People have been cooking for tens of thousands of years. They’ve done it with nothing more than a fire in an open pit. They’ve done it while fleeing enemies. They’ve even done it during droughts and disasters. Which is all to say: whatever our time and resource constraints are, others came before us have cooked meals under much worse circumstances. We can do this!
Here are some helpful tips for cooking fast, simple meals:
- Choose recipes with only a few ingredients. Keep the number below eight. Once you have more ingredients than that (not including salt, pepper and water), you’re probably looking at a significant amount of time, and perhaps shopping.
- Use what you have. Look through your pantry and refrigerator, and make meals based on what you already have. There are websites that provide you with recipes based on the ingredients you plug in.
- Substitute. When combing through your pantry, knowing how to swap one food for another is helpful. For instance, two cups of tomato sauce equals ¾ cup of tomato paste plus one cup of water. And one cup of breadcrumbs equals ¾ cup of cracker crumbs. For more substitution ideas, check out The Joy of Cooking (it has a great table of equivalents), look online, or even experiment yourself.
- Stay on familiar ground. Rely on recipes that are familiar to you. No need to reinvent the wheel during a busy week.
- Use common ingredients. Keep it simple, and try not to choose recipes with too many exotic ingredients. People often waste a lot of time and money tracking down an unusual spice, only to never use it again.
- Cook extra and use it later in the week. You can often get two or three meals out of big batches of food. For example, if you roast two chickens, you can eat one, make soup from the skin and bones, and use the extra meat for a third meal.
When I was in law school, my oldest daughter was a toddler and my son was born early in my second year. Simultaneously, my husband was working as a post-doctorate, which meant that we had no money and very little time. Still, we managed to cook a complete dinner seven nights a week, spending about $70 a week at the grocery store.
Now, rather than snacking or eating out, my college-age children prefer to eat a homemade dinner with family and friends. I think that, of the many things I tried to teach them, this may be thing that serves them best over the course of their lives. – Ramona H.
Ramona’s Pork with Caramelized Onions and Tomatoes Recipe
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lg. onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 pounds pork loin cut in 1/3” slices
- salt and pepper
- 3 cups chopped tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
Sauté onion and salt in hot oil, until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Pat pork chops dry and season with salt and pepper. Sauté chops in remaining oil until brown and just cooked through, about 4 minutes on each side. Transfer chops to a platter and keep warm.
Return onion to skillet and add tomatoes, then saute over moderately high heat, stirring, until tomatoes are softened, about 3 minutes. Add vinegar and serve chops topped with onion and tomato.