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Itchy Cooking

I've been trying to do more real cooking lately. Lately, of course, being all of last week. I'm trying to get as close to cooking from scratch as I can, at least for dinner, and at least more often than not. My goals are not lofty, but I'm enjoying it. Since a few of you expressed interest, I'm planning to talk about it until you or I lose interest (smart money is on me losing interest pretty quickly). An added challenge to this is that I have two kids who don't think cooking dinner is an excuse to stop playing with them. So I have to pick recipes that can be completed, or at least prepped to make the actual cooking part really fast, while the kids are eating breakfast or lunch or during naptime. My other challenge is to make things that freeze well and put half of it in the freezer, so that eventually I can get down to cooking half of the week and eating decent food from the freezer the other half.

Anyway, here's what we ate, linked to the recipes for those I got online:

Spaghetti. From a jar. I plan to make a huge pot of spaghetti sauce one of these days and freeze it in smaller batches, but I haven't gotten to it yet and won't this week. Also, I consider dry pasta to be a "from scratch" qualifier. I know there are people who make their own, but those people are crazy. We also had salad and french bread. I don't make bread either.

Black bean tacos. I soaked the black beans from dry and cooked them in the crock pot, then simmered with onion and red pepper. I used store bought taco shells and salsa. I have plans to make and freeze salsa too, but we'll see whether that ever happens. I put half the bean mixture in the freezer and we're having tacos again this week, at Chris's request. Served with Spanish rice made from a mix.

Stuffed shells with mushrooms and onion and using tofu instead of ricotta. I used store bought pasta shells and spaghetti sauce. Oh, and the tofu too, obviously. Served with salad.

Red beans and rice. I made this in the crock pot, which am trying to do a couple of times a week because it means I can take the kids to the pool in the afternoon instead of thinking at all about dinner. I tried to soak the beans from dry and then cooked them in the crock pot, but they turned into a disgusting brown mush, so I used canned. Chris hated this. Served with salad.

Pizza. From Papa John's. But I made a salad! From a bag. I chopped the avocado though.

Date night. Lovely Italian restaurant, I had spinach gnocchi and Chris had cappellini pomodoro. At my request, my mom made the kids mac and cheese from a box. But it was organic, so half credit, right?

Eggplant and basil lasagna roll-ups, again with tofu instead of ricotta. Instead of making a traditional lasagna, you spread the filling on a noodle, roll it up, cut it in half, and then bake with some tomato sauce. It was a lot of work, but I thought it would be easier to freeze half the rolls than to make two entire lasagnas and freeze one. Chris, who hates eggplant, went back for seconds before he realized this was full of eggplant, and then he kept right on eating. I bought the pasta and spaghetti sauce. Served with salad.

And now you know. This week, we are having a frozen pizza, minestrone, risotto (found a crock pot recipe, wish me luck), broccoli casserole, tacos, spaghetti (from a jar again, too lazy to make sauce this week, and we have to have spaghetti once a week so that we have noodles for Mia for the rest of the week), and portobella mushroom burgers (cook a mushroom, put it on a bun, ta-da!).

Comments (24)

I so did not hate the red beans and rice. I think I said something like "it may not be my favorite." You got hate from that? :)

Loved the title...knew where you were going as soon as I saw it.

Chris's comment made me lol.

The crock pot? A busy mom's best friend.

If your kids will eat sausage...a nice skinless kielbasa sliced into discs and put in the crock pot with a big can of seasoned diced tomatoes, some salt, pepper, a titch of chili powder and left to simmer....yum. Serve over shredded soft taco shells.(or rice, but you don't have to cook the taco shells)
Lovin the trend.
You go girl
Karen :)

Darn! My comment disappeared.

I have never successfully cooked dried beans in anything but soup.

I have done very well with buying pizza dough and making my own pizza at home. You pull it out of the freezer in the morning and can chop the toppings while the kids eat breakfast/lunch.

Have you visited It has been a year and she is still going strong. The best part is that she talks about her mistakes as well as her triumphs.

Woops! Beth just informed me that they are vegetarians....Substitute a nice firm squash or zuccini for the sausage.

I made pasta from scratch - once. I think it's safe to say that dry pasta definitely qualifies as from scratch. And no one bakes their own bread anymore either so give yourself credit for that too.

Save the spaghetti sauce til later in the summer when you have an over abundance of fresh tomatoes and don't know what to do with them. And invest in a tomato press - it's totally worthwhile. And bright red so the kids will probably like it.

Beth and Karen: Boca makes meatless dinner sausages that are quite good.

Chris: obviously she'd get "hate" from that. Silly husband!

I've got a "genuine" recipe for Red Beans & Rice that I learned in N'Awlins at a cooking class for traditional N'Awlins recipes. If you'd like I can email it to you, just let me know.

I'll admit that I'm enjoying reading about your "from scratch" menus since they're pretty close to what I make for my family (and thanks for the recipe links!).

Try this recipe, it is TO DIE FOR!! As for Chris not liking eggplant, no worries, he will like it in this dish.

Eggplant and Tofu Tacos
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small eggplant
1 package extra firm tofu
1 green pepper
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup drained canned tomatoes
1/2 large onion
1 clove fresh garlic
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 package taco seasoning
1 package soft flour tortillas
shredded lettuce
diced tomatoes
grated cheese
sour cream

1. Heat oil in skillet and sauté chopped onion and crushed garlic with cumin until onions are tender.

2. Add tofu which has been thinly sliced and sauté until slightly brown.

3. Add diced eggplant and water and cover and simmer until eggplant in tender (about 10 minutes.)

4. Add thinly sliced green pepper and canned tomatoes and taco seasoning and allow to cook for 5-10 minutes more. Fill tortillas with mixture and taco accessories.

I made lasagna roll-ups once before, thinking it would be easier than a whole lasagna. I decided it wasn't and have never made them again. (Although they were quite tasty and prettier than regular lasagna.)

I have a quick vegetarian chili recipe if you're looking for one. It gets rave reviews, even from meat-eaters. And they have no idea that it involves mostly opening cans. I'd say it's probably about 5 minutes of prep work, 20 minutes of it sitting on the stove with minimal babysitting. It's not quite as "from scratch" as some of your current recipes, but it is fast, easy, yummy, and freezable.

You're getting the Mexican/Italian trade off down pat!

Kudos on your effort!

I make my own salsa - very easy. And I freeze it in 1 cup measurements (sandwich bags) It seems like most recipes that I make with salsa call for 1 cup. And that way, I don't have half a container of salsa mouldering away in the back of the refrigerator. There's a package of stuff (usually found in fruit & veggie stores) that include all the ingredients you need for salsa. Just add tomatoes. Of course, when I use it, I add lots of stuff. And the package has enough stuff to make double (or even more) their recipe suggests.

just a small suggestion

You are very ambitious in my book. Last night it was frozen pizza and a glass of wine for me.

How do I get a dinner invite. I want to try all your tofu recipes!

Sounds like you worked hard for those dinners last week.

I am one of those "strange" people who make the pasta and the sauce from scratch. However, D has informed me that he likes the whole wheat pasta better than my first I was insulted, but then I remembered how much time it saves me...oh, and the frustration when the noodles don't come out right. From the box pasta is homemade!!

Would love to see the risotto recipe! Let us know how it turns out.

Ooooh, I want to try the eggplant and basil rollups! Sounds YUMMY.

I think you're doing great. Cooking from scratch is great and all but sometimes overrated, especially when you have little ones. I also want to try to make my own spaghetti sauce, especially when all the tomatoes are at their peak.

Can you give a girl some tips for cooking tofu? We are using it occaisionally and it's trial by error.

That last one sounds pretty darn good! I'll have to try it!

I'm entering my 9th year of living in New Orleans and I finally made crawfish etouffee from scratch last night (thinking the husband would eat it -- he didn't but there's no besting Burger King, I guess). ANYWAY, it was good and pretty easy. You could easily substitute protein laden veggies for the seafood. As for bread, I'm a big fan of the Five Minute a Day recipe for French boules.

Easier than pie.

"Boca makes meatless dinner sausages that are quite good."

Thanks,Maria. I'll check that out. Regular grocery store or specialty shop?
Karen :)

I make my sauce from boilng the tomatoes (to get the skin off) chop, and let simmer with about half a can of tomato paste and store bought pesto. It is a happy medium between scratch and store bought.

One of our quick favorites (making tonight actually!) is black bean salad w/ quesadillas. I cut up and sautee in olive oil and salt an onion and a bell pepper. Then i rinse a can of black beans and defrost a handful of corn kernels. I toss it all w/ diced tomatoes, a bunch of cilantro, green onions and a few spoonfuls of salsa verde or lime juice. I dump some of the salad over shredded romaine lettuce and make quesadillas w/ white cheddar, whole wheat tortillas & a little of the black bean salad stuffed inside. That was pretty long winded for a quick recipe, but I swear! It is quick!

I just wanted to tell you how great you are doing. You're doing so great cooking!!!

On a related note, has anyone here tried the new chocolate tofu they have in stores? I bought it for the novelty but upon closer inspection it's loaded with sugar. Not sure what to make with it. Pie? Smoothie?

Try the site for lots of great vegetarian recipes; many of them are very quick and easy.

I've done the crockpot risotto. Not worth it.

a few quick and easy tips:

not great for summer, but soups freeze great, esp. tomato based ones, and once everything goes in the pot, it just simmers. we do a lot of veggie chili, a moroccan chickpea and lentil soup that i'd bet you like and others. for the chili you can chop stuff in stages. also, i use canned beans, i admit it. also an eggplant and tofu peanut stew - recipe from the ny times.

pasta - can't freeze it but you can eat it the next day. and an easy thing to do is to make a sauce out of cheese plus the pasta cooking water and throw in a vegetable. i do penne with ricotta and peas (frozen) and pasta with goat cheese and sauteed zucchini with a little lemon.

good luck!

I LOVE this! I have the same requirements as you for meals: must be prepared in 15 minutes or less (take THAT, Rachel Ray!), and/or can be prepped ahead of time, must please a 1- and 3-year old, and must be veg. I am getting good meal ideas here! We rely on Mexican a lot, and we also eat a lot of Asian foods, but I guess mostly Thai. I don't really mess with stir fries for whatever reason.. that is probably dumb. These are some of our favorites lately that no one has mentioned yet:

Loaded baked potatoes (fork-stab potatoes, microwave for around 5 minutes and it's ready to eat; toppings can include black beans, cheese, chives, green onion, sour cream, anything else you dig), steamed broccoli, salad

Fruit and nut salad (can include any of: apples, craisins, strawberries, blueberries, walnuts, toasted almonds, feta, crumbled bleu [mmmmm], balsamic vinagrette)

Grilled bean burritos (a la Taco Hell, smear heated refried beans inside large burrito, lots of cheese, some leftover rice, sauteed onions/peppers if you're feeling really ambitious, roll up, place on Pammed hot griddle for a couple of minutes on each side, smushed down with heavy lid)

Thai noodle salad (LOVE this! Soba/buckwheat noodles, boiled (only take 4 minutes to cook!), rinsed in cold water, drained. Add thinly sliced red cabbage; diced cucumber, mango, red pepper; a LOT of roughly chopped cilantro and mint (in my case mauled with scissors over the bowl, think Edward Scissorhands); and cashews. Toss. Prepare in any old jar the dressing: mix together rice vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, peanut butter, lime juice and crushed red pepper to taste. Make it creamy, make it watery; make it tangy vinegar-y, make it sweet and spicy. Whatever you like. Shake and pour dressing over individual servings because the leftovers get mushy if you dress the whole thing. This is actually a knockoff of Cheesecake Factory's old Thai Steak Salad--minus the steak of course--which they stopped offering on the menu, WOE IS ME.

"Mediterranean Chick Peas" (got this online, basically saute a whole diced onion and a little garlic, add a large can of crushed or diced tomatoes, two cans of chick peas, a bunch of fresh spinach (or box of frozen), salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for like 10 minutes. Serve with fresh lemon wedges (really! it was delicious!) and crusty bread. Viola. I don't know if this is really Mediterranean, but whatever, it rocked. Served with green salad.)

Pho (this is a vietnamese (I think) soup that is normally served with beef but whatever, we just leave out the meat. Buy Pho bouillon cubes at a just-a-little-too-authentic asian grocery. Actually, send Chris. Boil pho cubes in water as instructed on package (ours is one cube per half liter). Soak, rinse, and then boil rice noodles in a separate pot, found at same grocery for like 1/4 the price they charge at the standard American supermarket. Hint: look for something with "Ban(h) Pho" on the package, any width, do NOT buy tapioca rice sticks. Mush. Now, prepare a plate/platter with soup fillers, including: 1-2" pieces of green onion, rinsed but raw bean sprouts (purchased at same grocery for pennies), lime wedges, snipped cilantro and mint. Place large scoop(s) of cooked, hot noodles in a large bowl, ladle over SUPER hot broth (preferably at a rolling boil). That's it. At the table, toss in whatever you like from the plate, allow to soften slightly, devour. Oh, and we like to squirt in a little of that bright orange chinese hot sauce with the rooster and chinese characters on the bottle but if you look closely is actually manufactured in Kentucky. Yum.)

Oh and assuming you are an ovo-lacto or whatever:
Eggs and hash browns (veggie-filled scrambled eggs/omlettes (peppers, onion, spinach, fresh tomato, anything!); for hash browns, nuke fork-stabbed potatoes until just about soft, slice or cube potatoes, throw in hot skillet with some slivered or diced onion and butter and/or oil. Cook until browning and cripy as desired.)

We have experimented a lot with pad thai but we sort of suck at that. I don't know what the problem is.

Wow, I guess I had a lot to share on this topic. More recipes from your end, please!!

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