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Dec 6, 2008 12:53 PM

Please help a new mom who's new to cooking too

Just had a baby two weeks ago and moved to the suburbs at the same time - so no more take-out! I'm looking for any dinner ideas that require only a few ingredients (grocery shopping can't take forever and I don't have a lot in the house). Ideas on which types of meat are easiest to cook (and how) would be great - I'm really clueless. Thank you so much in advance.

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  1. Congrats on your new baby! My first recommendation would be to invest in a crockpot - minimum prep time, and it does all the cooking for you. (Keep in mind that newer crockpots cook at a higher temperature than the older ones do, so recipes that call for cooking something for 9-11 hours probably is done in 5-7, depending on the meat.)

    Burgundy Beef Stew; French Onion Soup, Braised Short Ribs, Chicken Cacciatore, Pulled Pork, Pot Roast, Beef Brisket, BBQ Crockpot Chicken - all of this can be done in the crockpot and other than the initial prep time and fixing the side dishes, the cooking part is off your To Do list!

    Think of marinating things to give it lots of flavor and then baking or grilling. A quickly made marinade of a 1/3 cup of maple syrup, a 1/4 cup of Dijon mustard, and a couple of Tbsp. each of apple cider vinegar and molasses will give pork or chicken lots of flavor - cooking time in the oven is maybe 30-45 minutes or so at 350 degrees (depending on if you have Frankenchicken breasts, as they all seem to be!) Grilling is even faster - you can have the meat marinating, your DH can deal with the grilling when he gets home!

    Chicken and pork are also quick to cook in a stir-fry - slice/chop up your favorite veggies (broccoli florets, sliced carrots, onions, mushrooms are quick to prep - or buy already-sliced veggies - most supermarkets have already-prepped veggie paks to buy) and stir-fry in hot oil, adding chicken towards the end (keeping veggies crisp-tender and chicken fully cooked). Add some orange juice, grated ginger root, and a bit of cornstarch for thickening, and serve over basmati rice, and it's a complete meal. (Definitely look up a recipe - I'm just thinking off the top of my head so no idea on quantities or cooking times).

    HTH - I've linked a couple of recipes below that should start you off - I'm sure you'll get lots more responses! (This is SERIOUSLY good stew from Mabel Hoffman's "Crockery Cookery" cookbook - definitely get this cookbook and Rick Rodgers' "Ready & Waiting" cookbooks for some great ideas


    Other Crockpot recipes:

    1 Reply
    1. re: LindaWhit

      I really can't thank you enough for taking the time to post. I'm going to order a crockpot online now!

    2. I think Linda's got a good thing going with the crockpot idea. (You can also use it for chili or red beans and sausage... mmm...) I can't recommend any in particular, but I would guess that any Betty Crocker or Better Homes & Gardens cookbook that advertises easy/fast/cheap/etc slow cooker recipes would be a good investment.

      Also, I would keep any eye out for any reputable cookbook brand that goes for a small number of ingredients, like this Better Homes & Gardens Five Ingredient cookbook: I've looked through it a bit while shopping for a friend, and it seemed pretty helpful.

      As far as cooking technique, there's usually a YouTube video tutorial for almost anything you'd ever want to cook; I learned how to fry an egg properly from watching YouTube videos. :D

      Finally, since you don't want to spend forever in the grocery store, I would recommend a few things:

      First, buy a decent selection of basic dried herbs/spices that you like as well as some highly flavorful ingredients (the Dijon mustard, maple, and cider vinegar as listed below, or stuff like soy sauce, BBQ sauce, lemon juice, etc). Then you can always spice up even the blandest meal without running to the store.

      Second, keep a few easy staples around the house. Dried pasta and jarred sauce basically never go bad, and you can keep some ground beef or frozen meatballs in the freezer for probably 6 months or so, and then you've always got a tasty, basically healthy meal ready to go in like 15 minutes. (If you live near a Trader Joe's, they have an excellent selection of frozen prepared meals that are almost all delicious.


      Third, depending on how you and the people you cook for feel about leftovers, I find it much easier to cook a large amount of something and then either eat it for lunch the next day (and dinner a day or two later, or whatever) or freeze some of it, if possible. Basically, for a little bit more work up front, you can have 2-3 meals out of one trip to the kitchen. Suggestions here include lasagna (or any baked pasta), baked chicken breasts in something easy to pair with other food or make sandwiches out of (like BBQ sauce), or most of the slow cooker suggestions.

      Congrats, and I hope this helps! :D

      4 Replies
      1. re: nickblesch

        Basic spices and herbs - YES. Forgot this. And also forgot the "have the easy staples" in the pantry....both are completely second nature to me (I'd be lost without my spices & herbs and pantry must-haves!) that I just don't think about that anymore - very good recommendations, nick.

        And making a LOT of something and freezing it for later...that's another "duh!" moment - again, I do this all the time. It's just me in my house (the kitties don't count!) so I rarely make just a single meal - a lasagna, for instance, is made in a 9x9 pan, so it gives me several meals (usually dinner for a couple of nights, and the rest is frozen for work lunches).

        1. re: LindaWhit

          So many good, practical ideas here - I just wanted to toss out a word of caution. Don't know how you're feeding that lil' peanut of yours, but if you're breastfeeding, be wary of garlic, bell peppers, cucumbers and onions. Not only can they lend flavor to the milk that most babes find disagreeable, but can also cause gastric upset; colicky-like symptoms. Not all babies; just some.
          I haven't plowed my way through the rest of this yet, so I may already be seconding someone, but I thought this was worth a mention. My other best advice is to develop a small repertoire that you can vary with different herbs and seasonings: boneless breasts can be teriyaki'd and served w/ steamed rice, or lemon-peppered and served with orzo, or tomato-sauced (jarred is fine, we like Newman's Bombolina) and served w/ pasta for cacciatore, or put together as a potpie with cream of something soup and veggies and either frozen puff pastry or a ready-made pieshell. Stewed beef can be the basis for classic beef stew, shepard's pie, shredded into enchilada sauce for a quick layered tortilla casserole. When you have the time : ), make two casseroles instead of one, and freeze for future use; it will take no longer in the short run and save a ton of time in the long run. Much joy, and enjoy this time with your newborn; these are precious times.

          1. re: mamachef

            the lil' peanut is now almost 3yo, mamachef. :-) This was allyad's one and only post back in Dec. 2008.

            But the thread is still pertinent to others who might be (or are soon to be) in her then situation!

        2. re: nickblesch

          the silver palate cookbook has a great list of pantry and equipment basics from which to start but the crockpot should be #1

        3. Hi Allyad! Congratulations on your baby! Cooking can be daunting at first but thankfully, there are many delicious recipes that require very little effort and once you are used to some techniques and flavour combinations, you can improvise in minutes and rustle up a decent, nutritious yet yummy meal. I would second the recommendation of video tutorials. An excellent site for this is where you will find all sorts of recipes explained in such a way that even the most reluctant of cooks feels encouraged!
          In terms og easy, quick dishes to start with, certainly stir-fries and pastas are some of the best. If you can get some arborio or carnaroli rice, risotto is a fantastic choice as it is all cooked in one same pot and you can add to it whatever ingredients you have: any type of veg (please note that root veg need to be roasted in the oven first before adding it to the risotto at the last minute), herbs, tomatoes, cheese and spices.
          Bulgar wheat and couscous are excellent choices as the former only takes about 5 minutes to cook and for the latter, all you need to do is add some boiling water (2 cups for 1 of cous cous), cover for 5 minutes and separate the grains with a fork adding some veg, olive oil and spices afterwards.

          Salmon steaks are really quick to cook on a griddle pan and delicious; they take about 5 minutes each side and you can serve them wirh tice, salad or veg.

          Good luck and don't hesitate to ask for help when you need it!

          1. Congratulations! All the advice you've gotten so far is great - not much to add. I did throw together something just last night that was super easy and would fit your criteria well - it was a shortcut pasta fagole. I used a large (28 oz.) can of diced tomatoes, a 15 oz. can of cannellini beans, some crushed garlic (Trader Joe's has some great shortcut staples if you have one nearby, but your regular grocer probably has this), some fresh sage leaves, and some small pasta - whatever shape you like.

            Put your pasta water on to boil. Put approx. 2 tablespoons of olive oil into a saucepan (med. sized), saute up the garlic and sage for a minute or so - until the garlic gets a little brown and fragrant. Add in the tomatoes and the beans (don't even bother draining or rinsing the beans). Heat it all up until the liquid reduces a little. Your pasta should be done now, or pretty soon, depending on what kind you chose. Spoon up some pasta into bowls, throw the fagole on top. Voila! Cheap, quick, hearty & hot.

            I think the Martha Stewart Everyday Food Magazine might be good for you - it's little in format, and everything is relatively quick to make and not very complicated. There aren't a lot of ingredients in most of the recipes, and it's not fussy - good pictures and good techniques. Every month a seasonal ingredient is featured, along w/recipes w/the ingredient, so it might help you branch out . . . .

            Have fun - now is a great time to ramp up your cooking - before that peanut becomes a toddler and the going gets REALLY crazy!

            2 Replies
            1. re: gansu girl

              Congrats on the baby!! Everyday Food magazine is great, and so is the cookbook. A crockpot is a great idea, and I think you should definitely try that out.

              A friend of mine used to hire a babysitter one Sunday a month to watch her kids (she had two 11 months apart!) so she could go grocery shopping and spend the day cooking. She would make double or triple meals to last a few weeks and freeze them. When she didn't want to pull out a frozen meal, the dinner was simple- stir fry, steak, or grilled tofu, with brown rice and steamed vegetables.

              Definitely take the time to learn how to make the basics- like a hearty soup- and you'll find yourself scrounging up meals in no time. A tip that helped me when I started working while in school was to keep a running list of grocery items that I needed on the fridge. If I only had one more can of tomato sauce, that went on the list.

              Good luck!

              1. re: cheesecake17

                i second the rec for the Everyday Food magazine and cookbook. The recipes are easy enough and the ingredients are usually things I either have on hand or things I would usually buy when food shopping anyway.

            2. When I had a newborn, the first thing I bought was a crockpot. I thought it would be easy to pop in all the ingredients and let it cook. After a few meals, everthing tasted the same and somewhat mushy so I put it away and didn't use it for a long time. The past couple of years, I started doing braises and stews in it. But, if you don't sear the meat first (I usually dredge it in seasoned flour first) and sautee the vegetables, you get that bland mushy taste. I love my crockpot but it's no faster or easier than cooking in the oven or on the stove. But, it lets you cook when you have time. I do know people who don't mind the taste and love to throw in all the ingredients with a can of cream of mushroom soup or whatever soup and are happy with it. As with everything, it's a personal thing.

              As easy food goes, meatloaf goes in the oven in minutes. Fish takes little time to cook and prep. Go with smaller cuts of meat that can be quickly stir fried, as with vegetables. You can add that to pasta w/ either tomato sauce, or just olive oil and garlic. Sautee chopped vegetables (onions, garlic, celery, carrots, ...), add a couple of cans of tomatoes, seasonings (bay leaves, oregano, parsley,...), let it summer and you have a good tomato sauce. While overwhelming, the newborn phase passes so quickly so enjoy!