Monday, April 02, 2012

Cooking Is A Crock

I read a lot of DIY, design, organizing and homekeeping type blogs. I find a lot of good ideas on them that I can adapt for my own personal use. Some of them are really good, they seem to be written by gals like me who are just trying to make their environment as pleasant as possible with what resources they have. Others are just nuts.

Yesterday I ran across one site where the gal makes Martha Stewart look like a slacker. She had a computerized 'floor plan' of her refrigerator showing which shelves and bins each type of food belongs in. I kid you not. It was color coded and everything. I will admit that I sometimes covet a perfectly organized fridge and pantry but if I ever go so far as to draw up a blueprint for them I hope someone loves me enough to just shoot me in the head.

Occasionally some of these bloggers will write about once-a-month cooking where they get together with friends and on one day they cook up and freeze enough meals to last them an entire month. Not only does it save cooking time in the evenings, but your grocery shopping is done for the month except for picking up milk, bread and other staples you use every day. I think that's brilliant, especially for working moms with young children.

I am not a working mom nor do I have young children anymore but I still think the idea is brilliant. The time it takes to cook a meal isn't really an issue for me now that I'm "retired", it's the effort that gets to me. Contrary to what it might look like, I am extremely lazy when it comes to doing things that I don't want to do. I can knock out 15 craft projects in one day but most nights my family fends for themselves for dinner because I'd rather stick a fork in my eye than have to cook.

I'm not sure why I despise cooking so much. It might go back to my childhood. My mother cooked supper every single night except on Sundays. And let me tell you, we felt like the most neglected children on the face of the earth because we had to make our own sandwich or our own bowl of cereal on Sunday nights.

My mother is an excellent cook and she never made us eat anything we didn't like. We weren't force fed brussel sprouts and we didn't have to clean our plates if we didn't want to. That was never much of a problem for me. I was always the last one to finish my meal and after my 6'4" Dad finished his he would hover over my plate with his fork saying, "are you going to finish that?" or "are you done with this?". He would ask these questions after he'd already speared my food with his fork and it was on its way to his mouth. By the time he was done, my plate was clean! And I didn't top 100 pounds until my senior year in high school.

When my mom was making supper she didn't want anyone in the kitchen with her. We were not helping, we were just in the way. We weren't allowed in the kitchen until she was done, then she called us in to put ice in the glasses for the freshly brewed iced tea she made every night. That was the extent of my kitchen experience growing up: icing the glasses. If you need a glass full of ice, I'm your gal. No one can put ice in a glass like I can, that's for sure.

I can't recall my mother ever using a crock pot but that doesn't mean she didn't use one. Since my sister and I weren't allowed in the kitchen while meals were being prepared, I have no idea what she used or didn't use. I was almost grown before I was finally able to remember which one was the oven and which was the stove. They say the way to a man's heart is through is stomach but my husband will tell you that I took a different route.

One thing I know for sure is that during my lifetime my mother has never made a casserole of any kind. I grew up in the 60s and 70s when the casserole was queen. But not at my house. We had meat and potatoes every night. The closest thing to a casserole my mother ever made was a Lebanese dish with chicken, rice and chickpeas. They were all cooked together in the same big pot and that's the only thing that made it casserole-ish. I was a full grown adult before I ever tasted a tuna casserole with cheese and potato chips on top. It was delightful.

We also didn't do a lot of fast food when I was young. When we wanted hamburgers my mother fired up the grill and made us hamburgers. I never saw my Dad even touch the barbecue grill. I'm pretty sure he doesn't know how one works even to this day. We had fast food less than once a month and when we did it was always from Burger King. We got ice cream at Dairy Queen on occasion but other than that I was in high school before I experienced the joys of McDonald's and Taco Bell. Because of that I made sure that my daughter got to experience every local fast food place multiple times before she was even 2 years old. I felt like that made her a more cultured toddler.

Whatever the reason for my lack of cooking motivation, I still don't cook very often. Lately I have fallen in love with my crock pot thanks to Pinterest and sites like Crockin Girls, A Year of Slow Cooking, and Get Crocked. I find that if I use my crock pot I might cook as much as twice a week, which is double my normal output mode.

While searching the internet for some new crock pot recipes, I came across several blog posts and conversations about crock pot freezer meals. Done in the style of the once-a-month cooking, you gather up all your ingredients for several crock pot meals. You prep your ingredients by chopping, seasoning, browning ground beef, etc. Then you put everything in a gallon size ziploc bag and toss it in your freezer. When you need a meal you just pull out a bag and follow the instructions that you wrote on it when you prepared it. What could be easier, right?

For my first venture I chose 10 recipes to try. A couple of them were not specifically crock pot recipes but could be easily adapted. Taylor asked why I didn't start smaller for my first experiment and I just stared at her incredulously. After all this time does she still not know me??!

I dropped 4 large at Kroger and come home with everything I needed to make these meals:

Parmesan Tilapia
Beef Stew
Chicken Tetrazini
Calico Bean Soup
Mexican Chicken
Ham and Green Beans
Creamy Beef over Noodles
Steak and Potato Packets
Crock Pot Lasagna

I know, that's only 9. I got tired and decided to ditch the last one so I won't include it. I figure 10 (or 9) meals will probably last us a month when you factor in leftovers, pizza nights, sandwich nights, ice cream nights, etc. I couldn't find the beef stew recipe that I use online but there are a bazillion, just pick one you like. 

I thought it would take me about 3 hours to get everything done but it ended up taking 4-1/2 hours. I think if I had planned things out better I could have done it in less time. And if Kroger hadn't been out of stew meat I wouldn't have had to buy rump roasts to make my own which added on quite a bit of time. Plus my family kept interrupting me so they could make themselves something to eat since I sure as heck wasn't gonna do it. I was much too busy cooking to be bothered with feeding them.

I don't think I've ever trashed my kitchen as badly as I did last night. Some of the dishes I chose required extra cooking steps such as browning ground beef, blanching beans, and cooking chicken and some pasta. That added a little extra time but it was worth it for recipe variety. I generally despise tossing a piece of meat into the crock pot with a can of cream-of-whatever soup. It just lacks imagination. That's why only 1 of the recipes I chose uses a cream-of-something soup.

You should know that I didn't follow those recipes exactly. I substituted and left some things out to suit my family's tastes. For example, the ham and green beans recipe calls for ham hocks. I must admit I did not know what a ham hock was but I like ham in general so I decided to give it a try. Jayson went to the store with me and we both had trouble finding the ham hocks. When we did, we looked at the package and said simultaneously, "Oh HELL no!" Maybe they taste like a little slice of heaven but we'll never know since we deemed them too ugly to eat. I substituted a nice ham steak and we went on about our business.

By the end of the evening I had a freezer full of crock pot meals with instructions written on the bags. I also wrote on there if anything needed to be added such as stirring in cream cheese at the end. How convenient would this be for a mom with young kids when she needs to leave town for a few days. Dad can pop one of these into the crock pot before he goes to work and by the time he gets home he's got supper ready for the kids. He might forget to bathe them while Mom is gone, but this way they stand a decent chance of getting fed.

I think this is going to work out great for me since it significantly reduces the time I have to spend in the kitchen when I decide to cook, and it also cuts down on the amount of grocery shopping I'll have to do during the month since most of the meals are already prepared. I'll have to grab milk, bread, and eggs on occasion but that's better than the hour of drudgery it takes to do the weekly shopping. Okay fine, biweekly. Every 3 weeks at the most. Usually.

1 comment:

donnaj said...

Boy how i wish crock pots had been around when we were kids. The few rare times my mom went out of town and dad "cooked" he threw all the leftovers in a pot, heated it up and served the mush. we HATED when my mom left. your mom may have used a pressure cooker but i don't think crock pots were around back then-or we would have had one!