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I like to cook. I like to eat.

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De plan, de plan

Posted by Jeanne on May 1, 2010

Michael Ruhlman caused quite a kerfluffle last week at the IACP event when he publicly “called bullshit” on people not having time to cook.  He elaborated in this Huffington Post piece.  People are pissed off – for one of the more logical and well-worded responses out there, please see Debbie of Words To Eat By‘s post here.

I don’t want to get involved in the original debate – anything I could say has already been said by others anyway.  I do want to talk about what it takes to get us fed every night, and how we do it.  Mostly:  planning.

The myth of the 30-minute meal is an apt title for Ruhlman’s article, I think.  Part of the problem with the 30-minute meal is that any meal that requires 30 minutes of active cooking time probably involves mental work beforehand – which makes it not a 30-minute meal any more.

In order to get most meals on the table – from start to finish – in anything resembling half an hour I have to have some things in place first.

  1. I need to know what I’m making.
  2. I need to have my ingredients on hand and those ingredients need to be ready to rock – carrots peeled, chicken cut, etc.
  3. I need to be able to not do anything BUT cook for the next 30 minutes (usually).
  4. It must be possible to make the dish in question in less than 30 minutes.

As to the first item – I sit down every week and make a menu.  I try to use up things we have hanging out in the house or lingering in the freezer.  I started doing this when I was in law school – we had far too many nights of looking in the fridge while already hungry, declaring there to be no food, and ordering pizza or Chinese.  It was wasteful and straining our already tight finances.  I admit we still order pizza occasionally, but having a menu means we don’t have to try and get creative with food every single night.  I love to cook and I love to eat but even I can’t manage that one every evening.

The other thing I plan for is to not cook some evenings.  Planned leftovers are really helpful.  This is explained better with specific dishes, so here is our menu for this week:

  • Baked Louisiana red beans & rice (this dish cooks for an hour and a half, about.  It’s really impractical for a weeknight – but it reheats well.  So I’ll make it tomorrow and we’ll reheat it later in the week.);
  • Pasta with beans and greens (so long as all the ingredients are in the house, this one comes together quickly – no advance cooking needed.);
  • Chicken tortilla soup (Super easy and basically cooks itself while you’re at work.);
  • Carmelised onion, Canadian bacon & Swiss cheese strata (we’ll both make and eat this tomorrow – easy assembly but long cooking time.);
  • Sriracha chicken + broccoli + rice (recipe here);
  • Greek lamb chops + roasted potatoes + some kind of veg (I can’t wait to try this lamb – they are the most adorable little chops from the co-0p.).

The second item on the above list is mostly a matter of shopping carefully – if you don’t know what you’re going to make, you can’t buy the stuff to make it.  Rachael Ray is full of tips on how to get things ready before, like washing and prepping your herbs and veg.  I don’t go that far, but I do try to make sure everything is actually in the house before we start.

The rest of it – the time, the possibility of completing a dish in 30 minutes – isn’t anything I can help with.  It either is or isn’t. Some dishes can easily be made in 30 minutes (like the pasta above) – and some just cannot be made in 30 minutes ever.  Unless you really like a medium rare roast chicken.

I think that the planning is the part that usually gets brushed aside.  And for us that is really the most important part of not eating crap all week.

Here is a picture of my dogs.

I’m going to quit blabbering about food and go hang out with them now.  Happy Saturday, happy May Day, and happy first farmer’s market day to Omaha!

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One Response to “De plan, de plan”

  1. Lainey said

    i liked his article. i think his spirit was: feeding your family should be one of the most important things you do. i agree. though i think it could still be important and take less than 30 minutes.

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