Tuesday, December 30, 2008

how to cook and work at the same time

(This is my kitchen. Note that the dining table right next to the stove can double as a desk, so you can work and watch the stove at the same time. Missing is my beautifully organized spice jar drawer.)

In response to Anna's comments in the previous post (this started off as a comment, but I wrote too much):

I read while I cook. Seriously. TD and I eat a lot of soups and roasts. So, I spend about 15 minutes doing prep--chopping, browning, etc, and the rest of the time, the oven or stove takes over and I read while it's cooking on low heat for 3-4 hours. I am getting pretty good at chopping things. I don't really do 30 minute meals as much as 15 minutes of prep + 3 hours of simmer or braising or roasting. It's great for the winter. Makes my apartment warm, saving on energy. I will write a post about my quickest cooking meals, although they are not necessarily my cheapest (pork tenderloins are $5-6 per 1 lb loin which lasts like 1.5 meals). In general, more time saves more money, because a pot of beans is $1 but takes like 3 hours to cook. I can't eat the same thing two days in a row, so I pack up leftovers into lunches for TD, I eat maybe 1-2 days of leftovers max, and I'm onto the new thing.

This of course, is useful if you work from home. So here's my work from home meals:
  • Braised beef short ribs
  • Beef bourguinon
  • Beef and barley soup
  • Chicken soup (I make my own stock, takes like 3 hours)
  • Pot o' pinto beans (or any beans)
  • Pernil al horno (adobo style slow roasted pork, 3 hours)
  • Lasagna (I don't know why, but it takes so long to assemble even with no-bake noodles)
But some times I don't get home until 7:00 or 7:30, and TD comes home at 8:30 or 9:00. So I have to cook at night just like people do, after work. Either I do prep work in the morning before I leave and have chopped up stuff in cling-wrapped bowls to come home to, or do all the prep work in the hour before dinner. We are blessed with no hungry children who do not need to be fed right away, or else I would be prepping the night before or the morning of every day and would totally give up my soup/stew/bean stuff except on weekends. So, meals that can be made in 30-60 minutes, after you've done your reading and writing:

  • Any type of pasta tossed with butter and cheese, served with some pan fried cutlet of meat of your choice, add some sauteed vegetables
  • Pizza made with Trader Joe's pre-made pizza dough ($1.29).
  • Pork tenderloin: quickly marinade in hoisin, honey, soy sauce, garlic and ginger, serve with rice.
  • A quick ragu: 1 lb. ground beef mixed with a can of diced tomatoes, diced onions, garlic, served with spaghetti or tagliatelle. Sort of like bolognese without the milk.
  • Fish fillets, pan fried, served with whatever
  • Frittatas or omelets with whatever vegetables or meat you want.
  • Dumpling soup if you have pre-made dumplings. I do mine all at once and freeze them and use batches, add bok choy and ramen and there it is.
  • Stir-frys.
  • Ramen, do not worry about making your own dashi.
  • Quickly baked pieces of chicken, you can buy quarters and serve with whatever starches or vegetables.
  • Roast chicken. Seriously. It takes 45-60 minutes to roast, but it can be pre-dressed in the morning with rosemary and lemon and garlic.
Yeah, quick is not as cheap. I hate buying meat pre-cut up, because it's so much more expensive. But it's also quicker, as is buying your vegetables pre-peeled and chopped. I never do that though, because I am a cheap bastard. I love my slow cooked meals though.

Baking is a joy and a hobby, something that is not as conducive to reading, because I am super careful and tend to bake in individual batches because my electric oven doesn't heat evenly. It is a disaster cooking two trays of cookies at once. So I can't tell you how to bake and work, because I really don't. It's my break. I walk to school and thus get exercise + commute, but I can't figure out how to combine delicate baking and work. I totally will never be able to knit and read at the same time, certainly. Some things are just time-intensive and require full attention, which is why they're so fun.

But cooking is fun too, and not necessarily too time draining. There's no need to go for expensive take-out or out to dinner (which takes up a lot of time, waiting for the meal to be cooked and served!), and fast-food is so bad for you. You save a lot of money cooking. Even my most bourgie, time-saving meal where I buy chops and cutlets and pre-cut vegetables are less than the price of one person's take-out order. I always think of going out to dinner as a date, but not a default. There's no official bargain on this, but on weekdays I cook and I pack him up lunches, and on the weekend, he takes me out to dinner at my favorite Mexican place where can split a fish ceviche for $3.75 and a carne asada burrito the size of a child's leg for $5.95, and I totally do not feel guilty for ordering an extra order of pork tamales, because we take the leftovers home. Mmm. Guess where I'm going to ask him to take me to dinner on Sunday when I get back. Oooh, and 2 liters fo agua fresca for $1.50.