Free Advice - Cooking a decent meal in 30 minutes

I love Mel's idea to have an alternative "lesson" to the blackouts happening around the internet today.  Instead of putting her website in a "time-out" she chose to offer up some free advice and encouraged other bloggers to post free advice about something they are good at.

I read Mel's post about relationships in a bit of a funk as I'm sick for what feel like the umpteenth time in a row (ok, three times) due to that lovely place where Baby X goes to pass around germs, give germs, oh, and play.  Yesterday, my supervisor looked at me after a conference call and said "You're going home right?"  Given that I had to step out of the room several times to blow my nose in an hour and a half, I figured I probably should leave.  Last night S came home with Baby X to find me firmly planted on the couch staring at the t.v.  Or something.  I really can't remember.  He wanted to go to the gym, and I figured I could handle Baby X for an hour and half, hoping that he wouldn't get hungry until S got home and all I had to do was watch him crawl in circles around the room.  Well, S was gone more than an hour and half, I started feeling really crappy, and Baby X got hungry and whiny.  Oh, that keening whine/wail thing that they do so well drives. me. nuts.  Naturally, I lashed out at S when he got home for being gone so long when I was so sick, and then we didn't really speak for the rest of the night.  *sigh*  The free relationship advice came at a needed time and I took away some great points.

I don't have anything nearly as deep and meaningful, given my reduced capacity; I'd say up to about 80% today.  Anyway, I'd have to say that one of my talents is managing to get a dinner together in about 30 minutes with a minimum of planning and using fresh ingredients.  These are simple meals, it's not like I'm capable of whipping together some kick-ass sauce or anything like that.  They get the job done, we eat before 9:00pm and that's always a good thing on a weeknight.  If I hadn't learned how to do this, we'd be eating out or ordering in all the time.  I wouldn't call myself a budding chef, and like Rachel in Life from Scratch, I can't fry a damn egg. 

Without further ado, here's how I manage to get dinner on the table fairly quickly*

1.  Keep plenty of dried herbs and spices on hand.  We have a creole spice blend that goes really well with salmon.  I always have garlic powder or fresh garlic on hand.  I always have basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme for chicken.  Salt and pepper are neccessities.

2.  Force-thawing shrimp and fish in warm water is usually what happens if I forget to take food out of the freezer.  I'm not a big fan of defrosting in the microwave, it always seems to cook the food around the edges where it's thinner.  For meat, I usually use boneless skinless chicken breasts or pork chops every once in a while.  In the summer, S does a lot of grilling which takes some of the burden off me.  (Our kitchen is too small to have two people working in it efficiently)

3.  Always have pasta on hand.  If you have olive oil and garlic and dried basil, voila, a meal!  Add a salad and you're done. 

4.  Lots of vegetables in the pantry and fridge.  I never cook grains as a side dish - it takes too long and I'm not a fan of minute rice.  Instead, we'll have two types of vegetables.  I love my steamer and use it regularly.  We also eat a lot of side salads, especially in the summer.  Quite frequently our dinners are protein and veggie with little carbohydrate.

5.  Keep it simple!  Baking or broiling meat, steaming or occasionally sauteing vegetables usually works out pretty well, and if veggies are steaming then I don't have to worry about accidentally burning something.  Or, I'll saute chicken with bell pepper and onion with chili spices and serve with tortillas, shredded cheese and salsa.

6.  Forget the cookbook.  I go through spurts and pull it out or get recipes online to freshen up the offerings.  I find that those "quick" cookbooks are not all that quick though and it usually takes me longer than their predicted prep/cooking times.  But, I think that following recipes has taught me what goes together and what doesn't, along with some trial and error.  Once I made chili without a recipe and thought I'd be fancy using chipotle peppers.  I chopped up and dumped a whole can into the chili.  It was not good.  Live and learn!






 *S cooks too, but I'll do the bulk of the cooking, or at least the planning/shopping.