Yes, you, with the kitchen burnout.
Put down the utensil and step away from the food processor.
Lately I’ve been on a bit of a made-from-scratch bender in the kitchen. There are SO many great reasons to stop giving your cash to food factories and start learning how to work with ingredients rather than products. But (in most instances) convenience is not one of those reasons.
I love my kitchen, it’s the reason I had my heart set on this house of ours. I love cooking (and eating, naturally). I even find a quiet satisfaction in the cleaning-up of things. Oh, I hate cleaning, but I love a kitchen reset at the end of the day.
It’s a time consuming project, this business of feeding ourselves at home. Preparing, cooking, serving, eating, cleaning up. Meal planning, grocery shopping, packing lunches. Putting the kettle on a dozen times a day. Opening & closing the pantry whenever we boil the kettle to see what’s new since last time we looked. I think we have a biscuit thief. Maybe it’s me eating in auto-mode.
I’m feeling a bit of kitchen burnout at the moment. I’ve barely got the motivation to think about what to have for dinner, let alone take all the necessary steps to get it from idea to actuality. In order to stay sane, I’ve been thinking about some ways I can cut corners in the kitchen while still dishing up something resembling a square meal for my family, three times a day (or more – afternoon tea is not just for British Duchesses, you know?). At least until the urge to Google recipes for homemade-everything returns. And it will.
1. Vegetables, minimum effort required
Cut down on preparation:
Don’t peel unless necessary and leave whole or chop as minimally as possible. Chunky and rustic is where it’s at. Pre-cut vegetables are handy if there’s any padding in the shopping budget, and frozen ones are good in saucy dishes where you can’t really isolate their taste or texture from a combination of other, more appealing ingredients.
No-drain cooking methods:
Waiting for water to boil and then ending up with a puddle of soggy vegetables on the plate because I’ve drained them impatiently? Can do without! I’m going for microwaving, roasting, sautéing or cooking in a sauce instead.
Ditch cooking altogether:
I think vegetable sticks are a perfectly acceptable dinner side, especially with meals that are naturally cutlery free (if you’re a bit uncouth, like me). Burgers, pizza, chicken drumsticks and the like could totally benefit from having a few carrot sticks subbed in for half the chips, but probably not all.
Bagged salads from the supermarket don’t float my boat, they wilt too fast and don’t seem to go very far. Coleslaw mixes, on the other hand, I can get on board with. They seem a bit hardier and more filling for the price of them.
2. Hands off the meat
Urgh, I hate handling raw meat. Obviously the best way to cut corners on meat prep is to simply go meat free. I’m trying to introduce at least one vego meal a week around here. To which my husband always asks “Is there any meat in this?”, even though he can clearly see there is not. Ironically, I try so hard to make vegetarian meals that are appealing to my hard-core omnivore that they end up being way more labour-intensive than any other meal.
Cook chicken pieces whole and shred them once done, if required. Yeah, it might take a little bit longer but that’s how much I hate handling raw chicken. I often find there’s much less waste this way too. I tend to be overly cautious about removing anything that looks like it could be potentially chewy when I’m slicing and dicing it raw, even though those sinewy looking bits seem to melt away upon cooking.
Of course there’s pre-cooked chickens as well, though I can never really enjoy them. Not that I couldn’t lose a kilo or two, I’d just rather not take the food poisoning route. (I shouldn’t defame pre-cooked chickens that way, I’ve never even had food-poisoning from one, it’s just a personal mental block.)
Mince meat of all varieties is super versatile and often little prep is required, beyond opening the tray it came in and flopping it into a frying pan along with some tinned tomatoes or a sauce variety. Unless you want to get fancy and make rissoles – ooh la la!
Sausages are pretty far down on my list of favoured foods, but I have an Irish husband who dreams of having three different kinds of pork products in his Sunday breakfast. He sometimes gets two (bacon & sausages), since I have no interest in procuring or preparing white pudding as well.
I do appreciate sausages as a nice shortcut to meatballs though. All you have to do is squeeze mini-meatball sized dabs of sausage filling out of the skin and directly into a hot, oiled pan. Yes, a little bit of meat-handling required, but so much easier than making meatballs from scratch.
Fillets of meat:
The ultimate in no-prep meat, oh how I wish I had the budget for juicy fillets every night. Meat, meet tongs, then meet hot pan, then meet my dinner plate.
3. Outsource the pesky stuff
I love a good baking day and most of my from-scratch accomplishments recently have been in the bread making arena. It’s awesome to be able to turn a few long-lasting, cheap ingredients into fresh fragrant bread. But let’s be real, if you’ve painted yourself into a corner where all your baked goods are now homemade, that is going to take up a lot of your time. Being a bit more realistic about my current motivation levels, I think a homemade wholemeal loaf in the weekend would be a nice treat and the rest of the time store-bought will do.
I don’t need to be eating all of those homemade “muesli” bars anyway 😉
You’re probably not allowed to consider yourself a foodie if you prefer using minced garlic from a jar over fresh stuff – so be it. I’ve been using fresh cloves lately but I resent the fine chopping required and the smell of garlic that lingers on my hands for hours afterwards. I’m handing in my foodie badge and going back to the minced stuff with the least ingredients, 97% fresh garlic in a jar is pretty close to the real thing, right?
4. Use less ingredients
Less ingredients pulled out of the cupboard/fridge per meal time = less ingredients to put away. Is there any more to say on this subject?
5. Cook in one pot/pan
Yippee for one-pan cooking – fuss free cooking followed by stress-free clean up. There are literally millions of great ideas on the internet for sheet-pan, crockpot and one-pot dinners. Currently I don’t have a crockpot or a great range of one-pot meals in my repertoire. I’ll definitely be doing some “Pinteresting” and experimenting to find new family favourites that save on clean up.
Tonight’s dinner is going to be a sheet-pan bake of chicken, sausage, potato and carrot, well oiled and seasoned with some thyme, black pepper and chicken salt. With cauliflower and cheese sauce on the side. So there’s two more pots into the mix and a bit of a fail on the single pot plan – but, yum!
6. Cook what you know
Nothing complicates dinner like having to refer to a recipe each step of the way. Normally I love looking up new ways to use the odds and ends of the grocery shopping. But lately I’ve been finding it stressful to follow a recipe at the same time as managing an inquisitive toddler with selective hearing. I’m planning to keep my laptop out of the firing line of oil splashes and floury hands and go back to basics. Between you and me, my family will probably appreciate a wee break from experimental dinners.
7. Keep it simple and cook from the heart.
(Or, how to sum up a thirteen-hundred word post in only eight!)