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mskerr

Everyday cooking – how do you do it?

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Hi all -

I often wonder how other members of this forum cook on a daily basis. Like, today I've been looking through Zakary Pelaccio's "Eat With Your Hands," and the Ripert cookbooks, and Pepin, and while everything looks great, it's just not gonna happen for me at home at this stage. Same with a lot of recipes I read (and specifically restaurant cookbooks) - I always wonder how many people are actually taking on a 4-page recipe for dinner. I wish I was that much of a pro, but I am a humble beginner and can't foresee it happening anytime soon. (Also, if I had an unlimited budget, I'd experiment a lot more!) On an average day, I either make up a big dutch oven of soup (which then makes up most of our diet for the rest of the week), attempt to semi-improvise dishes based on recipes, or try out a recipe from Cook's Illustrated, Saveur, middle-brow cookbooks, or something totally random. Lots of hits and misses, by my judgment, but luckily my partner, our mates, and our families are not fussy at all and generally appreciate anything homemade. (I should mention I currently live in the boonies, no really good restaurants in town, not a lot of flash produce or meat.) We also enjoy a good old fry-up of eggs, fish sticks, and potatoes, or frozen pierogies, or even a bowl of cereal from time to time for pretty much any meal. Or ramen followed by lollipops. Or the good old red-sauce standbys of my mid-Atlantic childhood. I aspire to cook amazing food, but on a daily basis, it's often pretty lowbrow/ borderline trashy.

Please let me how you cook, in all honesty!

Edited for spelling.


Edited by mskerr (log)

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Hey mskerr --

Not sure quite how to reply... I certainly am not taking on four-page recipes for dinner! One thing that I guess has really shaped my day-to-day cooking is a new years resolution I made to myself back in 2008, and have been renewing ever since: to try at least one new (to me) recipe every week. And I get pretty close to it -- some weeks multiple new recipes, some weeks I miss, but I keep track of them all in a spreadsheet and it averages out to about 80 new recipes a year. This has really improved both my cooking and my repertoire -- to the point that I often just forget about great recipes I've made in the past, until friends of mine I shared the recipe with say they've made it three or four times since I served it to them, and then I'll say "oh yeah! that recipe! It was good!"

I also do a lot of soups in the winter, but usually they serve as just one dinner and then lunches in the week. My I-can't-deal-with-cooking standby is pasta with butter and salt (a childhood favorite). My I-seriously-can't-deal-with-cooking dinner is cereal and milk, or maybe popcorn. But that happens pretty rarely -- maybe once a month? Right now all of my cooking is centered around dealing with the immense amount of vegetables the garden is producing... To the point that if i see another tomato I may scream. At other times in the year I'm occupied with using up the eggs our chickens give us, so lately that has meant more quiches, fritatas, etc. I don't go out to dinner very often -- I live in a small-ish town, and I'm cheap, and I hate feeling like I could make better food than I'm buying.

Anyway, not sure if that's what you're looking for...


Edited by Emily_R (log)

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My weekly dinners are simple affairs that can be whipped up in an hour or less. You can help yourself along by making big batches of pasta sauce and freeze them. Something like a simple tomato passata can be transformed into so many different things, but you need to have the passata in your freezer in the first place :)


There is no love more sincere than the love of food - George Bernard Shaw

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Hey mskerr --

Not sure quite how to reply... I certainly am not taking on four-page recipes for dinner! One thing that I guess has really shaped my day-to-day cooking is a new years resolution I made to myself back in 2008, and have been renewing ever since: to try at least one new (to me) recipe every week. And I get pretty close to it -- some weeks multiple new recipes, some weeks I miss, but I keep track of them all in a spreadsheet and it averages out to about 80 new recipes a year. This has really improved both my cooking and my repertoire -- to the point that I often just forget about great recipes I've made in the past, until friends of mine I shared the recipe with say they've made it three or four times since I served it to them, and then I'll say "oh yeah! that recipe! It was good!"

I also do a lot of soups in the winter, but usually they serve as just one dinner and then lunches in the week. My I-can't-deal-with-cooking standby is pasta with butter and salt (a childhood favorite). My I-seriously-can't-deal-with-cooking dinner is cereal and milk, or maybe popcorn. But that happens pretty rarely -- maybe once a month? Right now all of my cooking is centered around dealing with the immense amount of vegetables the garden is producing... To the point that if i see another tomato I may scream. At other times in the year I'm occupied with using up the eggs our chickens give us, so lately that has meant more quiches, fritatas, etc. I don't go out to dinner very often -- I live in a small-ish town, and I'm cheap, and I hate feeling like I could make better food than I'm buying.

Anyway, not sure if that's what you're looking for...

Yes, that is exactly what I am looking for! Thank you.

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I'm a busy mom with 5 kids. On school nights, I'm all about things I can make quickly. I save the laborious stuff for weekends or when the kids are on break from school. On school nights, things are just too hectic to do anything elaborate.


Cheryl

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My husband is extremely picky and so is my stepson. Although I don't short order cook to their wishes obviously making something that they won't eat would be pointless. Therefore, we eat a lot of very basic meals--- hotdogs, Tater tots and salad; steak simply marinated and baked potato, Mac n cheese, pasta, grilled cheese, chicken, etc. I try to work in a new dish very now and then abd I also try to do 'homemade' versions of the boxed/fast food faves such as chicken fingers, fish fingers, etc. I even 'amazed' my stepson this summer with homemade croutons since croutons are one of his favorite things. Hopefully, he's learning that you can make whatever kind of food you love at home and cheaper better for you than fast food or processed.

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I go through phases where I read and make a lot of recipes, and other times when I'm much more freeform... to me, the recipe times are when I collect new ideas, flavour combinations, and improve my knowledge, so that when I'm doing week-to-week cooking or using leftover ingredients, I can come up with something tasty (and perhaps quicker and more relaxing than following a recipe).

I find that after years of cooking pretty regularly, I don't have many misses anymore - some things obviously turn out better than others but if something's tasting a bit drab, I feel like i have the building blocks to at least partially rescue it... maybe a bit more seasoning, some spice, herbs etc.

Perhaps it's time for me to have another recipe-book phase... even just talking about it makes me want to try more of the (many many!) recipes I have bookmarked online and in my books.

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Learning how to plan weekly menus and shop for the week went a long way to helping get mealtimes under control when I was working and had a young kid. Also making large quantities to provide leftovers for the next day was essential. Simplifying salad was helpful too; washing piles of lettuce and making dressing is time consuming and one of those kitchen chores I just hate. Much easier to just cut up some cukes, radishes and tomatoes and toss with feta and olive oil. Doubling up on vegetables and salad became a good shortcut: instead of having a vegetable and a salad, we often just have the vegetable as a salad. Greenbeans with olive oil, salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice can be made easily while doing something else and then timing isn't an issue either, they can just sit at room temp until dinner is ready.

I also discovered that eating vegetarian meals at least half the time meant a lot more flexibility, especially toward the end of the week. I'm a little fussy about not having meat sit around in the fridge, so halfway through the week we don't have any animal protein around. It's either be creative with veggies or leftovers or be forced to stop and shop before dinner. I don't mind doing that now, but dragging a tired kid who has a pile of homework to the store after school was not an errand I wanted to make.

Sundays became "vat of the week" day--soup or stew. I got into the habit of making a big batch of tomato sauce and freezing it in convenient sized portions for easy spaghetti meals. Learn to love beans; a big pot of beans is very adaptable. My daughter became a devotee of personal designer burritos. Poaching or roasting enough chicken for at least two meals means chicken in soup or burritos one night and chicken salad the next night. I know there are people out there who say they don't like leftovers. That can make weekday dinners hard!

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A time saver for me has been the sous vide rig. Some time after dinner I'll load up a bag with, say, a piece of pork belly or chuck steak. The next night what could easily be the biggest time sink of meal prep is ready to go. Obviously I don't eat pork belly every day, but I do rely on vac packing and the water bath a lot.


Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Agree totally about sous-vide and vacuum packing. Needs a little planning but you cannot beat the results. Real quick meals can also be sous vide - chicken is only 45-60 minutes at 60C, garlic prawns take 20-30 mins at 55C.

For when I am really busy I do a big batch of individual portions and freeze them. Reheat and voila - 72 hour venison is on the table. Luckily one of my friends is an avid hunter and supplies me with venison whenever he has good hunting.

Simon

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The advantage, too, is that even if, like Simon here, you're sving stuff that takes a lot less time than 24 hours (i.e. you need to set it up when you get home--altho', hey, you could cut that down by bagging the day or morning before), you can set it and 'forget' it while you go about doing other things. 60 minutes prep for a meal isn't as bad as it sounds (remember, we're talking weeknights--60 minutes might be a lot, depending on your circumstances) if you can do a lot of other things while it occurs. Pressure cookers and Thermomix clones have the same advantages.


Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Get good at slicing and dicing. Have a good sharp knife, and a good mandolin. Be able to dice an onion without thinking about it. Almost impossible to cook well without dicing and sauteing onions, garlic, mushroom.

Improve ingredients. Get the best olive oil, soy sauce, vinegars, and spices you can find. Hard to beat fresh grated parmesan reggiano. You may have to order some stuff online.

Its worth the expense and mess to cooks some ducks and/or a goose just to get the fat from them.

Start a small herb garden. A couple of flower boxes will provide enough growing space for thyme, chives, marjoram, basil, etc. Fresh herbs make great flavor improvements. Use some to make herb butter to keep on hand.

Practice a couple common things, and get really good at them.

For instance:

There is no comparison between homemade stock and store bought broth. Making it in a pressure cooker is a great time saver.

Make a good omelette? I did have to buy a better pan, and it took about a dozen tries to get the method down. Three minutes per serving, including the time it takes to snip the chives, grate the cheese.

Hows your hash browns? Try making them w. the duck or goose fat. How's your gravy? Know how to make a roux? Got a killer mac-n-cheese recipe? Make every variation of grilled sandwiches you can. Make pan sauces after sauteing meats.

With practice, a lot of things not only happen quicker, but they become less tedious. An hour in the kitchen can pass pretty quickly. Except for the dish washing.


Edited by gdenby (log)

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After you've been cooking for a while you get a war chest of old reliable recipes. That helps make planning easy as well as making it simple to pivot to a new plan if a key ingredient is on sale. I also plan leftovers -- I know that tonight's braised garlic-lemon chicken with rice is the basis for tomorrow's avgolemono soup, or that the planned for extra bit of grilled steak (expensive) from tonight's supper will be the centerpiece of the chef's salad (cheap) for tomorrow's. When inspiration, the market and my freezer fail me, there's always an omelet or grilled cheese sandwiches!

But get a roster of dishes that you know are relatively easy. For example 3 chicken dishes, 2 shrimp dishes, 2 fish, 2 ground meat, 2 vegetarian, 2 soups, 2 meat, for cold days and another roster of the same for warm days. With those you'll have a basis for easy to put together meals and enough variety to cater to varying appetites and ingredient availabilities. Then use your cookbooks, on-line, magazines, etc. to offer a fun change-up when you have the time and are feeling adventurous.

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For me, since I spend all day with bread and pastries, I want simple, fast, tasty things out of the kitchen when it comes to cooking dinner. I'm a great advocate of "lazy bastard" recipes and methods (things that can be thrown together quickly and which produce tasty results, but are in no way related to the dish I'm riffing on, technique-wise), and also of meals that use only one or two pans (say, skillet and noodle pot, or noodle pot and casserole dish). I would be absolutely inconsolable without my 12" cast-iron skillet, which is used so frequently that it rarely finds its way back into the cupboard between meals. Once a month or so, when I've got time and inclination, I try the fancier 2-3 page recipes or cook a setpiece Ecuadorian dish, and I do try to take inspiration from my cookbooks in terms of flavour combinations. Soup is also a big part of the game, because I can put it on in the morning and it will be ready for dinner (crockpot!) As I mentioned in the stock thread, I tend to let soup make stock for me, and Sundays are carcass days. And, because Monday is market day in my town, Sundays are when I really have to be creative with what's left in the fridge.

Among the things I make weekly are: lazy bastard tuna "risotto" or stovetop casserole, beef stroganstuff, quick breaded and panfried tilapia with mac and cheese, quick beef and goat curries, chicken drums basted in yogurt curry and grilled, meatloaf, and roast chicken. When turkey breast is available, that gets roasted too, with potatoes. None of these things requires more than about 20-30 minutes of prep time, although cooking times are variable. About twice a month I make huge volumes of tomato sauce from scratch and then spaghetti, lasagne, and cacciatore creep into the menu. I do a lot of steamed veggies based on what was good at the market that week. Most of what I cook is definitely comfort food, and I'm not apologetic about it - I don't have time to be fancy, I have time to be basic and yummy. My plates are typically about 3/4 veggies and 1/4 protein/meats, and thank god my folks and friends aren't picky eaters at all.


Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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My husband is extremely picky and so is my stepson. Although I don't short order cook to their wishes obviously making something that they won't eat would be pointless. Therefore, we eat a lot of very basic meals--- hotdogs, Tater tots and salad; steak simply marinated and baked potato, Mac n cheese, pasta, grilled cheese, chicken, etc. I try to work in a new dish very now and then abd I also try to do 'homemade' versions of the boxed/fast food faves such as chicken fingers, fish fingers, etc. I even 'amazed' my stepson this summer with homemade croutons since croutons are one of his favorite things. Hopefully, he's learning that you can make whatever kind of food you love at home and cheaper better for you than fast food or processed.

My partner is really picky too. I swear, her favorite meal is frozen fish sticks( minimally processed, from Costco) and Organic boxed mac n, cheese. I once made homemade tarter sauce and she prefered the Best Foods bottled sauce. So, I've basically given up and I cook( really, its more like prepare) the dishes she likes on the days she works( she works 12hr days). This week we had ground turkey tacos( I did fry the corn tortillas she thought they were the best thing since sliced bread), open faced egg salad sandwiches on La Brea rolls, Tuna salad on Rye from the Jewish deli and turkey burgers( scratch) and baked stuffed potatoes. Last night I breaded chicken cutlets, fried them and we had some pasta and homemade red sauce on the side. I would have prefered chicken parm, but she doesnt like that ( sigh).

Its also really freaking hot here and we tend to not be as hungry when its hot. I do miss cooking big elaborate meals. My ex had a hearty appetite.

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I agree w the suggestion to develop a set of 12 or so super reliable recipes.

The other thing that helps is menu planning. Deciding what to cook tonight eats up a considerable portion of the time available for cooking.

If you know in advance its pasta alfredo, then you get right to washing the veg and grating the cheese while the pasta boils.

Another help is the fabulous storage characteristics of onions, garlic, and cabbage. A head of cabbage lves in the veg drawer of the fridge until that night when we're out of everything and havent time to shop.


"You dont know everything in the world! You just know how to read!" -an ah-hah! moment for 6-yr old Miss O.

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Interesting responses all. So much is determined by our lifestyles, household size and occupation.

Working in the entertainment business I get home late (usually 7:30), I have to eat out several nights a week, I don't have children, and my partner travels constantly. So shopping for a week's meals is rarely an option.

I try to keep staples in the fridge and pantry so that shopping for a meal is relatively straightforward. I also insist on cooking, as per a New Year's resolution a few years ago, as many nights as possible - for reasons of health, economy and quality, in addition to keeping myself out of trouble.

I have staple dishes like everyone else, and try to save, refrigerate or freeze preparations that make my favorite dishes easy: homemade Thai curry pastes, real manteca, salt pork, rendered suet, Julia Child's dry spice marinade, frozen chicken lamb and pork stocks, various homemade Indian pastes and masalas, preserved lemons, etc. Good-quality anchovies, Danicoop san marzanos, fresh lemons, dried pasta, olive oil, cow ghee, and any whole spice known to man are always in the house. Fresh herbs on the terrace, though recently it's mainly been mint and hyssop due to laziness. We eat a lot of marinated pork chops, roast chicken per Marcella Hazan, spaghetti puttanesca, ground beef kheema with fried onions, fragrant chicken braised in yogurt and various other pastas with good tomatoes and some kind of sauce. We've just started venturing into Fucshia Dunlop's red-braised pork and dry-fried string beans, and I see a lot more Chinese in our future.

But my favorite thing to do is a more involved recipe, and that is almost always a traditional regional recipe rather than something modern or composed. Recently I've made a lot of dishes in my unglazed tagine, which automatically demands much more time due to the slow heating required. We cook all kinds of Indian regional dishes all the time, and for a while we were doing lots and lots of Thai. We're always working on better chilis, usually purist Texas red based on beef and homemade chili powders and pastes from whole dried chiles, and recently dried legumes of all sorts have been part of many nights' dishes, courtesy of rancho gordo and other sources.

If I have to start cooking at 7:30, my partner having started prep at 5:30 or 6, and we end up eating at 9 or 10, then that's fine. On weekends, we'll often end up shopping and cooking all afternoon.

It's pretty much our lives, and the way that we bond together. When he's not here, I'm at loose ends - it's no fun cooking for one. We love to entertain, the more the better, and between our standbys and our new recipes (which frankly don't always work out), it's a constant journey, and one that's really enriched our recent years. For us, or at least for me specifically, it's not about putting food on the table - it's about the moment when you're over the stove and skillet and frying onions, a glass of dry sherry on the left, and intoxicating aromas rising from the stove. Almost better than sitting down to dinner.

(I did make a baloney sandwich with Kraft singles this weekend, on an Arnold hamburger roll with mayo on one side, and it was one of the best things I ate in an entire weekend working on chole, borlotti beans and murgh chana masala... sometimes fast processed food is great too.)

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patrickamory - Cheers! Your reply definitely helped satisfy my curiosity. Basically, spending hours lovingly preparing a meal is presumably a joy shared by most, if not all, on this forum, but on a daily basis, cooking can be far humbler, though often just as satisfying! I am glad to know I'm in good company.

Totally agree on the traditional regional recipes over more modern/avant-garde dishes!

And you are lucky to be able to share the kitchen so well with your partner - I am a bit of a control freak, apparently, and not that fun to share the kitchen with, apparently :)

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Weeknights meal has got to be quick and easy. I'm just not in the mood for anything complicated after work. My husband works from home, so he can start stew type dishes in the slow cooker during the day. We make duck confit quite often. Duck leg in a baking dish, cover with oil, cook in a slow oven for 4-5 hours. When ready to eat, just put the duck legs in a frying pan to crisp up the skin. A very easy but fulfilling weeknight meal.

Those 4 page recipes are saved for when I have the time - weekends, time off from work, etc.

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