Dinner after a Hard Day's Work

1 - I can do better 2 - Jury's out 3 - Pretty darn good 4 - Splendiferous 5 - Awesometastic by 0 people | Log in to rate

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But I just worked all day long... Do I have to cook, too?

There are lots of reasons why its better to eat a home-made meal, than a bag of corporate agro-chow passed out a drive-thru window at you.

First, there's cost. A meal for a family of 5 at McDonalds costs $25-30. That same meal, prepared at home, will cost you only about $10. That's not to say that french fries, sweet sticky soda, and a burger are what you should be aiming to serve every night, just that you can create the same meal, for about 1/3 of the cost.

Next, there's that whole nutrition thing. French fries, or brocolli, 5 pounds of frozen vegetables costs about the same thing. One of those is lots of carbs, and very little nutrition, the other is chock full of vitamins, fiber, and phytonutrients that will help fight off cancer, colon polyps, and other health issues.

And thirdly, don't you deserve something better than agro-chow in a bag?

For the same money I would spend to feed five at McDonalds and 30 minutes, I can serve steak, 2 vegetables, and salad.

Which sounds better to you? A sit down dinner, or greasy fries, and a burger?

So, lets explore how we can create Real Food for your family, instead of serving them a greasy bag of agro-chow.

This foodblog will update roughly once a week, with additional tips, and lessons on getting food on the table fast, and inexpensively.

Lesson One - Quick Meals Start at the Grocery Store 

Buying Bargains and Saving Time, too.

When you get to the grocery store, if you're like me, you'll notice three things. There are "ready to heat" foods - like frozen pizzas, some assembly required foods - like hamburger helper and manwich, and then there are ingredients - those things that with planning, and recipes, can become foods.

To make your grocery dollars stretch further, always remember that the closer to ingredient you buy, the less it will cost. Also remember that there are times when things will be on sale, and times when they won't.

A good example is pork tenderloin. Normally priced at around $6.99 a pound, this "filet mignon" cut of pork is low fat, and absolutely delicious. This is a very versatile cut of meat, that's lean, and easy to use in many ways. But, $6.99 a pound? Do I look like I'm made of money? Now, when the local grocery runs a sale, and has that exact same pork tenderloin on sale for $2.99 a pound, I'll buy 10-15 pounds, and put it into the freezer.

Because at $2.99 a pound, it's a bargain. It roasts well in the oven, grills nicely, and if you prep it right when you bring it home from the store, it can be your best "quick meal" standby.

Now, that's not to say you should eschew canned goods, or frozen foods, just that you should look for foods closer to the ingredient end of the scale, than the "ready to heat" end of the scale.

For example, frozen vegetables are an excellent choice, because the process used to freeze vegetables actually keeps them fresher tasting, and more wholesome, than canned vegetables. (Canning requires heat, and heat will begin the process of breaking down the food)

Another useful tip is to keep zippered storage bags on hand. Typically the 1 quart and 1 gallon sizes are most useful. They allow you to buy things like ground beef, steaks, and other meats in bulk, then break it down into meal sized portions for freezing, when you get home. You can save 20 to 50 cents a pound by purchasing the larger bulk pack and breaking it down yourself.

When you're repackaging meats, always remember to wash your hands before you touch the raw meat, and make sure to squeeze out the excess air. Always date the packages, because you'll want to use it within 6-9 months from the date you freeze it.

Another area where frozen foods can help you save time is the frozen pre-chopped onions, and sometimes pre-chopped peppers can save you time.

And one final tip for this update. When you go shopping, have a plan. Whether it's going through the sales circulars, to see what's on sale, and planning your menus accordingly, or just having some general menu outlines in your head, having a plan can help you keep to a budget.

That being said, sometimes, there's a good reason to throw the plan out.

A few years ago, I popped into the grocery store on the way home from work. As I was walking past the seafood department, I noticed they had whole wild alaskan salmon for $1.99 a pound. So I stopped, and talked to the seafood manager, and found out that they'd had a "slight miscommunication" when ordering.

The seafood manager had thought she was ordering 1,000 pounds of salmon, but what arrived that morning, was 10,000 pounds of whole salmon.

Normally $5.99 a pound, the manager realized that her only hope was to move it quickly, and cut the price to $1.99 a pound, as she only had storage space for about 3,000 pounds.

When a luxury foodstuff (that you and your family will eat) is on that kind of sale, it's worth throwing your plan out, and stocking up your freezer.

I bought about 30 pounds of salmon, which the manager cut up for me. I took home 15 pounds in nice salmon steaks and 15 pounds in salmon filets.

And for the next 3 months, we ate like kings.

Lesson Two - A Well Stocked Pantry 

Sometimes, just having the basics on hand is all it takes.

They call it a pantry, even when it's just a cupboard. And then of course, the Mormons went and blew it all out of proportion, which as it happens, is "just about right".

Dry goods, canned goods, and jars of various things are what you'll find in your pantry. And if you keep it well stocked, you'll find that you can whip up a quick meal, easily.

There are some things that we keep in the pantry, because they lend themselves to so many different meals. We always keep at least two quarts of chicken broth on hand, because it allows you to trade time for money. Whether its chicken noodle soup, chicken and dumplings, or a chicken and rice dish, substituting chicken broth for water adds flavor, and makes it taste like something that simmered for hours.

Cream of Mushroom soup is another pantry staple, that lends itself to green bean casseroles, and other uses as an ingredient. In fact almost all the "Cream of ..." soups should find a place on your pantry shelves, because all of them can be used to add flavor, create a sauce, or otherwise liven up a dull meal.

Pasta, whether as spaghetti, farfalla (bowtie pasta), linguine, or rotini belongs in your pantry, because it can be a meal, with an italian sauce, or can be a component in a pasta salad (crab and farfalla with peas is a wonderful salad). Then there's the canned vegetables, which can be used either as an ingredient, or as a side dish on their own.

Think about the meals you make on a regular basis, and try to build up kits of the ingredients you use for them, because nothing makes it easier when you're trying to plan a last minute meal, than seeing all the ingredients for a quick casserole or other main course.

And don't forget about flavor additions. Marinades, and spices. For the money, these can be the most useful addition to your pantry. Taking a bottle of Caribbean Jerk marinade and some chicken breasts, and a little time, adds lots of flavor, cheaply.

Lesson Three - Zippered Storage Bags are Your Friend 

My Secret for Perfect Pork Tenderloin Medallions in 10 Minutes.

Bring home that wonderful pork tenderloin that you bought on sale. Take ten minutes to do some simple prep work, and you're set.

It works like this. Take that pork tenderloin you bought, and cut it into medallions about 3/4 of an inch to an inch thick. Pack them into zippered freezer bags, enough medallions to serve about 2 per person.

Now comes the secret.

Pour in your favorite "off the shelf" marinade, whether it's Lemon Pepper, or Caribbean jerk, or Thai Curry Sesame. Just enough to cover the meat. Now squeeze out the extra air, zip it shut, label it with the date and marinade, and toss it in the freezer.

That's it. 10 minutes of prep work, means that when you're ready to use those pork medallions, all you have to do is drop them from the freezer to the refrigerator, where they'll marinate as they thaw, so that when you get home, you can pop them into a hot skillet, and pan sear them for about 4 minutes a side.

There's a main course, that you'll enjoy. If when you started, you put a vegetable medley into the microwave, you've got 2 dishes ready, in 10 minutes. Open a bag of salad greens, and plate everything, and you've got dinner on the table, in 15 minutes.

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by ZenOfJazz

Technologist, Food Geek, Security Specialist, Hacker, Father, Blogger. These labels are mine, and I embrace them, but I am so much more than the labe... (more)

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