Simplified Cooking

A while ago, I wrote about getting on board with the idea of a menu rotation in order to simplify life in the kitchen.  I doubt I’ll ever be able to really stick to a set rotation of meals, because I just enjoy experimenting in the kitchen way too much.  But I have found ways to simplify cooking a bit, and that has left me with more time and energy to experiment and have fun in the kitchen.

Several weeks ago, a friend came to stay with us for the weekend, and she cooked dinner while she was here.  She cooked some whole grain pasta, sauteed some veggies (asparagus, tomatoes, garlic, and peppers), and tossed them all together.  It was simple and delicious, and has become the inspiration for my go-to meal when I’m in a hurry.  About once a week I cook a package of whole grain pasta and a big pot of brown rice.  Then throughout the week it’s easy to whip up a one-dish meal that only takes about 15 minutes.  I chop up a whole bunch of veggies – whatever I have on hand – and usually add one Field Roast “sausage” that I dice up (Field Roast is the one meat-substitute that I buy.  It’s relatively expensive ($5 for a package of four “sausage” links) but I always dice up the sausage and only use one link per meal, so a little goes a long way).  I sometimes add Daiya vegan cheese (I buy it in bulk from the co-op and keep it in the freezer), depending on what flavor I’m going for.  Then I mix in some of the rice or pasta from the fridge.  By altering the veggies and spices I can make this meal taste like anything I want:  curry, Italian, Asian, Mexican, etc.   And since all the veggies get cooked in one pot and then precooked rice or pasta is added in at the end, it makes for easy clean up too.

Cooking rice and pasta is easy, although brown rice (the only kind we use) takes a while, and even pasta requires an extra pot on the stove.  So I’ve found that it’s helpful to cook an entire package of pasta at once and store the leftovers in the fridge.  Same with rice:  I usually cook two or three cups of dried rice at once, and have leftovers all week.  A package of pasta and a pot of rice last us for quite a few meals, because I try to make sure that the pasta or rice is not the primary ingredient in any meal.  The meals I’m describing end up being about 2/3 veggies and 1/3 grain, which makes them a lot better for us than a big pot of pasta/rice with a few veggies thrown on top would be.

I’ve also started cooking at least one pot full of dried beans at the start of each week.  I can either use our sun oven or the crock pot, and with very little effort have several cups of cooked beans in the fridge ready to go in whatever recipes I need them for.  I have the pantry stocked with several varieties of bulk dried beans (garbanzo, pinto, kidney, black), but they’re not much use to me if I remember at 4pm that I want to make a meal that would go nicely with beans in it, if the beans are still dry.  By cooking up a pot or two of them once a week, I have beans on hand all week, ready to go in whatever I’m cooking.

I’m just about out of the tomato sauce I canned last fall.  I’ve been adding tomato sauce to some of my pasta/veggie creations, although I’ve found that I can make a really tasty meal without the sauce – good thing, since I only have one jar of sauce left.  Canning season will be here again before we know it, and we’ll have fresh tomatoes from our garden in another couple months.

I’ve also been making good use of my crock pot lately, for one-dish meals that end up being very inexpensive and easy to make.  Our two favorites are split pea soup (I run at least part of it through the blender before serving, to get a creamy texture) and French lentil soup (bottom left corner of the page that pulls up).  I always double the lentil soup recipe and add another 50% to the pea soup (all that will fit in my crock pot).  By doing that, I get two or three meals out of each soup.

Between those two crock pot soups and my rice/beans/pasta in the fridge, along with lots of veggies that I always have on hand (both frozen and fresh), I’m not having to think about meals too much anymore.  I still experiment at least once a week, and I love trying new recipes (which is how we come across winners like this amazing potato and asparagus salad!)  But my fridge always has either leftover soup or a partially-finished meal that just needs some chopped up veggies and a few minutes of cooking time.  Just what this mama needs to make sure that we’re eating high-quality homemade meals everyday, without me spending all day in the kitchen or worrying about what I’m going to make.

In addition to all the cooked food, we also have lots of raw fruits and veggies (no work at all other than washing them and chopping them up), and tons of greens from our garden (we eat green smoothies every day, plus lots of greens in salads and sandwiches).  I almost always have a jar of sprouts growing, and we also have lots of nuts and seeds in the fridge and freezer for snacks.  And every once in a while I whip up a treat, like these fantastic fig bars or chocolate chip cookie dough balls that take about six minutes to make (I made the whole blizzard concoction once, and we really liked them.  But I find myself making the dough balls by themselves too, as they’re really fast and easy and I can whip them up in a jiffy if people stop over or if my boys want a sweet treat.  I’ve also found that I can reduce the sugar and syrup a bit – even though there’s not much to begin with – and they’re still just as yummy).

So that’s where I am with food these days.  I hope you enjoy the recipes I’ve linked to – happy cooking!

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  1. Caitlin says

    Thanks for the links and great recipe ideas! Like everyone I’m often looking for quick meals but I appreciate that yours are made up of mostly fresh food and are healthy as well as frugal.

  2. says

    The French lentil soup sounds so yummy! We are actually getting a little tired of our “normal” lentil soup so I will have to give this a try! I always make at least a double batch, if not more each time I make soup and freeze the double portions. It gives us one meal, plus lunch leftovers, as well as one meal plus lunch leftovers in the freezer for days when life gets hectic or mommy isn’t feeling well or mommy is just lazy!

  3. says

    Your simplified cooking sounds a lot like how we cook though I’ll only make either brown rice or pasta at a time. We usually have a formula of pasta/rice/quinoa + veggies + protein + spices which really creates infinite combinations of meals and makes dinner a no brainer. Our protein is usually beans but sometimes TVP, eggs, or tofu. One dish meals are the best!

  4. says

    Sound delicious. I like the idea of prepping enough pasta or rice for the week. Do you leave the pasta in its water or does it keep just fine drained? Have you tried quinoa?

  5. FrugalBabe says

    I always drain the water from the pasta before putting it in the fridge. I imagine it might get soggy otherwise. I keep it in a pyrex dish with a tight-fitting lid, and it keeps just fine. I do use quinoa, although not as often as brown rice and whole grain pasta. Maybe I should make it part of my weekly rotation…

  6. Kaytee says

    FB – I’m curious if you saved any of the recipes posted on the ‘Green and Crunchy’ blog before she pulled it down. She deleted everything so quickly after posting the announcement that I didn’t have a chance to save them. She had some pretty good sounding stuff.

    I rehydrate crockpots full of beans and freeze them. Garbonzo beans have never worked that well for me, no matter how long I cook them, they never seem to soften. We’ve have some unfortunate/entertaining experiences with undercooked garbonzo beans.. ahem. I do cook rice in bulk as well, but pasta not so much. My husband has CD and anytime I’ve cooked GF pasta in bulk the results have been.. interesting. Rice noodles = soggy, mushy mess, corn noodles = block of cementitious noodles that are simultaneously soggy and crunchy. My husband says that he doesn’t like quinoa noodles, so I haven’t tried those in awhile. I might try slipping them in again and see if he notices.

    I’m curious to know if you prepped and froze meals in advance of the birth of your second child.

  7. FrugalBabe says

    No, I didn’t get any recipes from the Green and Crunchy blog before she deleted it :(
    I’ve had good luck with garbanzo beans if I soak them overnight and then cook them in the crock pot or sun oven.

    I’ve tried rice pasta and found it to be a mushy mess too. I haven’t tried any other gluten free pastas – the one I buy is an organic whole wheat spaghetti, and it stores well in the fridge after I cook it.

    Yes, I did store quite a few meals in the freezer before our second son was born. It helped a lot, and was pretty easy to do, since all I did was double lots of recipes in the last couple months of my pregnancy, and stashed the extras in the freezer.

  8. says

    Rice noodles have worked well for us. They can be found asian grocery stores for a lot less than at a normal grocery store. They come in a variety of widths.

    I’ve also had luck with a single brand of rice pasta. I can’t remember the name but it’s usually in like pastel blue or pink packaging and has sketches of cute bunnies on it.

    We cook rice pasta by bringing the pasta to a boil and then basically turning the burner off, letting the noodles sit in hot water until they’re cooked enough at which point we drain them.

  9. Marie says

    I think investing in a good pressure cooker has been the key for me to make really soft beans. I was using the crock pot for a while and it was too much of a hassle. Now it’s just 30 minutes and they are finished. I have been reading budgetbytes.blogspot website and she does a great job with quick, frugal and usually pretty healthy. We have been making her black bean burgers and freezing them. Unfortunately, my falafael did not turn out as good.

  10. says

    I do like the recipes you linked too. Often we will freeze our noodles so that when we need a meal with out going out to get we will make what my husband calls dinner surprise…I know real original. We take the noodles out and combine with tomatoes, maybe some corn and whatever else we have left over.

    Thanks again for the recipes.

  11. Becca says

    I find that leftover rice stored in the fridge gets dried out. I prefer to cook a pound (or two) of rice in my rice cooker, than freeze the rest. I put rice in a bag and flatten it out so I can get as much out as I want at a time. It usually ends up as a big block, but you can run it under the faucet into a strainer to get out as much rice as you want. The rice seems much more like fresh rice this way. You could also portion it and freeze it in meal-size portions and just thaw what you need. Just a helpful hint.

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