It Takes a Village to Cook Dinner

In this week's chat, a reader shared the following dilemma:

I like to cook, but after working all day, then starting a load of laundry, putting dishes away, etc. I just don't have the energy. And I'm taking college classes which start next week ... my family (hubby and 5 kids) pretty much fend for themselves off of leftovers from the weekend or frozen pizza my teenagers make. I feel so guilty!

I was proud of myself last week because we had a sit-down meal of MACARONI AND CHEESE AND HOT DOGS. Mac and cheese from a box. This from the woman who used to make pad Thai and chicken alla diavola.

I don't know what advice you can give but anything is appreciated.

Sound familiar? I'm betting we all can relate, whether or not kids and spouses are in the picture. In this Blackberry-paced universe, we mere mortals are constantly scrambling to get somewhere, meet a deadline, improve our market value.

The irony is that in the midst of the to-and-fro frenzy, we literally run out of fuel. Food -- the very thing that sustains and nourishes the physical framework and replenishes the tank to take on the next item on the to-do list -- is an afterthought. At the end of the day, we are simply brain dead, and preparing food is as appealing as dusting under the sofa.

Perhaps I'm stating the obvious, but when I hear from a reader who's earnestly trying to juggle all the balls in her circus act without resorting to processed food, I am reminded yet again of this gaping pimple that we secretly hope will disappear.

How do we carve out the time for dinner that doesn't come out of a box? If we enjoy the process (and benefits) of preparing dinner, why do we let it overwhelm us? Something in this equation has got to change.

For households encompassing more than one able-bodied hungry person, cooking should be a shared responsibility. There's no reason for one person to be the designated cook all the time. It's an unrealistic proposition, even if one person is more skilled in the kitchen than the other.

In the case of our dear reader who's got a spousal unit and five kids, the answer is simple: She needs to delegate meal-preparation duties. Even if you're a stay-at-home mom, preparing dinner for seven people every night is nothing to sneeze at. The key here is planning. Mom can draft a weekly menu, with family input, and everyone is involved in getting the meals to the table. Whatever it is -- washing lettuce or dishes, chopping onions or boiling rice -- all of the tasks are accounted for, Mom doesn't fall into a guilty coma every night and everyone takes ownership of the family meal. It's a win-win.

Smaller household units or two or three: You guys are not off the hook. We all need to participate if we want to eat right and square.

Hey, I know this ain't easy. But the payoff is huge. Even a control-freak cook such as myself has to let go of the reins and recognize the power of sharing the kitchen load. So what if he can't dice an onion as delicately as I can? And maybe those beans need more salt. It's okay, she murmurs under her breath. Teach him.

Just last week, I really needed a hand. It was late, I was tired and I knew if I asked for help chopping up veggies for fried rice, dinner would be served in half the time. Lo and behold, I was right; dinner was done in a snap. The practical benefits aside, the act of preparing food with another person has tremendous emotional impact. It brings people closer together, and chances are, you'll eat less frequently out of a box.

To get the party started, consider a simple batch of black beans and rice, which works as a base for build-your-own burritos, Mexi-salad or side to go with an omelette. From there, take a look at my new recipe index , which includes blog-tested dishes for all skill levels.

Finally, let's hear from you -- strategies that have worked or bombed, recipes suited for collaboration or anything else that makes weeknight cooking a more welcome part of your day.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 18, 2007; 10:11 AM ET Kitchen Musings
Previous: Winter Sorbet | Next: Get Your Soup Groove On

Comments

Please email us to report offensive comments.



I love to cook and really try to limit the amount of processed foods my family consumes. However, as a law student I often don't have as much time to make dinner as I would like. My solution is, as Kim suggests, to plan meals in advance. On the days I know will be extra busy I make good use of my slow cooker; I prep everything the night before and am left with very little to do before I run to class in the morning. Black bean soup with chipotle chilies is a current favorite.

Posted by: Ann Fenton | January 18, 2007 11:30 AM

This obviously won't work for everyone, but we have a meal swap with neighbors. Wed do one big cookfest on one night-- enough for 3 families, plus leftovers for us-- and then deliver a hot meal to our neighbors, on a tray, at dinnertime. Two other nights of the week, we get dinner delivered to us on a tray. This works out splendidly for all of us-- cooking more quantities of the same meal is easy, since it's just adding more ingredients and the cleanup is the same. We have more time during the week. And food never tastes better than when it's delivered to your door, fresh and free, at dinnertime.

Posted by: Neighbor | January 18, 2007 11:36 AM

Cook over the weekend and put food in the freezer to reheat during the week.

Posted by: 20010 | January 18, 2007 11:47 AM

This woman also mentioned the other tasks she has - laundry and putting away the dishes. Surely, the other members of the family can do these tasks. I'm not sure this family would benefit as much from advice on cooking ahead versus a redistribution (fair distribution!) of household tasks.

Posted by: Jessica | January 18, 2007 11:55 AM

I would suggest making a large batch of something on nights that might be less busy (or on a Sunday afternoon) and then freezing portions to pull out at a later date. This works well with things like chilis, thick soups (especially vegetarian) and home-made pasta sauces. Before leaving for work in the morning, just pull something out to defrost, either in the sink or the fridge, and when you get home it will be ready to re-heat and serve with veggies or other sides.

Posted by: Baltimore | January 18, 2007 11:58 AM

Kim --
I don't mean to whine, but some nights are nearly impossible -- there is only 30 minutes for any sort of dinner prep (and another 30 for dinner-eating!). Can you recommend some tasty, wholesome crockpot recipes for the time-pressed? So many of the recipes out there are the 70s-style add-one-can-of-mushroom-soup-and-2-Tbs-ketchup variety. Doesn't anybody have really good recipes for the slow-cooker?

Posted by: jill | January 18, 2007 12:08 PM

I love the idea of getting together with a couple of friends to cook meals for a dinner swap, but what kind of things are you cooking? Off the top of my head, meals that are easily transportable and keep well for a couple of days are quiche, soups, casseroles, the kind of food that I love, but leaves my husband cold.

What kind of dinners are y'all putting together? Details, please?

Posted by: Suseo | January 18, 2007 12:14 PM

I think the key can also be to make something that will produce leftovers that you can bake into something else (because who likes eating leftovers?). That way, you spend a little more time cooking something one day, but it pays off the rest of the week.

Some examples: Indian food, if made during the weekend, has leftovers that can later be combined into pilaf.

Chili-type soup. Make it one night, then trot it out later in the week, layer with tortillas and cheese and bake for an enchilada casserole.

Stir-fry. Make a lot of it one day, then combine the extra meat/veg/rice with an egg to make fried rice.

Veggies/roast chicken. Makes a great veggie (or chicken) soup. Soup has a slightly longer, but unattended cook time.


Jacques Pepin has a great book, "Cuisine Economique" that has some good two-meal recipes for really cheap.

Posted by: Rita | January 18, 2007 12:24 PM

I start by doing my planning a menu (with some flexibility of course) making my grocery list, doing my shopping over the weekend and leave as much things prepered then. Washing produce, getting meats in freezing bags, saves a lot of time once you are cooking.

Posted by: food junkie | January 18, 2007 12:58 PM

To the poster looking for modern slow cooker recipes:
There are tons of new slow cooker cookbooks out now--just search Amazon (or the Good Cook book club). I even have a vegetarian slow cooker cookbook!

Posted by: SissyYorkshire | January 18, 2007 1:01 PM

Another way to go is just acknowledge that some processed foods are going to make it to the table, but balance them with healthy, home-made stuff. A frozen pizza, maybe, with a large home-made salad. Or bake soem chicken, and have the mac-and-cheese as a side dish.

Posted by: Hungry Chef | January 18, 2007 1:13 PM

I just bought Williams Sonoma's slow cooker bookcase and while I haven't made any of the recipes yet, they all look very easy and gourmet - the type of recipes you wouldn't mind serving at a dinner party or just for yourself. Big fan.

Posted by: WS junkie | January 18, 2007 1:28 PM

When my mom went back to work when my sister and I were in high school, we started nights for cooking with each of us taking one night, one night for pizza and one night for going out. It was great - I tried different recipes (that didn't always work) and I think that's part of what made me love cooking today.

Posted by: grown daughter of a working mom | January 18, 2007 1:30 PM

I'm beginning to like places such as Let's Dish. I can carve out two hours of time and someone else does the prep work. I can take a buddy and we can work together to prepare our meals. It's helped our household tremendously. I bring home the meals. And on days I am running late someone else in the household can cook.

Posted by: Pressed4Thyme | January 18, 2007 1:35 PM

Some simple suggestions that are more about habits than recipes:
1. Learn how to use your knife correctly - it can cut prep time dramatically! Take a knife skills class somewhere if you really need to, or upgrade your paring and chef's knives.
2. Prep things in advance - it takes almost no more time to chop 2 days worth of bell peppers for your salad than it does one, and they are fine in the fridge for an extra day.
3. Prep and clean as you cook. While the water is boiling for rice, cut the meat and onions. While those are cooking, set the table. Don't ever just stand there at the stove, staring at the pan.

Posted by: John | January 18, 2007 1:41 PM

We've found the best thing is planning. If we pick five or six meals on Sunday and get everything needed into the house, we ususally can manage to get dinner done. And we always make sure a dead-simple option -- for example, pasta -- is available if it's just one of those days.

Prep is done ahead of time, during naps, or whenever as much as possible and the complicated dishes are saved for the weekend when there's someone around to help with the kids.

A few of our regular menu items are simple things -- chop and saute an onion, add a can of tomatoes and a bunch of okra or zuchhini or black beans or ... -- and serve over rice.

The other quick meal tip: rissoto. With a pressure cooker, you can have a nice rissoto on the table in 20 minutes or so, including prep time.

Posted by: T. Carter | January 18, 2007 2:07 PM

I'd suggest the rest of the family pitch in with some of the household chores. Surely kids and husband can be expected to help out unless they are all quadraplegic. Make a chore chart with daily chores expected to be done and by whom. Even trade off on cooking chores. Maybe the kids can each take a night to do the cooking honors, making their 'specialty' if they have one. The key with this situation is planning and scheduling who does what on each night. It shouldn't have to fall on the mother/wife every night.

I'm single and childfree and I've been a fan of the hot rotisserie chicken at my local Giant. I can get at least 4 meals out of one chicken. Add a salad and a hot side dish. Or bake a whole chicken on weekends and snack on cold chicken for a few days. Just add heated up side vegetables and salad. Fresh fruit is dessert. I'm also a fan of scrambled eggs or omelets and toast for a quick weeknight dinner.

Posted by: Southern Maryland | January 18, 2007 2:11 PM

I have a question I'm hoping someone will have an easy answer for. When pressed for time I find it easy to allow my daughter to have pasta for dinner. She prefers it with butter and parmesan. Gross, I know but she is only 7. I'd like to update that dish for her now that she is more open to better flavors. I was thinking of using olive oil instead of butter and then adding some dried herbs with the parmesan. Any suggestions on this quick and easy (and infrequent) staple?

Posted by: Pasta upgrade | January 18, 2007 2:17 PM

I have two kids and work full time. They alternate nights that they help me in the kitchen. That way I get to spend a little time with them while teaching them to cook. Our weeknight meals are nothing elaborate, we try for a main dish (a meat or casserole),a side or two of veggies and fruit for dessert.

I also use the crock pot at least once a week, and there always one night that we're eating leftovers. I've given up feeling guilty about not having elaborate meals. We'll usually have one more elaborate meal during the weekend where everyone helps. I can usually make another meal out of those leftovers with a bit of imagination.

Posted by: Julie | January 18, 2007 2:34 PM

Dude...the pasta dish was totally my personal dish when I was a kid. Olive oil is a good option. Does she like onions/garlic? I was crazy for the stuff as a youngster. You can sautee in oil of choice and add to pasta. Herbs are good, and a good way to let her experiment. Also, pre-packaged tortellini are just as easy to make as pasta and you can pop the uncooked versions in the freezer to store.

As I got older and could be trusted in the kitchen, noodles-a-la-Lizzie became my signature dish. I'd throw whatever was around into the frying pan.

Posted by: Lizzie | January 18, 2007 2:35 PM

Broiled chicken, boiled potatoes, blanched green veg. It's not fancy, but it's fast and fairly nutritious.

Posted by: Fast Meal | January 18, 2007 2:36 PM

Try www.savingdinner.com for meals and www.flylady.net for everything else. They saved me. Good luck.

Posted by: Annapolis reader | January 18, 2007 2:39 PM

So what's wrong with pasta with parmesan and butter? I love a bowl of egg noodles with butter and cheese once in a while. Not very different from mashed potatoes and butter. As long as she's eating SOMETHING let her eat what she prefers.

Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2007 2:39 PM

I'm so all about sharing the responsibilities of the kitchen. I've always been the "cook" but work lately has left me in a very small, stressed puddle at the end of the day. So, one day, I just gave up, and told Mr. Organic if he would just chop those chipotles and garlic over there, I'd be greatly appreciative. He said sure, just a sec. Then he opened a bottle of wine, poured us each a glass, and started chopping. Made the whole prep soooo much easier. We started talking and laughing, and I was able to steal a few smooches here and there, and all was good in our world. And we ended up with a bit ole platter of hot spicy shrimp that we both loved! Now, he comes and asks if there's any veggies to chop...cuz I think he likes the whole stealing smooches while cooking as much as I do!

Posted by: OrganicGal | January 18, 2007 2:40 PM


My favorite crock pot or oven recipe is the pot roast where you sear the pot roast, then sprinkle one package of dried onion soup, one can of cream of mushroom soup, one can of water (then vegies can be added as well). The meat just falls apart after cooking all day, with a rich oniony gravy.
I also do a brisket in the oven all day (or overnight) by liberally sprinkling brisket rub over the fat side up of the brisket, add a cup of water, put in a tightly covered container, and bake 8 hours or more at 225 degrees.

Stir fries work really well.

We have an outdoor gas grill and indoor jennair grill on our stove, so grilling the meat, throwing together a salad, and then either a baked potato or some pasta or rice. (I like the Lipton flavored rice and/or pasta mixes--they cook in about 10 minutes).
Being a Texas, we also like to grill fajitas (flank or skirt steak and/or chicken breasts), then have a fix-your-own line with all the fixings.
Hamburger & taco seasoning packets also make quick tacos.

Posted by: Lindy 48 | January 18, 2007 2:47 PM

it helps to cook when you are not tired, rather than at the end of the day when everyone is stressed.

i do a weekly menu, my husband shops for groceries on saturdays and I cook on sundays. the menu is up on the fridge and everyone knows what's for dinner, and simply defrosts. there's usually some minimal prep daily but its much less involved. also the daily cleanup is a breeze without all the messy cooking stains and splattering all over the stove. we usually have leftovers too, so we hardly ever do takeout. eating out is a treat for my kids :)

i've been doing this for the past 2 years and wonder why it took me so long to figure this out. i remember struggling with dinner every night with a full time job, a three year old and a nursing infant. it feels like a bad dream now (thankfully its over).

Posted by: rockville mama | January 18, 2007 3:26 PM

Busy lifestyles often are the result of the want for more money. My family has made the decision that we are happy just the way things are and the tradeoff of sacrificing our together-time isn't worth a few more dollars.

Posted by: Sharon | January 18, 2007 3:45 PM

Here's a pasta upgrade: throw some veg into the pasta water in the last few minutes of cooking. Some carrot coins or baby carrots, frozen peas, broccoli or broccolini, sugar snap peas, whatever, will all add some vitamins and fibre. Drain and toss with olive oil or butter. Or saute any or all of the following: chopped zucchini, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, grape tomatoes, frozen butternut squash; and then mix with the cooked pasta, butter and cheese.
My personal fav is: Saute garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, and broccoli florets in olive oil, then add about 2 cups of chicken stock and cook covered for another 5 minutes. Add cooked pasta--orecchiette works well--cook for another two minutes, and serve with a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice and parmesan.

Posted by: TwinklyTerrapin | January 18, 2007 3:45 PM

To anon at 2:39: I think you may misunderstand me. My daughter is a great eater. Not many complaints about healthy eating, loves spicy and flavorful food. Adores going out for chinese, indian, sushi, etc. I'm just looking for an upgrade to her toddler years favorite that can grow with her taste buds.

Thanks everyone for the suggestions, it has been a long week so I think tonight will be a pasta night!

Posted by: Pasta upgrade | January 18, 2007 3:51 PM

I have to put in a plug for Rachael Ray's new cookbook, Express Lane Meals. I know some people hate her, but this book is great. I took it out of the library and now I think I need to buy it. The first section, called, "Meals for the Truly Exhausted," is the simplest - least chopping, prep etc. As with all her other books, meals are done in 30 mins or less.

The other nice thing is that in the front of the book she has a list of things to keep on-hand. That way, with a little pre-planning re: fresh ingredients, this is not rocket science. And I HATE to cook!

The other issue in my house is that my kids are very fussy eaters. The answer in this cookbook is that many of the recipes are either pasta or chicken based - so I just make some plain for the kids, and put the sauce etc on just my husband's and mine.

Hope this helps!

Posted by: Loren | January 18, 2007 3:51 PM

There are a lot of suggestions to use slow cookers but I haven't quite managed the timing on it. I'm away from home for approx 10 hours. How do you time the cooking on recipes for 4-6-8 hours? Do you leave meat or other ingredients in the cooker (unrefrigerated) and use a delay timer? Or do you reduce the heat and cook longer? The last time I used the slow cooker, by the time I got home, the whole thing had simmered away to a rubbery mess. What am I doing wrong?

Posted by: Madison | January 18, 2007 4:07 PM

I totally agree that menu planning is the key--you cannot get dinner on the table in 45 minutes if you have to run to the store. And pre-prepping helps a lot, especially for vegetables. It's too easy to just skip the salad if everything else is ready.

The other thing that helps me, as a parent with two young kids, is to realize that dinner does not have to be their main meal. They generally have a (healthy) snack around 5:00. I get home about 6:15 pm (I go in late so I can have breakfast with my kids, too), and dinner is at 7:00. That gives me time to change, nurse the baby, and make dinner. Since they aren't starving I'm not tempted to just dump something in them. Dinner is just to top them off before bed and gives us all a chance to sit down together.

There are a few dishes that I make extra of and freeze, and I nearly always have homemade pizza dough, sauce and grated cheese in the freezer for the nights everything falls apart and I can't get anything else together.

Also, I do make use of my slow cooker--my favorite cookbook for that is "Slow Cooker Recipe Book" by Catherine Atkinson. There are a few recipes in there that are awesome, though none of them are 'turn on and leave for 9 hours'. You would need a programmable slow cooker, or someone to turn it on at a specific time. I also have "The Gourmet Slow Cooker" by Alley, which honestly I don't like as much (everything sounds better than it seems to turn out), as well as the Betty Crocker one which is more your campbell soup recipes. (I use about 7 recipes out of the whole thing.)

During the winter the one other thing I do is cook stuff the night before. I have a couple hours after the kids go to bed, and I can throw some stuff in my dutch oven and cook it, then just reheat it the next day. It's generally better the next day anyway.

And during the summer it's all prep over the weekend and grill during the week--vegetables cut and meats in marinades and you're ready to go as soon as you get home.

It is hard, and I don't share the cooking duties (we would be eating at 9:00 if I let my partner cook). But my mom was a single parent and we were poor, so convenience foods weren't an option. We lived in the city but our yard was a garden and we raised rabbits to eat. Despite living on junk food during my teens, I have gone back to the diet I had as a kid. That's the foundation I want to lay for my children, too.

Posted by: seattle | January 18, 2007 4:12 PM

We got a new cookbook, The Best 30 Minute Recipe, for Christmas. We pick out a few on the weekend, buy food, and whoever is hoome first gets cooking. So far we have been pretty pleased, though wish they were a little lower fat. Overall, it has helped us get a "real meal" on the table really fast (I have a 14 month old and work full time).

Posted by: arlington | January 18, 2007 5:05 PM

I just found a good crockpot recipe, super easy:
Take one turkey breast
Add one packet of onion soup (I didn't have onion soup so i put in a packet of dried turkey gravy, let's see how that turns out. I'll bet a packet of dried chicken soup, or even just some herbs would work, too)
smush one can of cranberry sauce on top

Cook 3 or 4 hours on high, 8 or 9 on low

Another good one:
Pieces of chicken (3 or 4 pounds, whatever you want, cut up)
bottle of barbecue sauce

Cook 3 or 4 hours on high, 8 or 9 on low

Easy and tasty!!!


Posted by: Alexandra | January 18, 2007 5:52 PM

I think I didn't explain myself well enough-- I cook only once a week, and then bring a meal to each family for them to eat fresh that night-- no need to store in a fridge. Tonight it's one of my neighbors' turns-- nachos, guacamole, black bean soup, and homemade fudge bars. Yum. I'm off to eat!

Posted by: Neighbor | January 18, 2007 5:58 PM

For Pasta upgrade:

I've got some suggestions for add-ins to pasta with butter or olive oil and Parmesan from Mark Bittman's cookbook, How to Cook Everything:

Try adding some fresh whole sage leaves. Cook them in the butter or olive oil. A little garlic might be nice, too.

Other suggestions:

Any minced herb, or a mixture of minced herbs

Crumbled crispy bacon

Cooked peas

Cooked, drained, and minced spinach

Sauteed onions

Posted by: Anonymous | January 18, 2007 6:40 PM

There is a great crockpot cookbook called Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker Cookbook - there are a lot of great recipes in there. Here are two others...

Crockpot White Beans and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Delicious and creamy low fat crockpot recipe has flavors of the south of France.

At a Glance

Prep Time : 15min
Cook Time : 5hr
Course : Entree
Special : Easy, Vegetarian
Type of Prep : Crock Pot, Slow Cook
Cuisine : French
Occasion : Back to School, Fall, Family Dinner, Potluck, Winter

INGREDIENTS:

• 2 cups great Northern beans, sorted and rinsed
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 onion, chopped
• 6 cups water
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/8 tsp. pepper
• 3/4 cup chopped sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained
• 2 oz. can sliced black olives, drained
• 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

PREPARATION:
Mix all ingredients except tomatoes and olives in 3-4 quart slow cooker. Cover slow cooker and cook on high for 4-6 hours or until beans are tender. Mash some of the white beans while in the crockpot to thicken mixture. Stir in tomatoes and olives and cook 10 more minutes until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle each serving with Parmesan cheese
5 servings


Crockpot Mexican Flank Steak
Savory, low fat crockpot entree combines flank steak with Mexican flavors.

At a Glance

Prep Time : 25min
Course : Entree
Special : Easy
Type of Prep : Crock Pot, Slow Cook
Cuisine : Tex-Mex
Occasion : Back to School, Fall, Family Dinner, Winter

INGREDIENTS:

• 2-1/2 lb. beef flank steak
• 6 canned or fresh tomatillos
• 14 oz. can whole baby corn on the cob, drained
• 1 red onion, chopped
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/2 tsp. salt
• 1/8 tsp. pepper
• 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
• 14 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

PREPARATION:
Trim flank steak to remove any visible fat. Remove husk and stem from tomatillos, if necessary, and chop. Place drained corn on the cob, onion, and garlic in the bottom of 3 quart slow cooker. Top with steak and tomatillos. Sprinkle all with salt, pepper, oregano, and cilantro. Pour diced tomatoes over. Cover crockpot and cook on low for 6-7 hours or until steak is tender. Remove steak and slice crosswise across grain into strips. Serve vegetables and sauce with steak.
6 servings

Posted by: jm | January 18, 2007 11:37 PM

Also, I use Trader Joe's for their frozen and precooked items, which help when you don't have much time. For example - their frozen precooked brown rice - 3 minutes and you have great brown rice. Quick rice and beans: Cook one of the brown rice bags. Take a can of black beans, drain them, throw them in a pot. Add half a can of Rotel or some other tomato/pepper mixture. Heat. Stir in rice and cook through. Serve, eat, relax. Other great TJ items include the frozen green beans, frozen bell pepper strips, frozen roasted corn, pre-toasted pine nuts, pre-cooked chicken breasts, frozen fish, the tritip sirloin roast (rub with olive oil, salt and pepper, roast for 40 minutes, slice, eat)... the list goes on.

Posted by: Jm | January 18, 2007 11:44 PM

Madison if you want to use your crock pot but don't want to leave it on during the day. Prep the food the night before and cook it overnight. I don't feel comfortable leaving it on when there's no one home.

Posted by: Pressed4Thyme | January 19, 2007 1:27 PM

One morning, I put a piece of beef in my crock pot and left it on low all day and went I came home (about ten hours later), the water had almost all cooked out and most of the piece of beef was dry and hard. I've never used my crockpot since. It may work ok for someone who can come home during lunchtime and put the food in then.

Posted by: No crock for me | January 19, 2007 7:23 PM

My favorite time saver is to pound a cut of meat into a cutlet. A turn in some seasoned flour and a quick pan fry in a small amount of high quality oil and a pan sauce makes the main attraction of a yummy meal.

Posted by: late to the party | January 22, 2007 6:59 PM

For those worried about the crock pot timing issue, you can buy a appliance timer and set it to start 2-3 hours after you go to work. The appliance timer can handle higher voltage, and it really is very safe.
I've also used frozen chicken or beef, and put ice cubes in the crock put instead of water to slow down the cooking process.
Another tip I've found helpful; when roast go on sale, I buy a whole bunch (3 or 4) and sear them all right away. Then I put them in the freezer. I've also cleaned and seasoned chicken and pork chops before freezing them. That way I thaw and cook.

Posted by: Crock Pot Lover | January 26, 2007 5:36 PM

For me I found it essential to know what I was making by 10 AM . I have set each day to a certain menu or cuisine -- Sunday is a roast, Monday is Mexican (chili, tacos, fajaitas, etc), Tuesday is chicken, Wednesday is pasta, Thursday is crock-pot or casserole, Friday is shrimp or fish and Saturday is eating out or grilling. With this plan, I can set menus and shopping lists. It's what our moms taught us and we didn't lisen the first time. Well, it makes sense. Do it. The crock-pot is essential for any kitchen -- new versions now go into a "warm" mode when the cooking time is up. Another essential is the time bake feature of an oven. Saving Dinner by the Dinner Diva, Leanne Ely, is a must-have cookbook. It gives you menus, shopping lists and recipes for a week's worth of dinners. Another time-tested technique is making double batches of favorite meals - soups and chili start the list then add spaghetti sauce, meatballs, ziti, lasagna. I always have spaghetti sauce in my refrigerator. You can't miss with pasta! Another good cookbook is The Monday-Friday Cookbook. It's published by Workman. I do not remember the author's name. The Garlic Crumb Chicken is good for any season. Another essential is haviang a well-stocked pantry -- both cookbooks have good lists to get you going. So, start with your list of favorite meals, make up your menu plan, get your pantry in shape and you're good to go!

Posted by: Heather | January 30, 2007 1:33 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 

© 2010 The Washington Post Company