Lately there has been a return to cooking from scratch as opposed to buying premade/prepackaged food items. Reasons are varied: expense, quality, concerns about ingredients. I'm glad to see more people embracing this, I think we've been doing ourselves a terrible injustice by eating too many chemicals and preservatives, commonly found in boxed/frozen foods. I'm not knocking everything, but there are some things that truly should be left on the store shelves.
As someone with severe food allergies, I've spent my entire life reading the ingredients lists on packaging. Some of the ingredients are downright scary too, even the ones I'm not allergic to! I've only found a few premade items that were "safe" for me to eat, and I'll be honest, most of them taste horrid. Too salty and a definite chemical overtone to them. I really don't understand how anyone can eat some of this on a regular basis. The only thing that I can think of is they have become so conditioned to eating these things, they don't realize that there are better tasting options.
One of the most common things I hear as an excuse for not cooking from scratch is "I don't have the time." I am pulling the official "BULLSHIT" flag on this claim, it is simply an excuse. I've found that many things cooked from scratch take about the same amount of time or even less in some cases. Even if it takes 5 minutes longer, isn't it worth it to be sure you aren't consuming a bunch of junk that might cause health issues further down the road? And it tastes SOOOO much better.
So, how does one get started on breaking the cycle? Start small, and be sure you have the proper tools. I remember watching an episode of Oprah where they were helping several couples pare down their debt, and one of these couples ate out constantly. When they assessed what she had in her kitchen, she had next to nothing, not even a decent set of pots and pans!!! You don't have to run out and buy everything at one time, buy one item per week to help you cook one particular recipe. Before you know it, you will have a well equipped kitchen. One of my favorite places to buy good quality, inexpensive kitchen tools/gadgets is T J Maxx. Some of my favorite pans have come from there, many times these are very high quality pieces, but they have been discontinued for a new line. Most of the time they are sold individually, so you can buy pieces as you can afford them. No one cares if yours pots and pans all match, especially if you've cooked a delicious meal!
One item I highly recommend for every kitchen is a crock pot. I actually have 3 in different sizes I use for different things, I LOVE a crock pot. What do I cook in mine? Here's a list of things I commonly cook, I'm sure I probably missed a couple of recipes too.
Roasts (pork or beef)
Pork chops with kraut
Pork roast or chops with spices for Mexican pulled pork
Pork roast or sliced ham with BBQ sauce for sandwiches
Layered Potatoes w/cheese and bacon
Whole Chicken (this turns in to at least 3 separate meals)
Hot dogs with sauerkraut (one of my faves!)
Italian sausage in a tomato/pepper/onion sauce
Of this list, the one that probably takes the most prep time would be applesauce (all that peeling!) followed by spaghetti sauce since you need to brown the meat before you put it in. If you want a meatless sauce, time saved!
Probably the simplest with the biggest payoff is a beef roast, so easy and so delicious. Sear the roast in a large frying pan. While doing that, clean and chop up several potatoes, carrots, an onion and a bit of celery, throw that in the bottom of the crock pot. Once seared, put the roast on top, add some water to the frying pan and scrape the brown off the pan (that's where all the flavor is!) and pour that over the whole mix. Add some seasonings to taste, turn it on, put the lid on and walk away. Depending on your crockpot, it will take 6 - 10 hours (the newer ones tend to cook hotter) and when you are ready to eat, your house will smell wonderful! You can use the juices from the mixture to make gravy. I haven't made one of these in a while, just typing that out makes me hungry for it, add that to the shopping list for next time.
Another good strategy is to plan your meals ahead. This is another thing that people whine about-"I don't have the time..."--make the time! I didn't start doing this until several years ago. I got tired of coming home from work and realizing that I hadn't gotten something out to thaw to cook and we ended up eating a strange combo or went out. I also found myself at the end of the grocery supply, struggling to come up with variety. No one wants to eat potatoes three days in a row, it's not healthy either! Now that I've been doing this for a while, I can't imagine NOT having a meal plan. It makes grocery shopping easier, you find that you throw out less and you save money. Plus in the long run, you do save time. If I know in advance we have something going on that will make dinner preparation a hassle, I work around it, either scheduling that as a dinner out night, or by planning a meal that is quick and easy. Those are great crockpot days, especially when I know I'm going to be away from the house for an extended time. No more running around like a chicken with my head cut off.
How to plan? It's pretty simple. I make a list of "main course" items that I currently have on hand. Then I write out the days of the week. I make note of things we have going on for that week, then from there I figure out what to cook each day based on the on hand list and what is going on. At any given time I usually have a week to two weeks planned out ahead. As I'm cooking the meal for that night, I check my meal plan for the next 2 days meals to see if there is anything that needs to be thawed so I can get it out. 2 days? Yes, if you are planning a crock pot meal, you need to be sure that what you are cooking will be completely thawed by the morning you want to prep it! Sometimes overnight isn't long enough.
Here's my meal plan for the next week: (we will go more in to detail on all of this in a later post)
Thursday- Spaghetti (sauce is cooking in my crockpot as I type!)
Friday- Roasted chicken with oven roasted sweet potatoes and corn (will cook a whole, fresh chicken in the crockpot. Leftovers from this will be used over the next few days, both chicken and broth)
Saturday- date night, dinner out!
Sunday- creamed chicken with biscuits, mashed potatoes and green beans (creamed chicken made from some of the chicken cooked on Friday)
Monday- Hash browns, pancakes and bacon, fruit (we love dinner for breakfast)
Tuesday- chicken quesadillas (using the last of the chicken cooked on Friday)
Wednesday- dinner out with friends
We try to limit ourselves to dinner out only once or twice a week, and most of the time we do very well at this. Dinner out can be going to a sit down restaurant or bringing home Chinese take out. It doesn't mean a four course meal with dessert every time.
I'm going to try and share a recipe regularly, my hope is that as you read these posts and I comment on the recipes, you will be inspired to try them and to get back to basics (if you haven't already). Cooking isn't all that difficult. Once you get started, you won't want to go back to boxed food. Step away from the box!!!
Recipe for this "cooking from scratch" post: Slow Cooker Mexican Pulled Pork Tacos
I found this recipe on Pinterest. I was looking for something different with a Mexican flair and this fit the bill. I'll be honest, when I cooked it the first time, I thought it smelled awful at first. I truly thought we might be doing an emergency Chinese food run. Boy was I wrong!!! This is sooooo good, I usually make mine with pork chops since they are easier to "pull". I just made this last week, and I ended up eating all of the leftovers for lunches for two days as well, there wasn't a single drop of waste. I use salsa in mine (where it says tomato sauce or salsa), my favorite is Aldi's mild salsa, it takes about a half of a jar. I always forget just how good this recipe is until I make it again! I serve it with a bit of sour cream, shredded cheese and chopped up tomato on corn tortilla's, whatever you usually put on your tacos is fine. Best part--it also freezes well, so if you end up with too much, you can have it again later. One thing I have learned with crockpot cooking for only 2 people, my freezer is an invaluable tool.
Stop back, I'm going to share more tips, recipes and ideas! This is a subject that is near and dear to my heart, and I'm excited about sharing it with all of you. Let's get cooking!
**most of the recipes I will be sharing will be wheat/gluten, egg, tree nut and honey free! If I link to a recipe that includes any of these ingredients, I will be noting how I worked around it to avoid using these ingredients.