Monday, September 27, 2010

Give me your best advice

My friend Alice just emailed our friends asking for boot advice. I decided to email everyone and ask for some advice, too, but now I decided to open my query up to a wider forum. I need cooking help!

I have come to realize that the way I used to cook when I was working full-time and didn't have any kids does not work for my current family situation. No, it does not work at all! I need some new ideas and also just some advice on being a domestic goddess or at least just not tearing my hair out or feeding Sawyer and Tyson popcorn for dinner (yes, I did that on Saturday). Okay, I fed Beck popcorn too. It was very labor-intensive because I had to break off all the dangerous pieces and tear the remaining soft parts into small pieces. Yeah, you would think I would consider it easier to just cook a normal dinner, but what can I say, popcorn is my favorite food!

So I used to do all the cooking when I got home from work. It could be simple or elaborate, but it almost NEVER involved the oven or the crockpot. Everything I cooked was done on the stove or the grill. This was just out of necessity - when you don't start prepping and cooking until 6pm, you don't have time for longer cooking methods like baking, roasting, braising, or slow-cooking. Everything was a rush, rush, rush of prep work and sauteeing, but it was fun and not at all difficult because Tyson and I would do it together and no little children needed attention.

This way of cooking became more difficult when Sawyer came along, but I kept it up. I don't think I even realized I could or should be doing things a different way, because this is the way I have been cooking for 20+ years. Now, with two kids, and at the ages they are, I realize I have got to change up my methods. I need to figure out a new way to cook. Things that can be prepped when the kids are less active (night before, during naptime in the afternoon), then baked, long-simmered, or crock-potted to emerge at dinner time, savory and delicious. This new way of cooking will give me time to set the table, toss a salad, etc.

So, any ideas, great recipes, or links to websites that cover this in a nutshell? Soups, crockpot stuff, enchiladas, baked main courses, dare I say even casseroles? The only homemade thing I really successfully make in my oven is my grandmom's lasagna. Yum! I can also make red beans and rice, and carnitas. That's it. I need everything else.


  1. I will look into this a little more and get back to you but I wanted to let you know I share your frustration and guilt at dinner. One night I just didn't get anything made for dinner and as I was putting Jackson to bed his little tummy started growling. I felt so horrible I let him stay up while I made him graham crackers and frosting, nutritous no but calories yea! I do have a few recipes that are easy that I use and I will pass them along later.

  2. Get a George Foreman grill - then you can still have grilled food, but it's easier to manage with the little kids under foot.

  3. My problem with dinner-fixing is that I usually don't think about what to fix until around 4pm.

    I've gotten pretty good with last-minute dinners.

    On good weeks I make a list of dinner ideas that I have everything for, and then pick them when they sound good throughout the week.

    Since school has started it's gotten really crazy, so I've been trying to do at least some prep work for dinner before the kids get home.

    It's a struggle though.

    Most of my regular dinner options are one-pot meals.

  4. My most recent quick meal is:

    onions, garlic in olive oil
    a can or two of black beans
    a can or two of kidney beans
    a can of chopped tomatoes
    plenty of cumin

    served over brown rice if I have time to cook it, or white rice if I don't.

    Variations include adding chick peas or chopped zucchini

  5. I just made my favorite crockpot dinner tonight. It is called Italian chicken. You roll chicken breasts in dry Italian dressing then put it in the crockpot for 4 hours on low. A half hour before serving you put a can of mushroom soup (or whatever suits your fancy) in the crockpot. Then serve over rice. Ta-Da!

    People always talk about how crockpot dinners are easy but they require the most forethought of all dinners. They are easy once you start the crockpot but you have to remember to chop the tomatoes or defrost the chicken, etc four hours before dinner which is not always easy to do. Still, this crockpot dinner is one of the easist I make.

  6. one of my easy meals is cook veggies (carrots, corn, broccoli, etc.) and boil chicken. Cut the chicken and put it all in a 9x13 dish. put a can of cream of chicken mixed with milk to make it a little runny. Then pour it on top of the veggies put shredded cheese all over the top of it and break bread crumbs on top of that. poor olive oil (or use butter) on top of the bread crumbs. salt and pepper as desired. stick it in the oven for about 30-40 minutes at 350 and there you go...all done! :) i usually put it on top of rice. it's seriously the easiest thing ever and you can boil and cut the chicken before hand and even boil the veggies so the only time it takes is when it's in the oven!!

  7. i forgot to's really good for leftovers too! :)

    i'll let you know my other quick ones too!! i'm going to try some meatballs this week and it seems pretty easy and actually healthy! miss you friend!

  8. Becca recenlty taught me a good cock pot meal. It tastes much better than it sounds. Mix salsa and apricot jam in the pot. Throw in a few chicken breast (they can even be frozen if you have four hours). Cook on low for three hours. Put some rice on to cook. Pull out the chicken, shred it, return it to the pot and mix. Serve over the rice.

    My crockpot staple is New England Boiled Dinner: Put the raw corned beef in the pot (usually comes with its own spice paket) and cover with water. Add potatoes and carrots the last couple of hours. Cook cabbage wedges for a few minutes in a separate pan, using liquid from the crock pot.

    Hang in there, Lisa. This too shall pass.

  9. Check out the Rowley Family Cookbook (I think you have one)? There's a good crockpot recipe from Nancy Topham for beef roast or turkey breast. There are other good and easy recipes in this section. If you don't have the Rowley Cookbook, let me know - I'll get the recipe to you! Good luck!

  10. Our favorite crock pot dinner is what we lovingly call "chicken sausage ricey thingy." It takes some prep time, but is better the longer you let it stew in there. Not especially diet-friendly or anything, but awfully good!

    In one skillet, fry a pound of sausage. In another, fry small cubes of chicken. Place the sausage into the crock pot, and save the grease. In the grease, sautee your chopped up onions and green peppers (approximately one of each, ish). Add two chicken boullion cubes and a clove of garlic to the saute. When that's done, put it in the crock pot. Add chicken when it's fried. Add a can of tomato sauce and a can of diced/stewed tomatoes. If possible, cook for several hours in a crock pot (3-4 on high, 7-8 on low). If pressed, you can just mix it all together and eat it, but it will be sucky. Cook about a cup and a half of rice (can be adjusted) and mix that into the stuff about thirty minutes before you're ready to eat. Enjoy. :)

  11. A really good cookbook that makes dinner prep easy and fast is from America's Test Kitchen called The Best Simple Recipe. I love their cookbooks and this one uses time savers like prepared sauces or rotisserie chickens, and I think they're really good. They have soups, chicken, fish, beef, sandwiches, stir fry...all really yummmy and easy. I saw one at Costco for $16, but I'm sure you could even find one used for cheaper. I also love their Best Skillet Recipes. The lasagna and ziti are yummy and you only use a skillet to cook it all in. I haven't tried their Best 30 min. recipes, but I'll bet they're just as yummy too. They also have a make ahead and a slow cooker one. They pretty much have one for every need out there, and I want them all, but I hate to splurge on so many cookbooks. Going online and joining Cook's Illustrated I think you get access to a lot of recipes, but it does cost you a subscription fee. Some free one's are available through America's Test Kitchen, but I think it's only the current season you can access.

    I would also recommend a George Foreman or a Panini Press/Grill. I love mine and sandwiches are always a favorite.

  12. Last night was a "it's 5pm and we have no idea what to make for dinner" night.

    We had skillet enchilada. I got the recipe from a ward RS activity, and made a few adjustments.

    Cooked chicken, shredded (if you're really in a hurry, canned chicken works fine).
    Sour Cream
    Enchilada sauce (One smaller can is usually plenty)

    Combine chicken, olives, several big plops of sour cream and enchilada sauce in skillet. Roll up tortillas with a little cheese in them. Place on top of mixture in skillet. Top with the rest of the enchilada sauce and some more cheese. Cover and simmer until everything is bubbly. Serve with whatever you have on hand- lettuce, tomatoes, olives, salsa, etc... Sometimes I make rice and beans to go along with it.

  13. Yup, I'm right there with you! We probably have breakfast for dinner once a week (it's a good thing it's only once a week; it's not what I would call a *healthy* meal). My dilemma is always the meat part of things. I never have the foresight to thaw stuff, etc. That's why I find it extremely helpful to have already cooked meats on hand. Whether this means getting rotisserie chickens and cutting off the meat (I love to do this, because then I can make broth with the carcasses...which I then use to make soup...which I then freeze for quick use later) or purchasing already-cooked meatballs, grilled chicken or beef strips from Costco (Logan loves these), I find that it helps me a lot. True, it's not as cheap as buying raw meat and cooking it yourself -- but I'm at the point where I feel that my personal sense of accomplishment in getting dinner on the table is worth a few extra dollars. :) Cooked meat translates easily into fajitas, Thai or Indian curry (I just use the recipes on the backs of the curry paste bottles; very quick and easy!), pasta sauces, stir-frys, casseroles, soups...anything, really! Even if I only have a random assortment of stuff in my fridge, I can usually build something palatable -- and even fresh, since I haven't cooked it to death in a crockpot -- if I don't have to worry about cooking the meat. If you want to go the "Once a Month Cooking" route like mom used to do sometimes, I have the cookbook that she used.

  14. Along with what Kara said, if I'm cooking ground beef (or buffalo, whatever), I rarely need a whole package of meat, so I cook it all, and put half in the fridge to use for another meal.

    (I heart the microwave for defrosting ground meat, because I rarely plan ahead enough to defrost stuff either)