OK, here's my confession. I do not enjoy cooking. It's such a shame too because there is sooooo much cooking to do at my house! I told my parents growing up, "You'll know for sure I love a man if I cook for him"! Well, it's true: I love him - so I cook. I was concerned at first about having big shoes to fill because Chad's mom is absolutely brilliant in the kitchen but I am doubly blessed that while a.) he really enjoys a good meal, b.) he's not picky at all. Thank you, Lord!! He loves it when I try new things, which gives me a lot of freedom and he didn't say a word when, for a year and a half after Daniel's cancer diagnosis, I barely cooked at all. Yep, I'm a lucky girl! I'm also a girl with a husband and four growing boys who appreciate eating something for dinner every. single. day. and I'm the one they look to so there was work there to be done.
Now some of you just LOVE to cook and I both applaud and admire you, but others of you are in my boat, daily coming up against 4:00 with absolutely no idea of what's for dinner. (The problem can be compounded in a nanosecond when an innocent child says to me, "Mama, what's for dinner?" and I want to pull my hair in a completely irrational display shouting, "I don't know, OK? I don't know!")
The Lord laid it on my heart again recently that dinner time isn't just about cooking; it's about ministry. It's not just about feeding my family; it's about blessing them. Providing nourishment isn't about whether or not I enjoy cooking; it's about dying to myself in this way to love the Treasures God has given me. Sooooooo . . .
I have been trying to get back into the habit of planning ahead for nice meals (NOT fancy; just nice). That helps a lot, especially in terms of having time to pick up the last two necessary ingredients, but every once in awhile I still come up against 4:00 without a plan. I have shared below a few of the recipes I turn to when that happens as well as some that are just quick and easy for "those days" (you know the ones!). Of course these require ingredients too, but I try to make a habit of keeping things on hand, both in the pantry and in the freezer. (A little planning ahead goes a long way!)
I hope these will be a blessing to you.
Might put a picture of tuna melts some day (or not)
This one is contingent on your family liking tuna (mine does!) but you can also substitute chicken salad or just make grilled cheese!
Mix enough tuna for your family with a little bit of Miracle Whip and a dash of Worchestershire sauce (it cuts the "fishy" flavor!)
Butter bread and place face down on a hot griddle. On each piece of bread put one slice of cheese and spread tuna on top. Place another piece of bread over all and butter the top side. When each sandwich is browned on one side, flip it and brown the other side. That's it!
You can serve these with soup and/or salad (bagged salads are FAST!!) or on a super crunched night just serve fruit cocktail or bananas cut in half.
Breakfast for Dinner
Every once in awhile I make pancakes and eggs for dinner. It's fast and easy and the kids love it!
Another option is my sister-in-law, Kristy's idea: "Cereal Night". All of my boys have a favorite sugary cereal but I don't buy it (or feed it to them) regularly. Now I keep a box of each favorite in the garage for "Cereal Night" and we pull them down on Sundays and special (or desperate!) nights for dinner.
Picture of Salmon coming soon (but aren't they cute?)
I put the right amount of salmon for my family (Costco - fresh or defrosted from frozen) in a glass pan that fits in my microwave. Then I plop thin butter pats on the top and sprinkle seasoning on top of that (thyme, marjoram, garlic salt, rosemary, and Les Herbes de Provence, are some that I use - just have fun experimenting with your spice cabinet!) Cover the whole pan with waxed paper and microwave for 5 minutes or it's opaque all the way through. That's IT!! The whole maneuver takes 8 minutes unless I have to defrost; then it takes, like, 12 minutes!
When I serve this I usually make Cheese Biscuits (Red Lobster-ish). For these, stir together 2 cups Bisquick, a large handful of grated cheese, 2/3 cup of milk and a sprinkling of garlic powder. Plop onto a baking sheet in the size of biscuits you want (9-12), and bake at 375 for 14 minutes or until the very tips are just starting to brown. Brush with butter and sprinkle with garlic salt. Yum!!
If you have 20 minutes available put on a pan of rice (1 cup rice, 2 cups water). Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook covered for 14 minutes. Maybe add a salad - or not - and congratulations ~ It's dinnertime!! :)
Beef and Noodles
One of my new favorite things is a twist on Beef Stroganoff. I LOVE Stroganoff but two of the ONLY things Chad doesn't care for are sour cream and mushrooms so that's a deal breaker.
What I did instead was cut 3 pounds of London Broil into stew-size pieces and brown them. Then I mixed two cans of cream of mushroom soup (shhhhh!) with two packets of Lipton Onion soup mix. I stirred it all together, plopped it into the Crock Pot and walked away. (Then I walked back, turned ON the Crock Pot and walked away again. True story.) The result was delicious melt-in-your mouth-tender beef in a rich gravy that made itself while I taught subtraction and adjectives. YES!! I served it over egg noodles which took 15-20 minutes (mashed potatoes or rice would work well too), and I tossed up a bagged salad from Costco. Voila!! A hearty, fresh, savory meal that required about 15 total minutes of my time. I served half of the beef and noodles for dinner and I bagged and put the other half in the freezer for a quick warm-up meal another evening. I'm calling that a winner!! (This is also a great meal to take to a family who is struggling, has just had a baby, etc.: Quick, easy, and YUM!!)
"The Soup" (Veggie, Beef, Barley)
This one is near and dear to my heart because I learned the recipe from my precious friend and mentor, Jill, at a women's night I hadn't even planned to go to. I love how God works! It is simple, healthy, delicious comfort food and I can't tell you how many times I have stirred up a huge double-batch barrel of this savory goodness to bless my guys and two other families in one fell swoop!
In a large pot combine:
3 carrots, sliced thick 2 celery stalks (with leaves), sliced 3 medium potatoes, sliced into bite-size chunks 1 bag of mixed veggies 1 packet Lipton Onion Soup Mix 1 lb. ground beef, browned and drained 48 oz V-8 juice 6-8 cups water (depending on if you want more soupy or stewy) Various spices to taste (2 Bay leaves, thyme, marjoram, garlic salt, rosemary, and Les Herbes de Provence, and Nature's Seasoning are some that I use but use whatever you like!)
Simmer on medium stirring occasionally until the potatoes and carrots are tender and you're done! I have found that this soup is actually BETTER warmed up on the second day which gives you tons of grace for when you make it. If Tuesday is laid back but Wednesday is packed, I make this soup on Tues. and then warm it up on Wed. Voila! (It's also decent out of the freezer so there's potential there for hanging on to leftovers in hopes of battling 4:00 panic on another day - or individual servings for lunch?!)
Serve with salad and rolls ~ sometimes hand chopped salad and homemade yeast rolls; sometimes bagged rolls and bagged salad (or NO salad?). Lots of options. Lots of grace. Lots of yum.
We all know what spaghetti looks like, right?
Spaghetti and Garlic Bread
Sorry if this one seems like a bait and switch on the "quick and easy" but stick with me . . . I love serving spaghetti because it's quick and easy to put a full, delicious meal on the table but store-bought sauce always left me apologizing to my family and promising myself to do better. If your family loves Ragu you are richly blessed and you should totally stick with it. My family, however, does not love Ragu (even when I add meat and spices and smile real pretty). The Lord showed me a solution.
I mentioned earlier that my mother-in-law is brilliant in the kitchen and it couldn't be more true. She graciously gave me her spaghetti sauce recipe (which she got from another brilliant friend of ours, Natalie) and now I make the sauce as a project and freeze 3-4 meals worth. Ha!! It's not quick to make but once it's done it is super quick to thaw out, heat up and serve, and it is the best spaghetti sauce I've ever had. Serve with garlic bread and frozen veggies or salad. Boom!
Brown sausage well, breaking into small pieces as you go. Maintaining about 3 tbsp. to sauté onions, drain the grease and transfer meat to Crock Pot. Sauté onions in remaining grease for a few minutes, then add garlic, fennel, and Italian seasoning. Continue to cook and stir until well blended. Add to Crock Pot with the 3 cans of sauce and sugar, stirring well to incorporate all the meat into the sauce. Cook on high for 5 hours, then low for 2 hours. Add salt and pepper as needed.
I double the recipe and it "just" fits in a 6 1/2 qt. Crock Pot. Freeze in dinner-for-your-family-size portions everything you don't need for dinner tonight!
This is a super-simple, cheap family favorite.
Slice and butter French bread however you like it. Add to each slice a sprinkling of garlic salt and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Set under the broiler for 1 minute (or a little bit longer if you like slightly browned edges - yum!)
5 Minute Chili
This is my mom's chili recipe and I LOVE how easy it is. Just plop everything in the Crock Pot and come back at dinner time. (Have you noticed that "plop" is my favorite kitchen-related verb?)
2 cans chili of choice
1 can black beans (drained)
1 can pinto beans (drained)
1 can chili beans (un-drained)
1 can corn (drained)
1 can diced tomatoes (un-drained - with chiles if you like!)
1 can (4 oz) chopped chiles (drained)
1 can (2.25 oz) sliced olives (drained)
1 onion peeled and finely chopped
Cook on High for 4 hours or Low for 8 hours. Top with sour cream, grated cheese, additional onions, etc.
Our favorite thing to eat with chili is:
Grammie's Corn Bread (This is genius!)
2 boxes Jiffy corn bread mix
1 box Jiffy Golden Yellow CAKE mix! Assemble according to all ingredients on each box and bake in a greased 9x13 pan for 25 minutes or until a knife comes out clean. This is the sweetest, yummiest corn bread I've ever put in my mouth!! Serve with honey and butter OR whip up a batch of Honey Butter (softened butter with honey mixed in)!
This is one of my husband's favorites from his childhood!
I make taco meat ahead of time so I can just pull it out of the freezer. I heat that alongside a can of refried beans. Then I make a topping bar of shredded cheese, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced olives, sour cream, salsa, guacamole, etc.
Everyone puts a serving of Doritos (or I like Fritos - sacrilege!) on their plate and, using a paper towel, smashes them (or not). Then we top the chips with meat, beans, cheese and whatever we like and there you have it! Everything has been "piled" "up"! :)
Quesadillas (pronounced /kae-sa-DEE-yaz) for all y'all not from the southwest)
These are a Spanish snap!
Put tortillas of whatever size you like on a hot griddle. Add cheese and lunch meat slices. Warm until the tortilla is as crisp as you like and the cheese is melted. Roll or fold and serve! You can add chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, sliced olives, sour cream, salsa, etc. if you like.
Another variation is to put more cheese on the lunch meat and top with another tortilla. Flip to crisp both sides and slice with a pizza cutter. This one is harder to add toppings to, but it's great for dipping in Ranch or salsa!
**These make a great freezer pack (see below). Just put tortillas, shredded cheese and lunch meat in a bag in your freezer and you'll be ready to quesadilla it up!
Just add pie crust, salad, etc.! (and children . . . ahem)
Freezer Packs There are a lot of different ways to utilize your freezer so that it helps you get dinner on the table. I am grateful for the chest freezer Chad got for us a few years back but even if you don't have one, just setting one freezer shelf aside for quick meals can be really helpful.
One great way to use the freezer is to make double or triple portions of dinner on a night you're cooking so on another night when you can't (or don't want to) cook, all you have to do for a great meal is heat and serve. I have started making Freezer Packs of semi-complete meals, for example, Soup and Rolls; Just add Salad. Another good one is Spaghetti Sauce, a bag of frozen veggies, French Bread (cut to fit in a Ziplock); Just add noodles. If your freezer space is limited, freeze only the necessary items, like the Spaghetti Sauce, and provide the rest fresh.
Another way is to assemble items that need to be cooked for a certain recipe. My family LOVES quiche but I like to make the pie crust from scratch which is time-consuming. Having the broccoli, ham, and cheese all chopped and measured and waiting for me in the freezer means I'm just a pie crust away from dinner going into the oven! I have also assembled soup ingredients ahead of time, being sure to note on the outside of the bag what additional items (if any) are needed. Voila - I can just plop the whole thing into the Crock Pot!
Freezer Packs are also really helpful when it's your turn to take dinner to a family who is in need of this kind of support. When Daniel was diagnosed with Leukemia we had a LOT of meals provided for us (see Food Tidings in "Fun Stuff" - awesome!!). It was such a tremendous blessing, in fact, that sometimes we had more food than we could reasonably handle! It was really nice when, from time to time, someone brought a freezer meal. That way, we could pop it in the freezer for another time and work on leftovers from the nights before. If the family you're helping is looking forward to a hot meal coming to their door, you are all set to pull a meal out of the freezer and get it ready to go - no extra shopping or cooking required!
Ground Beef in Bulk
When ground beef goes on sale I buy like, 20 pounds. Then I cook it all and put it in the freezer in 1 lb. bags so all I have to do is pull out a bag when a recipe calls for ground beef!
Elaine taught Shelly who taught me that the easiest way to brown ground beef is in water. I put 10 pounds in a big kettle on the stove and add enough water to cover it. Then I add spices for flavor and let it simmer until the beef is done. I drain it while it is still super hot so the grease won't get stuck in the pipes. (I also run the hottest possible water from the tap while I'm draining it and I run the garbage disposal the whole time. We've never had a problem!) Then I let the beef cool down and portion it into 10 pre-labeled Ziplock bags. It's a little bit of a fuss, but WAY less fuss than browning 1 pound of ground beef 10 times and washing 10 greasy skillets! :)
To some of the meat I add taco seasoning, but you can also add taco seasoning later when you're heating the beef coming out of the freezer if you want!
If your family likes hamburgers, it works well to buy a bunch of ground beef while it's on sale and shape it into patties all at once! Then separate them with waxed paper and freeze them so you're all ready to grill another night! (Plus you only have to be up to the wrist in ground beef once. Yecch!)