Saturday, February 26, 2011

Faster than fast food
by guest blogger Emily Threlkeld

I like to cook.

Actually, let me qualify that: I like to cook the way I like to write poems. It isn't about practicality, it's about self-expression, creating something from nothing.

So while I collect recipes that call for madeleine pans, lavender honey, duck fat, and hours and hours of my time, preparing a daily evening meal for myself isn't something that interests me. This presents a bit of a challenge for me since I've committed to cooking all my meals at home this month.

Making dinner is even less interesting after work. I enjoy my job as a bridal consultant. When a couple comes to register for gifts, I get to know them. I get an idea of what their lifestyle is like or what they want it to be. I help them figure out what they'll need to build their new home together. I walk them around the entire store and help them make smart decisions. In between couples, I help people shop from registries and gift wrap their selections. One way or another I'm dealing with happy people all day. But it does take a lot out of me. I'm on my feet all day, up and down ladders sometimes, running from one end of the store to the other. Most of all, as an introvert, connecting with people is something that takes a lot out of me. It's not a difficult job, but I still come home tired.

Over time I've developed two tricks that help me with the chore of feeding myself once I get home. Maybe they'll help you, too.

1. Keep your pants on. Literally.
Usually the first thing I do when I come home is change from my work pants into PJs. My work pants were uncomfortable in October, when they were just a little bit too tight, and they're uncomfortable now because they're so loose they're falling off me. I change into elastic-waisted PJ pants, kick off my shoes and sit down on the couch to relax. I notice I'm hungry, but as time passes I have less energy and less motivation to get up off the couch and do something. So how to avoid this trap? When you get home from work, as tired as you may be, go directly to your kitchen. Don't take off your work clothes, don't turn on the TV, don't sit down. If it isn't time for you to eat, get all your prep work done. If it is time to eat, start cooking. Or cook first and reheat later. However you want to do it—just make sure it's the first thing you do once you get home. (I know a lot of people love to cook once for the entire week, but living with three men makes that impossible for me. In our fridge, food is devoured instantly; ingredients are not.)

2. Collect practical recipes.
Keep an eye out for recipes that appeal to you. Move the efficient ones to the front of the pile. Twenty-minute meals, ten-minute meals, one-pot meals. Try some of those. Experiment. The more you make something, the better and faster you can make it. You can always try new recipes whenever you want, but it's important to have something to fall back on. Here are three of my current go-to recipes:

Sauteed Bell Peppers over Pasta
Adapted from Twinkle. Family friend, culinary genius.
Slice a bell pepper into thin strips. Cook in a pan over medium heat with olive oil and pepper until soft. Serve peppers on top of pasta—I prefer penne—and serve with plenty of Parmesan cheese on top.
Upgrade: Add some sliced sausage links on top. My personal favorite is chicken and apple.

Tomatoes, Tuna, and Couscous
Adapted from Jules from Stonesoup
Boil water in the microwave. Add couscous, cover, and set aside. Slice a pint of cherry or grape tomatoes and one or two cloves of garlic. Add to a pan with a can of tuna in olive oil. (Don't drain it!) Cook until the tomatoes are soft and the sauce comes together. Fluff couscous with a fork and serve with sauce on top. Upgrade: Add a handful of chopped chives and a drizzle of olive oil to the couscous when you fluff it.

Parmesan and Prosciutto Chicken
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Have your butcher butterfly a chicken breast into two pieces. (The original recipe calls for just one chicken breast but American chickens are much larger.) Sandwich chicken between two pieces of plastic wrap and use something heavy to bang it down so the breast is the same thickness all the way around. Peel away the top piece of plastic and sprinkle the chicken with grated Parmesan cheese and ground pepper. Top with a slice of prosciutto. Pick up the chicken from the bottom and slam it face down into a pan over high heat. (The faster you flip it into the pan, the less your prosciutto is going to get out of place.) It takes three to four minutes per side and when it's done, the cheese holds everything together. Upgrade: Add fresh thyme and grate lemon zest on top of the cheese. Before serving, add a small drizzle of lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, and/or olive oil on top.

3. Keep your successful recipes somewhere easy to find.
I have mine on index cards in the kitchen. If worse comes to worse and I feel a fast food craving, I go to the cards. I can make all of the above meals in fewer than twenty minutes, minus the time it takes to boil water. Ask yourself if it's really worth it to get in your car, drive somewhere, order something, wait for it, pay for it, come all the way home with it and eat it. In the same amount of time or less, you can have a home cooked meal that's much healthier for you. And look at it this way: you've already bought your groceries. Dinner at home has already been paid for. Dinner out has not.

Hopefully one of those recipes will inspire you to go in your kitchen and make yourself something delicious. Tomorrow, maybe? Report back when you do. Extra credit for photos!

Emily Threlkeld

EMILY THRELKELD is a newlywed living in Raleigh, North Carolina. She's also a writer and a photographer who supports herself being a bridal consultant at Bed, Bath, & Beyond.

1 comment:

  1. I can attest to how delicious the tuna and chicken recipes are, because I demand that Emily make them for me when I visit. They're they good! Plus, we're spending our time catching up, not slaving in the kitchen.