss it and chuck the dishes in the sink).  Try to see what you already have in order to save shopping time and cash you may want to save as well.

Now, plan every meal in advance and write it down somewhere obvious.  Be aware, if something comes up, your list is fluid, change it up for convenience.  This plan is about ease…not stress, if it doesn’t work that day, ditch it.  My youngest daughter, Miss Thing, got a case of the barfs last week, so Thursday didn’t work out like I planned.  Writing it down reminds you while you are hazy and bleary eyed after a night with Bubba what the plan is for the day.  I like not having to think when my brain cells are working off 3 hours of sleep and caffeine, I get cranky.  Below you can see my weekly plan, I re-purposed a cute little mirror that has no place in the house into a great little wipe board.  Dry erase markers work fab on this and I also get the added bonus of being able to actually check out how I look without leaving the kitchen so I know if there is the odd smudge of crap anywhere embarrassing.

Now, look at what you need to purchase in order to complete your list and then, try to find out what’s on sale and go to your coupons!!  Try Krazy Coupon Lady for a huge list of items, coupons and stores.  Here is where you must decide whether you will stick with the recipe or substitute items.  For example, Baked Penne with Chorizo and Taleggio Cheese sounded awesome, but possibly unreachable here in the desert.  I had a coupon from the Dream Fields website for $1.00 off Dream Fields Pasta (which was on sale so it cost me $.79 per box), but found the commissary was out of Taleggio and only had sub-par chorizo that really looked kinda sketchy and sad.  I was not up for turning this into a $40 meal.  Looking around, I realized I had:

A coupon for $1.00 off Kraft shredded cheese, so I went with the 5 Italian Cheese mix ($1.49 with coupon and sale) and picked up A container of ricotta ($1.50 on sale) as well as                                                                                                                                  Johnsonville Mile Ground Sausage ($1.02 on sale with $1.00 off coupon)

The recipe made itself, and since I could easily double it for less than $10.00, I did.

Baked Pasta with Italian Sausage and Cheese

I prepared the recipe exactly as I would if I had the original ingredients, and it was incredible with a fresh Caesar Salad.  Half of the left over uncooked mixture went into the freezer for next week.  Two meals for about $10.00 total, plus it took me less than 30 minutes to prepare.  Stellar.

  In mommy world, this is a major score.

Advertisements

And for my #3 trick…

I have to admit, it bothered me to think that I would be giving up cooking elaborate dinners for my family in order to save time, energy and sanity.  It was a close call between going back to school to get my masters in teaching or to train to become a chef.  But as anyone who has worked in a kitchen knows, having a family with small children makes restaurant work painful.  However, cooking is magical for me, time flows differently when I am in the kitchen, measuring, tasting…it makes your family gleam with delight when they drag in after a long school day only to breathe in the comforting aroma of home cooked delights.  Friends are welcomed around a table full of fresh cooked meals.  Everything that I love is put into my cooking.  When my life is a mess and I am reminded that I know so very little about this life, I do know that if you throw flour, fresh herbs, baking soda, salt and some milk together and deep fry it in just the right way and your taste buds dance.

So, last weekend when the kids and I bounced happily into the library (well, they bounced, I sort of Quasimodo dragged in with Bubba the baby gorilla glued to my hip) I was determined to find some help in my quest to accomplish my 3rd resolution, make great, healthy, delicious, and quick meals for my family.  This felt a bit daunting.  Perusing through the cooking section of any library always reminds me of sifting through used cars at the local lot.  There are a lot of lemons out there and you don’t find out until it’s too late.  Most of them require a ton of detail and almost always a small fortune in parts.  We currently live in the Mojave desert (no, I’m not kidding).  There isn’t exactly a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s within reasonable distance so if I need Kefir Limes or Teleggio Cheese last minute, I better just simply be prepared to forget the meal altogether and dig out the pasta.  Thankfully, the cooking section of our library turned out smaller than expected.  There was of course the expeced books on meat, pasta, veggies, and fish.  I quickly ran into Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, Bobby Flay and an army of Food Network mafioso.  Then, just as I began glazing over and Bubba started pulling books off shelves, an unexpected blessing slipped into my fingers.  Ainsley Harriott’s  Gourmet Express caught my attention with the word express.  This would imply quick, simple and easy.  Interest peaked, I flipped through the pages with one hand while breaking apart apple cinnamon puffs and shoving them at Bubba with the other.  His interest in the cooking aisle was waning quickly since I insisted he not gnaw on the books.  The recipes appeared simple, it had small ingredient lists with cooking times ranging from 30 to 45 minutes.  I could do this.  I snapped up the book and did something I hadn’t done in years…I planned my week of dinners out and actually felt really good about it.

I started with the recipes that included items I had the most of in the house to keep my budget intact and dove into Monday with glee.  Hot Crispy Cajun Chicken Sandwich and Roasted Tomato with Creme Fraiche, all I needed was fresh boneless chicken breast and some creme fraiche.  Skipping off to the commissary with Bubba in tow, we discovered that all the plain, boneless chicken was gone.  Of course, why would there be plain chicken??  This is a problem.  I found Foster’s Chicken had a teriyaki chicken breast hidden behind a line of wings.  Could I substitute?  Well, if I expected to eat anything close to what I planned, substitution was going to be imperative.  I found a coupon for .75 cents off the chicken (which turned the trip into a semi score, at least I wasn’t paying full price for the chicken I really didn’t want to begin with), and hurried home.  The prep time for everything took about 15 minutes.  Cooking was simple.  Fry the chicken (which was already seasoned so I could skip that step), roast the soup ingredients, blend, sandwich, serve.  My husband reported loving the food.  The kids said they would definitely want to eat it again, and only one asked if she had to finish the soup.  But to the recipes defense, she dislikes tomatoes immensely, so the mere fact that she ate half of it was a testament to it’s edibility.  I looked around when I finished and noticed we were done eating before 7pm, a new thing for us.  The dirty dish level was moderate, but only because I had to use a food processor and could not find my strainer and ended up using a steamer basket to very inefficiently strain the seeds and pulp from my soup.  This was after trying my ricer and then my fryer screen.  Cooking with Ainsley Harriott is going to make my life simpler, and regardless of my husband’s extreme dislike of Indian food, we will be eating every recipe in that book.  Bubba may even get a blended version.

The finished teriyaki chicken sandwich with “monster” cheese and the roasted veggies pre-blend