eating in for the non-cook
- ben f Apr 16, 2002 08:21 AM
So I'm giving up on cooking, at least for a couple of months. This owing to my weekend of failed (to me, my wife liked them) lunches and dinners.
but I don't really have the money to eat out all the time, so I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions for meals that require minimal preparation (or are already prepared) and no cooking per se... (heating is fine)
and has anyone tried the new meat substitute? I think it's called quorn, or quot or something like that.
Go to Trader Joe's. They have lots of different options, smoked chicken breasts that all you need to do is grill with some sauce, potstickers and veggie and rice mixes that just require heating.
They also have wonderful prepared sauces such as artichoke lemon pesto, you would just need to cook some pasta.
When I don't have time to cook, breakfast food rapidly drives out dinner food.
French toast is delicious, cheap, nourishing, and a great way to use up leftover bread. I use the recipe from the new Joy of Cooking.
I make my own pancake mix using the following ratio:
1.5 cups flour
3 Tbs granualted sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
I can have a pancake supper on the table 15 minutes by measuring 1.5 cups of the mix into a mixing bowl. In a separate bowl I combine 1 beaten egg, 3 tbs oil or melted butter, and 1.5 cups milk or buttermilk. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry and stir to combine. Cook on a preheated griddle. Just before the batter hits the griddle, I throw some bacon or sausage into a cast iron frying pan. Serve with good syrup, good coffee, and bottled apple sauce.
Blender drinks can make satisfying no-cook meals, especially on hot days. I buy sketchy bananas for 10 cents a pound, peel them and freeze them for smoothies. My favorite smoothie consists of a frozen banana, a cup or so of frozen berries, and equal parts juice, and milk to achieve the desired degree of slushiness. If you want to live dangerously, throw in a raw egg.
DON'T GIVE UP!!!!
Just by the fact that you have found this board and are asking what to do, I have faith in your innate - if as yet undiscovered - cooking abilities. Don't think of cooking as computer programming, which some people seem to have a mysterious ability to do and others do not. Cooking is merely the preliminary step to eating, and if you like to eat - which I assume you do - cooking is no big deal. Don't treat it as something more difficult than it is.
A couple of tips you'll hear from everyone but you should take to heart:
Use good/expensive ingredients. If you buy the cheap stuff, except on rare occassions, you won't be pleased with the results. It doesn't mean you have to spend alot, just buy basics that you actually will use and are of decent quality.
Use patience. I can't stress this one enough. If you are in a rush, you're bound to screw up something. Take your time and watch how things react to heat, etc. Use the lowest setting you can on your stove and let things cook slowly. Most things taste much better if you cook them slowly than if you try to rush, plus if you are screwing it up, you'll have a lot more time to notice and fix it.
Don't believe what you read in cookbooks. You'll see stuff that is just wildly contradictory and baldly wrong. Some cookbooks say "saute the onions until brown, about 30 to 40 minutes" while others say only 2 - 3 minutes. Which is right? I have no idea because I don't pay attention to the time while I'm cooking them, I just pay attention to the pan. They're done when they look like I want to eat them.
Don't take shortcuts. I often drop one or two hard to find ingredients or stuff that I just can't be bothered to buy (why does everything have mace or white pepper in it?). That works OK, but if you drop out half the ingredients, it just ain't going to be the same.
Start with something easy and build from there. I take from your mention of a meat substitute that you are not the steak and potatos type, so let's start at the other end of the spectrum. Making a salad is easy and requires no cooking. Basic ingredients: chopped lettuce, PEELED cucumber (remember, no shortcuts), tomato and sliced red pepper. From there, you can add anything you want. How about steamed green beans or roasted portobello mushrooms? My wife and I make a huge bowl of salad on Sunday night and use handfuls of it at dinner every night.
Other suggestions for no or low risk items are: sandwichs. You can make toast right? (I know, its not that easy....) Well, make some toast, then build a sandwich. You could buy some hummus at the store, and then add some of the salad you just made.
Ok, ok, enough already. But this is simple stuff that people have done for centuries and there's no reason you can't do it as well. You just need practice....
BIGSKULLS IS 100% RIGHT!!!!! Please don't give up on cooking. The fact that you pleased someone else means that you CAN do it. The fact that you did not please yourself means that you really want to be able to do it, and have the esthetics to do it. Just get into that kitchen and PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD.
re: The Rogue
I've been following ben f's posts for a while now, and it seems to me that it's not that he can't cook, it's just that he's been branching out a little into new cuisines. That said, I'm going to repeat what others have been telling you, Ben -- don't give up! You're allowed a few "failed" meals at first -- even the most experienced cooks screw up on a regular basis. You won't get good if you don't practice...and as long as your wife isn't complaining, you have a great opportunity to do just that.
But for those times when you just want a break:
The Trader Joe's suggestions were right on.
There's always spaghetti with jar sauce.
Patak's Indian simmer sauces.
Eggs, panfried or boiled for minimum fuss.
Bread, cheese, olives, and crudites.
Grilled fish, boiled rice, steamed veggies or salad.
Canned fish, rice with condiments to sprinkle on (soy sauce, chopped scallions, sesame seeds, shichimi togarishi, whatever), and your favorite Japanese pickles.
Black bean tacos -- use canned beans, grate a little cheese, chop up some tomatoes, lay on a few fresh coriander leaves and a dollop of sour cream on top.
And, as I mentioned in another thread, leftovers often make great quesadillas!
re: C. Fox
thanks for bringing this up. Everything your describing sounds really good, particularly the eggs. but it brings to mind what is probably the real problem for me.
I'm in North Carolina, and without spending an arm and a leg I can't get decent fish to grill. This drives me nuts. and forget about decent produce. I never ate frozen produce before I moved down here.
okay, I'm done complaining. thanks for the suggestions. And you have almost perfectly described what I am eating right now, lots of fried eggs, olives, and black beans.
re: ben f
1. I'll bet if you ask on the South board within "South Region' you'll get lots of suggestions about where you can buy REAL food near you.
2. Not all frozen produce is terrible. Good ones include: spinach, corn, okra (which is really imnportant to me up here in NYC!)
Yes, you CAN turn a sow's ear into a silken terrine! Keep at it!!!! HAVE FUN.
since you know how to cook, but just want some time off, how bout i share my favorite quick and easy recipes...
spaghetti, while hot, mix in fresh grated parmesian (the good stuff), now some butter, now some more parm to taste. yum.
3 ingredients, easy as pie, and great with lots of red wine. you may have to mail order good parm if you can't find it, but it keeps and its worth it.
work on a cesar salad. it takes some time and practice to get the dressing right, but its easy, and not technically cooking.
you can play with it too... add grilled chicken, or some other ingredient. grill some of those meat substitutes and add them (if you must).
i know y'all have green beans in the south. you can make a really good meal out of sauteed green beans, garlic, ginger, and tofu (the firm kind). oh, if you can find szechuan sauce, add that too if you like spicy.
as for your meat substitutes, buy some online, and play with it (them?) a little. try grilling, frying, whatever. dont think of it as cooking, think experimenting. buy a dog to clean up the failed experiments.
Yes, I can make toast. I can make a nice seafood risotto too, and a random assortment of other gucci dishes (I make a truly killer oaxacan mole). The problem I have is, there's not a lot I really want to make right now. Most of the foods that really interest me (mangu, akara, really good ribs out of the oven, brisket & biscuit hash) are either difficult to find recipes for or would greatly benefit by having a person show me how to do them.
And so I figure a few months to re-set my tastes and get out of practice, so it's fun again. But I don't want to give up eating good food so am looking for good foraging.
thanks all for the suggestions, I hope more are to come.
re: ben f
well, that's a WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY. I sympathize with you. Making the same things over and over gets boring, and it can be pretty hard to get your cooking up to the same level as your palette. I know I can't make alot of the good food I like to eat, but that's what restaurants are for (or should be for, since alot of the ones I end up going to serve food that isn't as good as my own). So, anyway, one day I was playing around (compared to today when I have so so so much to do) I found this Ask the Chef link. I thought it might be outdated or just a promo thing, but I tried it and sure enough, in about 2 weeks, they got back to me and included instructions for what I wanted to make (braised short ribs, which I still haven't made.)
So, I didn't mean to talk down to you. I guess I misunderstood the true scope of your question, which was a good one. See if these guys can be any help and don't stop experimenting...
re: ben f
I understand what you mean. After a hard break-up I went through a couple months ago, I just haven't wanted to cook or prepare anything. I'm slowly getting back my desire to cook and create, but I just haven't been in the mood to make what I usually make for myself or for groups.
I agree with the sandwiches idea -- really go to town combining some different tastes. Goat cheese, hummus, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated vegetables, tapenade, or just about anything on some really good bread combined with chicken, leftover steak, or anything makes a really good sandwich. Make your own bread (breadmakers are easy) and explore the possibilities with minimal effort.
Some of my favorite minimal prep dishes involve leftovers -- sauteeing vegetables with some leftover meat and throwing it together with some feta or something over leftover rice, for example. You can make a yummy pasta by simply tossing freshly drained pasta with somehalf and half, parmesan, a little butter, and some pesto (optional) that you blend together first.
Hope those suggestions help, and hope "that lovin' feeling" comes back soon.
Quorn has finally made it to our natural foods market. I had been eager to try it since it is so popular in Europe. I haven't tried the patties yet but have heard they are really good. We have been using the nuggets and they went over very well in a "chicken" enchilada pie and also sauteed and served on spinach salad. They are very easy to use straight from the freezer to the pan, no salmonella contaminated cutting board to deal with, etc. Great in a stir fry. They taste almost exactly like chicken. What's not to like? Except for the fact they are made from an invented mycorhyzal (?) something, not exactly a natural mushroom.
what is entailed in the "chicken" enchilada pie? (I know this goes against what I just said about not cooking, but I'm really curious)
And I agree, they're nice and easy, and much better than any other meat substitute I've had, nice and peppery. Although after I heard they were fermented, they started tasting like beer to my psychosomatic mind.
fixed that with some beer.
My husband's market (in Santa Barbara) carries Quorn, which we first tried in England a couple of years ago, and had been waiting for eagerly. Another fun meat substitute (soy, not mushroom-based) is Veat. Yeah, crappy name, but very tasty. Both are white-meat substitutes and both have a chicken-like texture, and the Veat comes in "bites" that even look like little irregular chunks of chicken. Both can be substituted in pretty much any white-meat recipe. They're not exactly alike, so you should try both to see which flavor you prefer. My husband prefers Quorn, and I prefer Veat. :-)