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...or: DINNER 911!

The three big excuses for not cooking dinner are:

1. I don't have the equipment
2. I don't have anything to cook
3. I don't have anything planned

We've dealt with the first two, so now let's deal with the third. Follow me across the overcooked corn spaghetti.

This is part three in a series on beginning cooking, emphasis on beginning. My purpose is to encourage reluctant cooks to rely more on their kitchens and less on prepared foods and take-out. Thus, I am talking in these diaries not about the authentic or gourmet, but the simplest and fastest--while still being good-tasting and affordable. I am not a professional chef, merely a homemaker/writer and proprietor of a longtime homemaking website.

In the last episode, I said I like to plan dinners ahead if at all possible. I encourage you in this as well. But there are times when I just don't have it together, and if you're just weaning yourself off boxes, microwave dinners and fast food, planning can be overwhelming. It's really easy to go through your cookbooks and pick something overly ambitious when you're first learning.

So let's make this simple. We have a stocked pantry, we'll assume (or at least partially stocked). Let's see what we can pull together last minute.

One-Skillet Suppers

This is my biggest fall-back, the one I know I can always make out of SOMETHING. If you keep ground beef/chicken/pork/bulk sausage/tofu around, or have some leftover protein, all the better. For the purposes of cooking from our stash, we'll rely on eggs. Here is a sample supper that you can use as a template. I'll give variations at the end.

Ingredients you will need:
Go to your fridge and pull out carrots, celery, green onions and eggs.
From your freezer, pull out corn and/or peas.
From your potato bin, pull out a yellow onion and either a white or sweet potato.
From your cabinet, get the olive oil--not the EVOO, since we'll be using it to cook with, not to top-dress. You can also use coconut oil or fat you've saved from a roasted chicken or from frying bacon. (I highly encourage this practice. It's delicious and essentially free.)
Have your salt and pepper nearby.

Note that I'm not giving you measurements. You are a smart person. You will know how much is too much or not enough, i'm betting. Just see how full your skillet is, and if you need more, throw more in. But if you insist:

For a single person, two eggs or the equivalent of a quarter pound of protein is probably enough. You don't necessarily have to double that with each person you add to the dinner party, though I use about a pound of ground beef for our family of four. I don't do the egg version of this very often any more because one of us will only eat eggs hard boiled. ~eyes teenager sitting next to me~ But since the eggs go in last, I can pull everything else out for her and THEN add the eggs for the rest of us. Then I give her a stupid ugly hard boiled egg for her protein. :)

For a single person, half an onion, one small-medium potato, two ribs of celery, a carrot, and small handfuls of corn and/or peas should do. Don't necessarily double for each additional person; use that Kossack common sense of yours.

Equipment you will need:
A skillet, smaller for one person, larger for more people. I use our big cast iron skillet, but then I use it for everything.
A spatula
A sharp chef's knife or cleaver
A peeler if you want your carrots and potato peeled--I don't bother but you might want to
A bowl bog enough to hold your chopped veg.
A fork
A gallon freezer bag

How to:
Slice the ends off your carrots, celery and onion; peel the onion until you get to the softer white part, peel the carrots if you want. SAVE THESE BITS IN THE GALLON FREEZER BAG AND CHUCK IN THE FREEZER. (Save all your non-cruciferous veggie scraps in this bag as you cook throughout the week. You'll find out why later. Cruciferous veggies are broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale. In a separate bag, save all your bones--chicken, pork, beef, whatever. Yes, I know there are no bones in this recipe. I'm talking about from other dinners, including doggie bags--but don't put in bones from fried stuff, or fish bones. Onward.)

If your carrots are really thick at one end, cut that end off from the rest and split it down the middle. Slice the carrots and celery. If you need a measurement, how about 1/8th-1/4" thick. Set all of it aside in the bowl.

Peel your potato if you want. Either way, dig out the eyes. If the white potato is green under the skin or has seriously sprouted, it is no longer good eats; get another or do without. Chop your potato into cubes, as roughly or fine as you like them. The way I do it: I cut the potato in half widthwise. I cut those pieces lengthwise, and then those pieces lengthwise again. I cut those pieces widthwise at about 1/4" intervals. You can put this in another bowl or just leave it to the side.

Chop your yellow onion into pieces roughly the size of the potato or smaller. Leave ready on the cutting board.

Put your skillet on medium heat (set the burner control to about 12 o'clock--on my stove, that's 5 or 6); put enough fat to cover the bottom of the skillet. Again, I'm a dibby-dab cook--a couple tablespoons? As you learn, you'll get a feel for how much is enough--or too much. I err on the side of too much, but with practice I've ended up about right. When it shimmers, add the onion. Stir it around with the spatula until it's translucent.

Add the potatoes. Stir around until they're almost done. They're done when they're soft, ie, edible. :)

While you're waiting, chop the green onions into thin rounds. I use almost the whole green onion, everything except the root and the fibrous bits at the top. If it looks like you'd eat it, chop it up. Set to one side, and put the trimmings into your freezer bag.

Add the celery and carrots. Stir around until the carrots are almost done (same thing as the potatoes). I like carrots al dente--still a little firm to the tooth--but my family doesn't, alas. So cook to just before your level of doneness.

While THESE are cooking, break your eggs into the bowl that had the veggies in it. With your fork, scramble them unti the yolks and white are well-combined.

Once your carrots are cooked, add your handfuls of frozens peas/corn, stir, and then it's time for the egg. Two ways of cooking the egg: you can sorta push the veggies off to the side and clear a spot, or you can dump them right over the top. Either way, get the eggs in the pan and keep stirring (either the eggs themselves or the whole mess, depending) until they're cooked through. Don't stop stirring; scrambled eggs cook fast and burned eggs ain't good eats. Take off the heat as soon as they're done, actually, a little before. You know how you like your eggs.

Immediately throw into individual bowls and top with the chopped green onion. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with any combination of butter, salsa, hot sauce, sesame oil, soy sauce, ngoc mam or sour cream you please.

This takes about 20 minutes start to finish. NO EXCUSES.

Variations:
Bacon--fry a few pieces of bacon in the pan (no other fat needed), set the bacon slices aside. Make sure you fry an extra piece to snack on whilst cooking. That's called the  cook's prerogative. (A glass of the wine you're cooking with is another example of this charming custom.) Use the bacon fat to cook the rest, crumble the bacon over the top or add it with the frozens to heat through, or use in place of the eggs. If the latter, make more of it than less.

Meat--if raw, cook before the onions. Just cook it till brown. If it's ground, just drop it into the pan in small chunks; if not, slice thin. I really suggest ground for these kind of skillet meals. Leave the eggs out. If you're using leftovers, chop it roughly and add before the frozens to heat it through.

Spam--YES SPAM DON'T BE A HATER. :) Cube it, fry it in a little bit of fat, add the onions and off you go. It's good--like the husband in the sketch, I love it--and a great emergency protein since it's shelf-stable.

Tofu: My own One True Diet does not include unfermented soy except in very small amounts, so take this with a grain of Celtic sea salt. Use firm tofu and squeeze out the water; put it on a plate with another plate atop it, and then put a weight on the topmost plate--a large, full peanut butter jar, a big jar or bowl full of water, or if all else fails a bottle of wine (before the cook's prerogative). Break into chunks and scramble it like the eggs.

Rice--substitute leftove rice for potatoes and you've essentially got fried rice. If you eat out at an Asian restaurant, take the rice home! You can do all kinds of stuff with it. Actually, I'm a big advocate of taking everything even remotely edible home.

Other veggies--What I have listed in the staples section are not our only vegetables. We try to eat in season; those are the ones we always keep on hand. Other veggies that also work in meals like this are chard and other leafy pot greens, summer squashes (zucchini, crookneck, patty pan--the kind that look like little UFOs), broccoli either fresh or frozen (peel the stems, they're tough otherwise), cauliflower florets fresh or frozen, green beans fresh or frozen, and mushrooms. The more delicate and/or frozen a veggie is, the later to put it in the pan. Except mushrooms. Put those in with the onions. When dealing with pot greens, put things like shredded cabbage or kale in earlier, chard in later.

Beans--break out a can of kidney, garbanzo or black beans and add just before the frozens. I'd skip the eggs in this case. You'll only need part of a can for a single person; save the rest in the fridge.

Canned diced tomatoes or fresh/canned salsa--especially good with beans and/or cabbage. Either heat in a non-reactive (stainless, enamel or Pyrex) pan and add in the serving bowls, use a non-reactive skillet and add just before the frozens, or do what I do and ignore the prohibition against cast iron and tomatoes. I am anemic, so take that into consideration.

Noodles--since we're talking emergency here, I'm talking emergency noodles: Asian-style rice noodles and RAMEN. I said, emergency noodles! If you use noodles, leave out the potatoes and go Asian in your seasoning: ngoc mam, soy sauce, sesame oil etc. Put that packet of ramen powder in your food and I will track you down and smack you with a wooden spoon, I swear. Cook the ramen, and I know you know how; follow the instructions for the rice noodles on the package, which usually just means boiling water and soaking--not boiling--the rice noodles in it. That's why my youngest calls them "tea noodles." Add either at the end. You probably want to break up the ramen before cooking it, unless you like slurping. If you like ramen uncooked, crumble it over the top of individual servings.

Nuts--we like sunflower seeds sprinkled on top of the individual servings for crunch. You can also use chopped almond, pine nuts or raw celery sliced thin.

Seasonings--For a Euro-flair, use my favorite cheat, herbes de Provence--a pinch crumbled between the fingers. If you've got the tomato/bean thing going, sprinkle cumin, garlic powder or finely minced garlic (fresh is better but don't let lack of time or fresh stop you from cooking), and a pinch of oregano crumbled between your fingers for a vaguely Mexican flavor. If you're using ground pork, try a pinch of crumbled sage. Ground or leftover turkey or chicken, another favorite cheat, poultry seasoning (or small amounts thyme, sage and rosemary). Poultry seasoning is also great on sweet potatoes. Another for poultry: tarragon, but taste it first; not everyone likes it. I really encourage experimentation. Taste an herb, imagine what it might be like with an ingredient, and try it.

Gravy--we're going to learn gravy in another installment, but if you have any leftover, it's gooood.

Fried egg--don't scramble the eggs. Fry them in another skillet and put them on top.

Simple, fast, good, variable to the point that no two skillet suppers will be the same. We don't eat it every night--nor should you. But it's still better than just about anything you can get at a fast food joint or from the microwave section at the supermarket.

Note: I am not going to discuss diet as opposed to cooking in these diaries nor will I engage in such discussions in the comments. If you are paleo, or vegan, or whatever, I'm sure you can take what you need from these diaries and leave the rest. No one needs anyone else's permission to eat as they see fit--including me. Please, whatever your preferred eating regimen is, don't argue about the One True Diet in the comments. I can't stop you, but I'd consider it a great courtesy. Thank you.

Also: if you like these diaries, please help me make a living as a writer. Check out The New Homemaker for more homemaking info on everything from cooking to parenting to cleaning and more. And if you like fantasy, check out my fiction site; I write epic fantasy family sagas, and have had reviewers say I'm the Victorian George R.R. Martin--I don't say that, they do. :)

Originally posted to LynnS in Words on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 02:42 PM PST.

Also republished by Practical Survivalism and Sustainable Living.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Wonderful series, thanks LynnS! (13+ / 0-)

    I've been on a low-carb regimen and making very tasty stir-fry, single-skillet meals for the past year. Protein from turkey, beef, chicken, sausage, scallops, calimari, shrimp combined with tomatoes, celery, zuccini, broccoli, mushrooms, onions, or whatever's in the bin. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on top, and it's as good as anything you'd make that took much longer. Saves clean-up, and provides variety by simply swapping around the ingredients. I've managed to lose 19 pounds while eating awesome food.

    Those who do not understand history are condemned to repeat it... in summer school.

    by cassandracarolina on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 02:55:20 PM PST

  •  We cook like this so often (9+ / 0-)

    After both of us working all day, we often don't feel like coming home and spending an hour cooking dinner.  Into the skillet it all goes.

    A great product for the lazy person that fits within the above framework is the already cubed firm tofu. I'm not a vegetarian, but find myself using tofu more and more because of this product.  

    I dump it into a strainer, maybe give it a quick rinse, then out on towel to dry for a moment.  Into the pan it goes in cubes to brown at same point as you would add raw meat in your diary .  Probably only saving a minute or two compared to a whole piece of tofu, but somehow it just makes me more likely to use it if it's already cubed.

    I'll also add leftover rice (spanish, white, brown, leftover from Chinese takeout, any) to these kinds of mixtures sometimes.  Added right about at the noodle stage. Might require a bit extra liquid, but it will warm up and soften and be good.

    Thanks for the diary.

  •  Cooking tofu: I got a recipe from my CSA and (11+ / 0-)

    it included taking a square of firm tofu, crumbling it up in a bowl, adding a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce and a teaspoon of sesame oil, mixing and frying in olive oil. (Then adding it to the dish) I have been very satisfied with how it came out--so much so that I now cook tofu that way often, and put it in many different kinds of dishes.

  •  I gotta go, but... (5+ / 0-)

    ...I'll be around in comments later.

  •  Yaki Soba Garlic Noodles..... (9+ / 0-)

    Saute onion, garlic & sm diced up eggplant.  Add cooked yaki soba noodles when vegies carmalized.  Just use one packet of seasoning mix plus a splash or two of Yoshida's cooking sauce.

    This is delicious hot that night or cold the next day.  Nice presentation too.  Browned small dice tofu would also go well w/ this one skillet dish.

  •  Omelet toast (6+ / 0-)

    not sure what else to call it.

    Take some toast, crumble, run some hot water over it, and then mix it in a bowl with a couple of eggs. Heat an omelet pan or skillet, add a bit of olive oil, and pour the mixture into the pan, add salt and pepper to taste.

    When it starts to get firm, put a couple tablespoons of cottage cheese or salsa or sour cream or left over chopped up warmed whatever on one side of the egg/toast mixture, and fold the mixture over the filling. Continue cooking until the bottom is firm, then turn it over and cook the other side. Turn it carefully, because it tends to break easily.

    I threw this together because the only thing in the house one day was eggs, bread and cottage cheese. I've made this using middle eastern flat bread, pita bread, water crackers and matzo bread. I haven't tried it with saltines yet, because I rarely have saltines, but I imagine it would work if you don't add any extra salt.  

    "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

    by Orinoco on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 04:04:26 PM PST

    •  Matzoh Brei (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      LynnS, Orinoco

      You've recreated the favorite Passover breakfast food, made with Matzoh.  But then you get the "sweet" faction (serve with cinnamon/sugar) and the "savory faction (serve with salt and pepper).  Good stuff.

      Reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled. Richard Feynman

      by mwk on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 11:14:30 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Matzoh Brei (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mwk

        inspired this dish. But I really did run out of Matzoh, and substituted some left over toast. Worked so well I started experimenting with other bread/cracker like food items.

        Maybe I should call it Toast Brie, Cracker Brie, Flatbread Brie... ?

        I am personally in the savory faction when it comes to Matzoh Brie.

        "The problems of incompetent, corrupt, corporatist government are incompetence, corruption and corporatism, not government." Jerome a Paris

        by Orinoco on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 10:38:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  back when i was a working gal (7+ / 0-)

    it was fancy beans and rice.  

    i walked in the door, set water on to boil for the rice.  changed clothes and set stuff down.

    sauteed onions/garlic.  threw in a few other veggies, a can of beans.  got the rice going.  tossed some green veggie into the microwave.  added a can of tomatoes to the beans last.  

    dinner in just under 30 min.  

    this looks tasty.  i might try a version.  like now.  

    Ted Kennedy: “The work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die…”

    by jlms qkw on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 04:08:03 PM PST

  •  A Nice Rice Suggestion (5+ / 0-)

    I've been advised to use brown rice by the nutritionist at my Doc's office, but hubby doesn't like it. I think that the problem with brown rice is that it doesn't soak up flavors like white rice does, and the texture is not as yummy-feeling. So I found a compromise: mixed rice. I combine two parts brown rice to one part white rice to one part red or wild rice. So the end result is only 1/4 white rice, which seems to be enough to satisfy both hubby and my nutritionist. It also looks pretty!
    I use a rice cooker and gauge the amount of water by eye & cook until water is absorbed & rice is soft, so I can't help with measurements or timing. Try doing what you usually do, but use a bit less water and keep an eye on it - remember that it's easier to add more water if needed than to take water away.

    Democracy - Not Plutocracy!

    by vulcangrrl on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 04:10:01 PM PST

  •  My top 3 reasons for not cooking.... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynnS

    1. It will make a mess in my kitchen - I will have to clean dishes, the stove and the sink at the very least.

    2. It will take time. 30 minutes at least to cook and then the cleaning in #1.

    3. I swear cooking creates more trash than eating out (as in bring take out home.)

    So there you have it. I have the equipment, I know where to get the food, I'm great at improvising,  but I like take out.

    Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

    by ZenTrainer on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 04:32:07 PM PST

    •  You don't need anyone's permission... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ZenTrainer

      ...to eat out. If that works for you, that's great! And thank you for saying "I don't like to cook" instead of "I can't cook." :)

      •  Oh yes, I can cook, but after a 12 hour day (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        LynnS, Youffraita, Joy of Fishes

        which most of mine now are, I just don't feel like it. I used to do the "cook everything on one day of the week thing" but right now in my life it seems work is the thing to do every day. My savings account likes it and I'll take it while it lasts! ;-)

        Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

        by ZenTrainer on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 04:45:32 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  My savior is the rice cooker (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          LynnS, ZenTrainer, puzzled

          I'm a stupid cook. I've never been successful at it, and I don't like standing at the stove or cutting things up.

          My easiest dinner is 1-get out rice cooker. 2-add water and Rice-a-roni. 3-push button

          Take off shoes, lie down and relax. Fix drink. Whatever.

          Ding!

          Dinner's ready.

          Get spoon. Eat from cooker.

          Sometimes I'll add a handful of frozen veggies to Rice-a-roni. But that's about the extent of my cooking.

          I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

          My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

          by pucklady on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 05:31:48 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  LOL! I didn't like to cut up vegetables either (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LynnS

            until I got good knives. The difference is amazing. I would still prefer good knives and a staff.

            Tracy B Ann - technically that is my signature.

            by ZenTrainer on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 06:30:26 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

          •  I like Rice-a-Roni too. good texture for my taste. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LynnS

            unfortunately, I'm the only one who eats it and I like it SO much that I can't make a package last more than one sitting.

            and one package really is too much for one meal, even if you don't have anything else with it!

            "real" work : a job where you wash your hands BEFORE you use the bathroom...

            by chimene on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 07:22:51 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  About eggs: (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynnS, Ahianne

    they're a problem for some of us, and I don't mean those of us with clear-cut allergies to them.

    I, for one, don't metabolize eggs well. They seem to cause a blood-sugar spike when I eat them--even though they're basically pure protein--and I end up STARVING at 10:30 am on a morning where I've had eggs for breakfast. This is a problem I've seldom heard discussed, but I'm sure others have noticed it.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 04:46:40 PM PST

  •  I love the eintopf meals (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynnS, Ahianne

    I grew up with in Germany, updated for an American diet:  

    Melt a bit of butter in a small pot, add a handful of frozen chopped onion and celery and let them sweat a bit, maybe even caramelize if you've the time and inclination, then a handful of lentil beans, 1 diced potato (I cheat and use the O'Brien cut frozen potatoes), 1 diced carrot, add enough water to cover and some chopped ham or a ham bone if desired, and let it simmer about 20 minutes, or until the lentils, potatoes, and carrots are tender. Served with buttered bread and a salad, it's fast and easy - faster than driving for take-out.

    Brown some bratwurst or Ekridge sausage in a skillet, use the grease to brown some O'Brien cut potatoes in the same skillet, then scoot everything over and add some sauerkraut to heat.  Take about 20 minutes, and you have a meat and 2 sides.

    Brown and drain ground beef, add cooked pasta (elbow macaroni, usually) or cooked rice, a can of petit diced stewed tomatoes, a sprinkle of Italian Blend of herbs, a tablespoon of frozen tomato paste, a bit of water if the paste is too thick, add Italian cut or plain cut green beans or corn or carrots and when it's all hot, sprinkle shredded cheese on top.

    All knowledge is worth having. Check out OctopodiCon to support steampunk learning and fun. Also, on DKos, check out the Itzl Alert Network.

    by Noddy on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 05:15:43 PM PST

  •  My family likes this too! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynnS, Ahianne

    To speed things up even more I try to keep  bags of frozen vegetables in the freeer.  The one I'm throwing in tonight has broccoli, water chestnuts, carrots, snap peas, and red peppers.  

    I have leftover rice from another meal.  I'll throw the rice in the bottom of my big cast iron skillet with just a little olive oil in the bottom.  When the rice is hot and just a little brown on the bottom I make a well in the middle and toss in a few eggs.  When they are scrambled I'll toss in the veggies that I've warmed in the microwave and stir it all up with some teriyaki sauce.  If I've got them I might throw a handful of chopped peanuts on the top.  My husband likes to spice his up with siracha sauce.  

    When I do the potato version I grate baked potatoes I have left from a previous meal into my hot olive oiled cast iron skillet.  When the potatoes are crunchy on the bottom I throw in some browned hamburger or other meat - whatever I've got, onion and red, yellow or green peppers, tomatoes, again, whatever I've got.  I let that all steam for a bit and then throw in a few beaten eggs.  I cover that until the eggs are set and top with some kind of gooey cheese, cover again until it is all melted.

    There are endless variations.  My mom used to do something similar with potatoes, baked beans, whatever leftover vegetables were laying around, eggs and cheese.  She called it a cowboy supper.

    I call the rice variation a stir fry and the potato dish a skillet supper. It is a great way to use up leftovers and have a meal on the table fast.

  •  I'm a beginner cook (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynnS, puzzled

    I think you are starting at "Advanced Beginner" or something.

    Everything you say sounds so complicated.

    First of all, whenever I put food on my stove, the next thing I know, the smoke alarm is going off. Followed shortly by nice men in reflective suits.

    My basic requirements are: The food has to know when it's done and turn itself off. I really can't stand at the stove and stir stuff. Too boring. But it does bring handsome men into my home. That's a plus.

    I have a slow-cooker, a rice cooker and a microwave.

    Each of these appliances can make food without me.

    Can you revise your lessons for someone like me? I'd be willing to give up the handsome men in reflective suits for that.

    I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

    My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

    by pucklady on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:10:44 PM PST

    •  I'll be covering slow and possibly rice cookers (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pucklady

      ...in a future segment. I don't have a rice cooker any more, so I'll have to rummage through the brain attic. In the comments of the other two installments, others gave their rice cooker tricks.

      As for cooking being boring: I listen to podcasts and audiobooks while I cook. Just an aside. Makes standing at the stove or sink almost effortless.

      •  Podcasts and audiobooks by definition (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Youffraita, LynnS

        are what you do when you are trapped in some hell that you can't get out of (Commuting. Running. Working out. Waiting for a delayed flight.)

        I guess cooking is like waiting for a flight.

        I kid. (Mostly)

        I have been reading this series, and I thank you for writing it. I have all the recommended items in my pantry and on my shelves. But the "throw stuff in a skillet and presto-dinner" sounds extremely complicated. I've done things like you describe and I have yet to make anything edible. Well, I'll eat it, because I made it, but whatever I've made is really, really terrible.

        I'm sure that you all who can cook can't really understand total, absolute, rank beginners like me. It's really a different language.

        I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

        My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

        by pucklady on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:27:06 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  It's all a matter of practice... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pucklady, LynnS

          and yet, I can still screw up a simple dish.

          But the more practice you have, the more likely you are to turn out something that is decent-to-delicious.

          BTW, I don't have TV right now, except online via Netflix or Hulu, but I always found TV in the kitchen (or, one you can see from the kitchen) to be the greatest way to cook -- especially reruns b/c you're not enslaved to the screen but can watch it during the most boring parts of cooking.

          To make the argument that the media has a left- or right-wing, or a liberal or a conservative bias, is like asking if the problem with Al-Qaeda is do they use too much oil in their hummus. Al Franken

          by Youffraita on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:36:17 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

        •  Where am I losing you? (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pucklady

          I'm trying not to use jargon or anything, and instead of strict times for how long to cook things I'm giving metrics like, are the carrots at the point where they're almost as cooked as you like them? Because that's the real test: is it going to be something you'll want to eat.

          Example: I don't like over-cooked carrots much, but my family does. I know the carrots are almost done (and it's time to add the next ingredient) when they're done to my liking, which is almost to theirs. If I were cooking for myself alone, I'd add the next ingredient when the carrots were still pretty firm to the tooth.

          Can you quantify what's making your own skillet dinners unappetizing? Flavor, cooking time...?

          •  Or I should say (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            pucklady

            Nor cooking time but texture.

          •  Well, my inedible meals come from (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            LynnS

            a basic unknowledge about what tastes good together.

            I can't mix vegetables and spices without them tasting a giant yuck together.

            When you describe a selection of proteins, vegetables and oils and put them all together and have something come out okay at the end, that's just not what happens to me.

            I mix vegetables, onions, garlic, oil, spices, and end up gag-worthy. It's a mystery.

            I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

            My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

            by pucklady on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:46:53 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Example (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              LynnS

              You said you'd beat me if I used the Ramen spices.

              But the Ramen chef is a lot smarter than me. If I just add his packet, it's much better than anything I could create myself. That should give you some perspective where I'm coming from.

              If I mix together vegetables and egg, I get blah. If I add onions and salt, a bit better, but still blah.

              If I add Tobasco, bay leaf, and garlic, I get yuck. But I like all those things. Why don't they work together? I don't get it.

              I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

              My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

              by pucklady on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 10:59:34 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Why you shouldn't use the ramen packet (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                pucklady

                And believe me, I understand the lure of the ramen packet--

                It is full of transfats, MSG, sugar and mystery flavorings you can't pronounce, or at least I can't pronounce. It's not just culinary snobbism; it's health.

                If it doesn't work with three spices, cut it down to one until you feel confident. I'd cut back to garlic, and try Tabasco on a spoon of the finished product to see how it does.

                With garlic, you always want to add toward the end; if it burns or gets overcooked it gets bitter. The more garlicky you want the flavor to be, the finer you should mince the garlic.

                Bay leaf is something you put into a sauce or soup--and then take out before serving. I wouldn't put it in a skillet dish, myself.

              •  there are many spice combos (0+ / 0-)

                already made and waiting for you in a jar at the grocery store; we love the Emeril's series, and also the organic Frontier spice mixes.  Pice a few and experiment!

            •  Then don't add spices (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              pucklady

              Limit it to salt and pepper. 90% of the time that's all I use, and you can even season after the fact rather than during cooking. The basic veggies I listed--carrots, celery and onions, aka mirepoix if you're gonna be fancy--absolutely go together, and work with a lot of other veggies, too, if not most. So, so much of my cooking starts with mirepoix.

              Season after the fact if need be: soy sauce, hot sauce, butter, Worcestershire sauce, ketchup. Use a light hand. Simplify, then when you're more confident, expand.

              Or not. I have confidence that just about anyone can cook if they stay simple in their ambition at first, but not everyone likes to. And that's okay.

              And FWIW, I LOVE audiobooks and podcasts for their own sake. :)

              •  See, what I think I need (1+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                LynnS

                need is a mix-and-match recipe set with measurements.

                Make a recipe that has measurements and explicit instructions - one cup of (egg, turkey, hamburger) plus one cup of (broccoli, spinach, carrots) plus one cup of (rice, noodles, potatos) plus one tablespoon of (Tobasco, Worchester, ketchup) plus 1/2 cup of (safflower, olive, peanut) oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. And no pepper or cilantro because I can't stand either of those. Stir-fry in a cast-iron skillet on medium for 10 minutes.

                I think that would be better for rank absolute total beginners like me. Don't assume anything.

                I am progressive. I am liberal. I make no apologies. - Kos

                My political compass: - 8.38,-6.97

                by pucklady on Fri Dec 07, 2012 at 11:15:54 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  lol (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          LynnS

          I had no idea you were harboring this deep, dark secret.

          My S.O. and I had dinner a couple months ago with my niece and her husband.  After listening to the conversation for a bit, she turned to him and said: "Oh my god, they're foodies!  I'll bet they cook with ingredients and everything."

          They raised their son on McDonalds.  Sounds bizarre to me.  

          There is no snooze button on a cat who wants breakfast.

          by puzzled on Sat Dec 08, 2012 at 12:37:29 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

    •  And I'm sorry... (0+ / 0-)

      ...you find this diary too complicated. I write these quickly and ramble too much, probably.

      Do you have an automatic-off tea kettle? Here's something quick and fireman-free:

      Boil some water. Pour it over bean thread noodles--available at Asian groceries if not your regular grocery, very cheap, very fast--in a bowl. Set it aside.

      In a microwaveable soup bowl, put some frozen plain cooked chicken chunks; Trader Joe's has them. You can also use canned chicken or chicken from a fresh cooked chicken from the supermarket--perhaps leftovers. Those cooked chickens are a good cheat and a great source of leftovers.

      Fill bowl partway with aseptic-pak chicken broth, nuke in microwave till chicken is thawed. Add a good handful of frozen vegetables; if your chicken isn't frozen, add along with these veggies. Nuke till the veggies are thawed/cooked and the broth is hot.

      Take the soup bowl out of the microwave, add the drained, soaked noodles. Season with sesame oil and/or soy sauce if you want. If you can, chop up a green onion and garnish your soup with that.

      I know, it's not as fast as dumping soup in a cup and nuking it. But this is arguably healthier and you can customize it to please yourself. :)

  •  Here's a variation (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LynnS

    MaryJane Farms suggests doing the one skillet meal just like you have, LynnS, and then putting a biscuit mix on top in either buscuit-sized rounds or one big one, and sliding the (oven-proof) skillet into the oven for about 20 minutes at 400 degrees or until the biscuit is done.  
    When it's done, pull the skillet out of the oven and flip it over onto a big platter, and dig in.  I get my hubby to do the flipping because it's too heavy for me in the cast iron skillet.  
    If you put the skillet in the oven, you don't have to cook the ingredients quite so long on the stove top because they cook more in the oven.
    You can use any quick cooking bread, not just biscuit.  

    Thank you LynnS very much for your series! I will check out your website now.  I feel daunted at the thought of any cooking, quite often, and your one-skillet suggestion is the easiest option I've seen!

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