Easy Ways to Quick Meals

Or How to Cook the Dashing Dad way

The internet is full of ways on how to save money and/or get healthy. One of the common threads between these two is avoiding eating meals out. Even eating out at a fast food restaurant is going to cost you a minimum of $3 a person (assuming you shop from the dollar menu) and a chain restaurant will run you $9 an entrée plus $3 for a drink per person, plus tip. This adds up really fast, and if you are one income family, this will cut into your budget for fun things. You can get a Costco pizza for $10 which will feed your entire family, and while you kids will like eating pizza every night, it gets old fast. While you bank account gets thinner, your waistline gets wider. Even the healthy options at these places are loaded with salt, sugar, and fat.

Now, I am not saying to never eat meals out. I am not even saying that you shouldn’t have greasy fast food. That would be hypocritical. Those cheeseburgers are tasty, and I love sausage egg McMuffins (which I paid $5.79 for the “value” meal just this week), but when you can make a healthy dinner for four with the same $8 you paid for a fancy burger with the large meal “deal” it doesn’t make sense to eat out every day, let alone every meal. Having that treat every once in a while is a good thing, reward yourself for not shipping your kids parcel post to grandma’s house. That said, if you are a stay at home dad, or even if you aren’t, you should be cooking a few meals here and there.  But what if you never learned how to cook?

I have been cooking for myself and family before I was a teenager. As a farm kid, I would frequently come home to an empty house and have to fend for myself. As an adolescent male, I would practically eat my body weight in food on a daily basis (my mom said that their grocery bill dropped in half when I went to college). Also, my parents worked long hours, either at their jobs or handling farm duty (or doodie, which is also part of farm life), so I often prepared family dinners. This was self serving, because I was always hungry and didn’t want to wait until later.

I would watch my mom or dad cook dinner, and learn the recipes. I first learned how to make the childhood (and college) staple of macaroni and cheese – Kraft with the neon orange powder only please. Then added hot dogs, or chili, or whatever I felt like – now I can make fancy stove top mac and cheese with cauliflower to make it less un-healthy. Super saver top tip: you get more noodles in your basic box of mac and cheese compared to the character stuff that your kids really want.

 

Tuna fish casserole was another go-to meal (8-16 oz egg noodles, 1 can tuna, 1 can of cream of mushroom soup, dried minced onion, and parsley flakes – boil and drain noodles, mix everything together). Spaghetti was where I really started testing out my culinary skills. Get your favorite red sauce and start adding stuff. I would throw meat, onion, bell pepper, mushrooms, and/or zucchini into a pan, cook them all up, and add sauce. I tried hot sauce, and that was bad, but spicy Italian sausage is awesome – too bad my kid doesn’t like it. Stir-fry is also an easy dish to experiment with – a bunch of vegetables in a large pot, some meat if you want, add some soy sauce, put over rice. In college I picked a few more recipes and designed a few of my own. Most started out as meat and some veggies over noodles/rice/bread.

Stir fry with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, onion, and chicken.

Stir fry with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, onion, and chicken.

I will post recipes from time to time, either my own, or ones I got from somewhere else. You will find that my recipes are a bit…. Well… schizophrenic. It is mainly because those recipes exist in my head and they are easily modifiable to your tastes. I will try to make clear instructions and ingredient lists, but no guarantees. 

One of the things I found is that I started using recipes as building blocks, modifying them as I desired. I also found that I hate measuring things. “One cup chopped onion, I don’t think so, how about a half or full onion. One clove of garlic? I think eight would be better.” I do measure out some spices and some liquids like vinegar and soy sauce, at least the first time around. I also will combine recipes in my head instead of trying to find the one that I want.  Now, if I am baking (which is really the Dashing Wife’s domain), then I follow the recipe exactly. You don’t mess around with baking. That said, a little extra cinnamon in the oatmeal raisin cookies is not a bad thing.

If you are a novice cook, remember one simple rule: It doesn’t need to complicated to be good.  Find a simple recipe and follow it the first time, decide what you liked or didn’t like about it, make some notes and make changes the next go around. Another good cooking resource is Alton Brown of Good Eats. You can probably catch reruns on the Food Network, or find the DVD’s. However, the easiest thing to do is find them on YouTube. Search for Good East *insert food item here*. He breaks down the science of cooking to better understand what is going on. He doesn’t have a lot of quick recipes, but it is orderly and makes sense. I included a Youtube video for his “Man Food” show for your enjoyment. 

(Okay – I was told that this was not acceptable as it was a copyright infringment – Google made me take it down.  But search Good Eats Man Food on YouTube and you’ll find it easy.  But be aware, if you watch it, it is copyright infringment.)

On the flip side of the Food Network coin, is Rachel Ray’s 30 minute meals (really 45 minutes, because the oven needs to heat up, water needs to get to boiling, and you need to chop stuff) tend to bounce around in her instructions, but most are still pretty tasty.  I recommend using her books rather than listening to her voice, which drives me batty.  But with her, you need to read the entire recipe before you start on it.  She often tells you do something in step 7 that you should have started in step 2.

There are tons of recipes on the internet including Pinterest (There is not a Dashing Dad pinterest account… yet), and recipes.com. The nice thing about recipes.com is that you can enter ingredients (i.e. stuff in your fridge) and it will pop out a recipe for you using those items. It also has items to exclude if you are allergic or you don’t like them (olives = gross).  If you (or your spouse) are doing weight watchers, there is www.skinnytaste.com, which does weight watchers friendly meals, and the ones we have made are really made are good, including the barbacoa recipe.  The Dashing Wife also likes www.smittenkitchen.com.  If you live in the Southeast and have Publix, the have a recipe station that spells out what you need, and often give out samples of those recipes (boy do I miss Publix).

I thoroughly enjoy cooking, it is a science experiment you can eat. It was also one of the things that I did before I was the father at home.  Dashing Wife hates cooking, she’s far better than me at following recipes, but she hates cooking. At some point in the near future, I will put up another post about some essential cooking gear (at least to me) and the joys of a crock pot. Three rules with cooking: 1) watch where the knife is going (i.e. don’t cut yourself); 2) turn the stove/oven off when you are done (i.e. don’t burn the house down); and 3) always keep noodles and sauce in your pantry (i.e. if you screw up really bad, you can knock out speghetti in about 20 minutes).

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