Kitchen Shortcuts (For Women Who Don’t Like to Cook!)
On our wedding day, Ray probably imagined he was getting a Courtney Cox-beauty, a Martha Stewart decorator/gourmet cook, and his grandmother Hutchins who made breakfast with coffee every morning for his grandfather, all rolled into one. Instead, he got me, bless his heart!
I have never really liked to cook. It always seemed so, well, unnecessary, compared to funner things in life, like shopping or watching chic flics. Because I was a mom, though, I had to cook, or at least throw something together, for my child’s survival. Survive being the key word – cereal, peanut butter sandwiches, frozen pizzas, McDonald’s, tuna melts, brownies, chocolate cake, all the things that only required opening a can, getting out the baking pan, or removing it from a yellow wrapper with a clown on it.
God gave me a revelation: this lifestyle was not good or healthy for either of us. I began learning how to cook real food that isn’t processed, filled with sugar, or has ingredients that you can’t pronounce. This year I also watched the documentary movie, SuperSize Me, and it scared me off a regular diet of fast food. Now I’m to the point where I can stay in the kitchen for more than 15 minutes to prepare a meal. Since Ray and I married, I have learned to cook a little; some things even taste good. I will probably never live to cook, but for the last several years I’ve been trying to improve my skills to please his palate, to be frugal and make healthy eating choices, and to be a better homemaker, wife and mom. (I’ve yet to make southern fried chicken just like his mother’s…but he loves my home-made, potato-and-leek soup!)
Here are my kitchen shortcuts for women who don’t like to cook:
1. The key to good meals is planning. Before I go grocery-shopping, I make a list. I check through the fridge, the cabinets, the bathrooms, and the utility room for all our needs, and write down everything we need. I’ve learned from experience to go ahead and jot down items that are half-full. Sure enough, the next time I need that item to cook, it will be gone (such as milk or garlic powder). For new recipe ideas, I check Ray’s grandmother’s recipe box or the cookbooks I inherited when I married him (there’s always hope one day I will regularly use them). Today’s choice was the Russian cookbook: beef stroganov. I’ve never made this before, so it will be an interesting experiment. Such adventures usually result in Ray coming into the kitchen, sniffing and frowning, and saying in a slightly uneasy voice, “What’s that?”
I try to organize my list into sections that parallel our grocery store: produce, canned goods and pasta, baking items, dairy, deli, and meats. This way I can get through the store faster, instead of going all the way back for the tomato paste, that was written underneath the frozen lima beans. When I go to the grocery store, I shop alone – no husband or child tagging along, begging for ice cream or chocolate chip cookies. I also use our grocery store’s scannable, coupon tag with our purchases. Today I saved $22 off our bill using it.
Organizing your kitchen cabinets will relieve anxiety and stress in the kitchen, and save you time. At the house we lived in previously, every time someone opened a certain cabinet, Tupperware bowls and lids would fall out on his or her head. We also had cabinets filled with an assortment of drinking glasses (none which matched), chipped salad bowls, silverware (also unmatching), and enough pots and pans to cook for a stadium-full of people.
When we moved, I bought matching, square, olive-green plates and bowls, drinking glasses, and a set of pretty silverware. I also bought some kitchen tools that helped with cooking, such as sharp knives, spatulas and spoons, sieves, etc. I did a major reorganization of my kitchen (translation: a lot of stuff went to Good Will), and put things in neat order in cabinets and drawers. This saved time when I began cooking.
Tupperware now had its appropriate lid. Baking pans, bowls, and plates were neatly stacked. Wooden spoons were placed in ceramic pottery beside the stove. My Ebay, genuine copper pots were together in one cabinet (copper pots heat faster and cook better. In Martha Stewart’s words, “Every good chef needs a copper pot!). I added pleasant touches to the counters, like bottles of olive oil, scented candles, a pretty bowl of fresh fruit. I also decorated my kitchen in a coffee theme, which helped me to enjoy looking at the room and being in it (I love coffee, with LOTS of creamer!).
It really is true that “a place for everything, and everything in its place” can relieve a great deal of stress. Now Ray doesn’t come into the kitchen and say, “Where is the -“ (whisk, measuring cup, electric knife, blender lid, his favorite tea mug, etc.). Well, ok, he still says that sometimes, but usually it’s in the dishwasher or the sink to be washed. Organizing the kitchen has helped my family to find what they need, too.
2. Keep staples stocked. This saves you numerous trips to the grocery store during the week, and eliminates a lot of frustration when you start cooking. How many times have you started cooking, and discovered the eggs, milk, or sugar were gone, and you couldn’t live without it for this particular recipe? Some of my staples that I try to always keep on hand are eggs, milk, butter, extra-virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, bleach-free flour, raw sugar, bread, salt, pepper, garlic powder, fresh garlic, onions, blocks of cheddar cheese, fresh tomatoes, cilantro, and a few herbs. You may have other staples on your list for your family’s cooking preferences.
3. The crockpot is one of a woman’s best friends! I LOVE the crockpot! A couple of years ago, Ray bought me a big cookpot, and I use it often for vegetable soups, chili, roasts, or whatever. You can also buy smaller crockpots for nacho cheese dip, melted chocolate for fondue, sauces, and so on. For soups, I put the meat in the crockpot first thing in the morning, add water and/or broth, dice the vegetables, and season with salt, pepper, garlic, and whatever herbs it requires. Turn the crockpot on low to cook all day, or on high if you need it cooked more quickly. The aroma is pleasant as it cooks, and I don’t have to worry all day about what to fix for dinner! The clean-up is very quick, too!
4. Recently I discovered a bag of gold in the grocery store: frozen, chopped vegetables! Here in town we have a weekly farmer’s market, as well as a fresh fruit/vegetable stand where I often buy our produce. However, washing, chopping up, and cooking vegetables takes awhile, and for today’s fast-paced society, we need time-savers. Frozen veggies are the key. It’s so easy: open the bag, put them in a pot of water, add a little salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a dab of butter if you like, and they are ready in no time. This also relieves mom-guilt about your child getting at least some vegetables in his or her diet. Frozen vegetables also taste better than canned, although fresh and organic are always the best choice.
5. When you are preparing the vegetables, cut up twice as much as what you need. Store the extra, such as onions, green peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, etc., into Tupperware dishes. Then later during the week, as you’re cooking spaghetti, you can toss some of the already diced onions or mushrooms into your sauce. You can also apply this principle when cooking, doubling the recipe and then freezing the leftover casserole for another meal. There are some brave souls who try once-a-month cooking, but for someone with a cooking-aversion like me, the idea of spending 6 to 10 hours in a kitchen to prepare 30 days of meals is akin to Chinese water torture. I have trouble enough making today’s meal, thank you very much.
6. Buy lots of chicken! We don’t usually eat a lot of red meat, but you can put chicken into so many dishes: braised chicken, chicken tacos, chicken and rice, chicken and dumplings (not that I’ve ever really made chicken and dumplings, but it sounds good). Of course, our daughter Leah is now beginning to hate chicken because we have it so frequently, so I am trying to find new recipes she will like (sans chicken). Whatever meats, poultry, or seafood I buy, I value quality over cheapness.
This is one thing I do not skimp on when buying groceries. I usually buy the more expensive packages of skinless chicken breasts, that are marked with the label, “vegetable grain-fed, raised without antibiotics, not fed animal by-products.” This is a healthier alternative, although of course wringing a chicken’s neck on a farm, plucking the feathers, skinning and cutting it up, then cooking it immediately would be a lot better for us. No thanks, I’ll stick with the nicely-packaged, chicken breasts at the grocery! You can find ground beef and other meats marked down early in the morning or late at night sometimes, or just before they put fresh meats out. Our grocery just had a huge sale on meats like sirloin steak, ribeyes, pork tenderloin, etc. Watch weekly news ads for special sales.
7. Leftovers are for eating. They are not science experiments. They also save money and time. When I cook tacos (one of my favorite, quick meals), I store the leftover ground beef or chicken in the fridge, and we eat tacos the next day – or I can use the beef or chicken for other dishes. So much food goes to waste in America! Use the leftovers for your next few meals. If your husband or child complains, threaten to call for pizza or go out for Mexican. Well, that might not be a bad idea, after all! (Everything in moderation.)
8. There are times when a frozen pizza, pizza rolls, or other ready-made meals can be used, but try to limit these. A lot of the frozen meals or snacks are packed with sodium, preservatives, or other strange ingredients. However, one of my favorite, time-saving suppers is Stoeuffer’s family-size lasagna. I love it, and it is big enough to use for several meals for our family of three. Toss a salad with vinegar-and-oil or ranch dressing, and put some garlic, ready-made bread sticks in the oven, and you have a quick, no-fuss, delicious meal.
9. Light up the grill. Nothing beats the taste of a burger or steak on the bar-b. You won’t have all those pots and pans to wash, and your husband can show off his chef skills. Ray is an excellent cook, and he makes a Cajun chicken on the grill that is famous among family and friends! You can also try your own marinades and recipes for grilled salmon, shish-ke-bobs, and my recent dish on the grill, fresh asparagus (it was DELICIOUS).
10. Most of all, season your food with love. Proverbs 17:1 says, “Better is a dry morsel with quietness, than a house full of feasting with strife.” We see examples of Jesus hanging out with family and friends, eating, and drinking. God wants us to enjoy good, healthy, meals with loved ones. There is something about the breaking of bread that draws people together. The kitchen is often where people love to gather in a home, to eat, to talk, to laugh. It’s often the heart of a home. With these time-saving tips, your kitchen can be a haven for you and your family – without a lot of fuss and stress. You never know; you might even begin to enjoy cooking and trying out new recipes. (Ray’s eyes light up at this thought.)