Friday, October 5, 2012

Scratch Cooking Part II: The Three Main Meals

Earlier this week, I talked about how cooking from scratch is the key to saving money on groceries.  But for most people, this conjures up visions of hours spent slaving in the kitchen putting together meals more suited to Downton Abbey in 1912 than to Dayton, Ohio, in 2012.

Let me start with a confession:  for my entire life, I've wanted to be a housewife.  I wanted that when I was a little girl, I assumed it was my right in life in college, I proudly proclaimed myself a homemaker while single (much to the confusion of strangers), and I am pleased to be a housewife now.  However, the role of housewife in the modern era comes right alongside a full-time job and all the other commitments of life, so time in the kitchen is precious indeed.

Therefore, I have distilled my main meal cooking down to three main options, which comprise 80 percent of the dinners I cook.  With variations, we don't get bored, and I am able to get by on a limited grocery list and garden harvest that serves our needs.  The main meal categories are:

"Sunday Dinner:"  This is some variant of a roast, a bunch of potatoes and onions, and maybe some carrots or a fresh salad.  Sometimes it is a beef roast, sometimes a whole chicken.  It sounds like a lot; people sometimes comment that it seems like I'm making Thanksgiving dinner.  But really, I'm just making a good, old fashioned, country meal that requires very little tending.  A beef roast will cook happily in the Crock Pot all day, and a chicken will make the house smell wonderful for the two or three hours it is in the oven.  Generally, I make these meals on a Sunday, when I can putter around the house or sit and read a book while the cooking goes on without much attention from me.  Then, I'm assured that Mr. FC&G has leftover meat for the coming week.

Soup:  If you are going to cook roasts and birds, you are going to wind up with bones and trimmings.  This means stock around here.  Every couple of months, I can a batch of homemade stock (which, again, is something that simmers on the stove for hours while you go about your business).  This serves as a base for a quick meal of soup, whether that be a cheesy potato soup, a chowder, or a simple broth with onions and greens that will be a great vehicle for homemade or boxed pasta.  I make very few soups that require more than 30 minutes of prep and cooking, so this is a great weeknight option.

Pasta and Something:  If Mr. FC&G loves meat, I love pasta.  So, one of my regular meals for us is pasta and something.  Think zucchini orzo, or mac-n-cheese, or rigatoni with garden tomatoes and fresh basil.  Basically, almost anything on hand can be tossed with pasta, with perhaps a sauce of choice and some cheese.  This is a very quick dinner that still usually includes lots of veggies for us.

What about the other 20 percent?  This part of our dinner rotation is reserved for the one-off meals that we like, such as fried cod on a bed of garden veggies, baked salmon, student ragout, or some new recipe that I've decided to try to see if it deserves a place in the regular rotation.  It also includes our occasional meals out, which tend to happen once a week due to either family get-togethers or business events, or just because we want a treat.  We can budget that in, because the rest of the week we have spent so little and eaten so well.
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