So, recently I offered to assist a friend in making meal time a bit less chaotic, and to feed the family to fulfill, not just fill. Now, please let me preface this by saying I am not always great at this, and I am not a 4 star chef, nor do I pretend to be, and I am learning and tweaking as I go, but I have figured out a system that works pretty well for us, and thought I would share. It really is not that hard once you get started, and commit to trying it for a while, and yes, the initial work is more, but over time you have less work and same great results, so serious bonus!!
Now, this does work for working families, and yes, I am a stay at home mom, who homeschools, but as any homeschool mom will tell you, some days it is more like car/van-schooling, than homeschooling!! I am also a full time nanny to 4 kids, and 3 are in school 30 minutes away, so I do a lot of driving, leaving my house around 10:40 every morning, and returning around 6:30-7 every night, so not lots of time for intense cooking in there. Hubby is amazing about this too, he has dinner ready every night to sit down to, but he is no chef, he is the baker in the family, so I have most everything done for him in advance, and this is key, done in advance!!!
Done in advance can save you 30-40 minutes every day(total of 3+hours per week), but only cost maybe 30-60 minutes per week, if you do it in advance. Here is my example currently going right now: last night I put 2 bags of dry beans in to soak in the crockpot(turned off just didn’t want to do extra dishes!). This morning I drained them, rinsed and refilled the crockpot with water again, set it on High and left it. 4 hours later I turned it off(a few minutes ago really), and drained all the beans again. I put 3 cups soaked beans into the crockpot, refilled it again with 5 cups water, added spices, 1.5 quart bags of frozen garden tomatoes, chopped cooked sausage and reserved juice, 1 cup lentils, and 1 cup of chickpeas, and for dinner we will have french peasant stew. I will just add frozen zucchini, frozen green beans, frozen green tomatoes, frozen green peppers, all from my garden harvest, and chopped onions and garlic a few hours before serving, but oh will it be yummy!!!
So, what to do with the rest of the dried beans we soaked, cooked for 4 hours or so, and drained, well you now have 2 options:
#1 you can cook them in a pot for an hour or so, until they are tender(remember the crockpot will not simmer them in the 4 hours they were in it). This will give you mostly cooked beans, nearly ready for tacos, salads, quick veggie soups with leftovers, or rice and beans as a side. Once they are cooked and softened you freeze them into quart bags, 1-1.5 cups per bag, and mark “ready to use beans”, then just pop them into the freezer nice and flat.
#2 you can let them cool and freeze them in 1-1.5 cup measures in the quart bags and mark “par cooked beans for soup” and use them in chili, crockpot soups, etc. Anything where they will finish cooking in liquid for a while.
Now, you may wonder, why all the fuss for beans, they come in cans, all ready to eat, and I say, it costs me 1/4 the money for my beans, and only about 15 minutes time, if I am slow in draining and bagging, so not much time there really!! Also the space savings is good too, the cans of beans take up lots of space, not so much cooked and frozen flat.
This only works if you eat lots of beans, and we do, being gluten free requires many diet changes and this is one of them, plus they are really good for you, and make any meat low, or meat free meal filling, and with growing kids this is huge!!
Now, onto a different staple in our house, rice, specifically Brazilian rice. Now, we use no special brand of rice, but it is the way my very dear Brazilian friend taught me to make her uber delicious rice, so we call it Brazilian rice now:-)
Start with a deep dutch oven pot, or decent stock pot, needs to hold at least 8c easily. Measure out 3 cups rice, plain white or brown does not really matter here, but no quick cook, regular 20-25 minute cook is needed, set aside. Turn your pot on medium heat and add to your pot add 3-5 tbsp oil, and garlic powder, we go heavy on this and add 3 tsp, but adjust to your own tastes! Add to the garlic and oil in the pot 1 tsp of salt and pepper(you can use a mortar and pestle here, and crush garlic cloves, 3-4 large with salt for true Brazilian recipe, but we sometimes cheat!). Saute your garlic powder(crushed cloves) until fragrant and toasty looking, then throw in your rice and let it sit and saute for a few minutes, stir, saute, stir and saute, until it has sautéed for 5-7 minutes and is pretty well mixed with the oil and garlic.
While this is sitting, sauteing and all measure out 6 cups of hot water, it must be at least pretty worm, to nearly uncomfortable to put your hand into, this part is important, I microwave it to get it nice and steamy, and then pour it straight into the dutch oven, it bubbles and pops, and voila, you are done, now to wait and enjoy!! Turn down the burner to a bit below medium, let rice come to a nice simmer, and cover. I turn it off after 10-14 minutes of simmering, when most of the water has been absorbed, then let it sit, tightly covered until ready to serve. So, total time for rice, is about 25 minutes, and that includes the crushing garlic if you do that step, and the cooking of the rice, which it does itself, it actually took longer to write this out and read it than the work to get it all done and cooking along, so super easy, and sooooo yummy!!! It is fragrant, has a bit of shape and bite to it, not at all mushy, and stands up well in recipes like tacos, beans and rice with stir fry veggies, etc.
We use rice in everything, and so I make this in even larger batches, and, if it is on the menu a lot one week just put it into plastic tubs in the fridge to use as we go. Sometimes I make lots extra and freeze it, again in quart sized bags, to be pulled out, and thawed, it takes 5 minutes in the microwave or in a skillet with veggies and teryaki sauce for a yummy dinner, easy peasy. So, 15 minutes work, $5 for a 20lb bag on sale of rice, and we have dinners for a long time, super cheap and simple.
Note here, I freeze it indifferent quantities, 1c for tacos and quesadillas, 2.5 c for rice and beans with a salad and a bit of keilbasa, or full quarts for rice as a side dish for chicken or pork chops.
Both of these items, rice and beans can be used as a base for so many good dinners, and by making large batches, which takes almost no more time, I am making it so that I can have(with the amounts given, for my family of 6) 8 dinner starters, not bad for a few bucks and 30 minutes. Also to note, both of these items will last, cooked in your fridge for over a week, so you don’t have to freeze them, you can just make a batch and use it as you need to for 10 days or so, it will still be good, just mark when you put it in and watch for any funny odor, but they last really well! Try just this, and see if it helps you make the dinner hour just a bit smoother!