Almost every person I know in my current profession is seriously treading water right about now. The ones with blogs are running up white flags of surrender with promises that they will return if you can just hang on a leeeetle bit longer. Usually I start to feel more settled right now, but honestly micromanaging my life is the only thing that is getting me through with any of my sanity. I wish I were kidding. My planner currently tells me what I need to do, what temperature it is supposed to be and what I'm going to cook for dinner. I cannot even get dressed in the morning without it as it also tells me what I will be wearing. I left it in the wrong office last night and ended up missing a scheduled appointment this morning. It is my life preserver right now.
So how am I staying afloat at all? In the cooking department at least, I have 3 current strategies:
1. PLAN - this is not an option for me at this point. It is a requirement. I must know what I'm making and where the ingredients are coming from or we are not going to eat. Stealing a trick from my dear friend Stella Carolyn I look up the weather for the week and record it. Then I plan meals that make sense considering the weather, my schedule and of course, what we actually have in the pantry.
2. FREEZER - I am being freezer aggressive right now. I cleaned the whole thing out a few weeks ago and have been carefully laying in supplies ever since. But more important, I've been using up the supplies and replenishing them. That's the way to really make the freezer work. You have to actually take things out and eat them on night you don't want to cook. And then you need to put things back.
So what's in my freezer and how did it get there?
I roasted a chicken for dinner one night. I served four people dinner from the chicken, but the leftovers went to:
- another meal of individual pot pies. We ate two of the four and two are in the freezer.
- On a Sunday morning I made and froze white turkey chili in 2 batches, to make 2 meals.
- I used the broth it cooked in to make a butternut squash soup which is a side dish portion in the freezer.
- I made stock with the carcass, yielding 2 quarts for the freezer for future soups.
When I made cauliflower mac and cheese I doubled the pasta and held off on adding the cauliflower and "deviling" spices until the end. I got two side dish portions for the freezer and a hearty dinner with leftovers for that night.
I made calzones on a Sunday and popped the two extra in the freezer for another day.
The calzones bring me up to point three...
3. MAKE WHAT YOU KNOW AND RELY ON FORMULAS
When you are tired, crabby, under a lot of stress, is not the right time to try something new. It's the time to make a recipe you don't need to look up or one you know will come together quickly. Simply the thought of tackling something new can send me grumbling to the couch because I just can't take another thing. There's been plenty of breaded chicken in these parts. I feel no shame. It's home cooked and it's done That's all I'm responsible for.
But when I do try something new? Like the calzones? I'm really just relying on a formula.
I didn't find a recipe for calzones and execute it. I thought to myself, hey, what can I throw in that thing? The fridge offered up some pepperoni and sausage, we grabbed some ricotta and provolone and mozzarella when we went to the store and I mixed up some dough (no shame in buying the dough. None. It was a weekend. I had the time). Calzones don't require though. I looked up the recipes I have for calzones and just faked it from there. Make the dough, cut it in four, rolled them each out into a circle. I laid down a piece or two of provolone on each, topped it with pepperoni and some browned sausage. I mixed up some ricotta with salt and pepper and smoothed that on top. Added a bit of mozzarella to the top. Folded it all up and popped it in the oven for 15 minutes. Done. Not doing anything new, just using a tried and true recipe + the stuff I had on hand to come up with something new.
Other formula friendly, requiring less brain input ideas:
Quiche. If you have a crust + custard recipe, the filling is infinitely flexible.
Pizza. Buy the dough if it's a week night. Top it with stuff. Done.
Big Salad. If you have veggies, you have dinner. Stove and oven optional.
Soup. Oh this is for advanced users, but honestly, onion + carrot + stock + other stuff = dinner.
If all else fails you have my permission to order take out. Some days are like that. Even in Australia.