Monday, September 21, 2015

Housewife 101: Meal Prep 101

Greetings, Chaotics!
Food has been on my mind lately. Okay, a lot lately.
Okay...if I'm being totally honest, it's always on my mind in some way.
Hey, I'm a fat girl, what can I say?
Over the course of my years on Facebook, many people have commented(some politely, some rudely) how my food posts have made them hungry, they wanted to know how I cooked XYZ, etc.
And I kept thinking...why is that? I mean, I'm no food photographer, so my photography skills are not the reasoning. My recipes are not something that takes crazy kitchen equipment or food items that take a doctorate to conjure up. So what gives?
The only two things I could come up with are-
1. Y'all don't know how to cook(or, y'all don't want to cook).
2. Y'all don't have/make time to cook.
And when I have posted recipes, y'all have said one of the two(or worse...both) in your own way.
"Oh, my mom/dad/crazy grandmother that got high off the fumes in a cookbook never taught me."
"My (insert guardian's title here) couldn't cook, neither can I!"
"Oh, I can't boil water without burning it!"
"But that looks complicated. Why bother with all THAT when I could just buy it in a box/can/*insert fast food place here*? "
"Are you kidding me? Ain't nobody got time fo' all 'dat! I'm raising X amount of kids and I have zero time to make a "real" meal from "scratch"!"
And I'm not saying all these after graduating from Martha Stewart University with a major in Paula Deen and a minor in Rachel Ray!
    But it would be seriously cool if I did. Just sayin'. 
    I'm saying this all from where YOU are at.
     I didn't know how to cook! I wasn't born a little chef! My mother considered making scrambled eggs "real cooking" and anything else was either a TV dinner, or a "helper", or cereal. My father knew how to cook a few things, but as he started to get older, he, too, resorted to convenience foods and pre-packed/frozen/boxed stuff.
    I was a single mom, with two kids, who considered Hamburger/Chicken/Tuna Helper to be "cooking from scratch. And ordered pizza/Chinese at least once a week whenever we got sick of all the "helpers". And ate cereal when we got sick of those.
    It wasn't until my third child that I realized...hey, eating the way we are with TWO kids is expensive! And I just added another one! 
    We were living off welfare and food stamps here, people! Even with the amount they gave us, I could not make ends meet while ordering out/eating convenience foods all the time!
    So, around the same time I felt convicted to be more conservative, I also felt more convicted to start cooking "real" food.
    What are some things I learned? Let me tell you-
    1. MAKE TIME
    I can have the best recipe for homemade pizza in the world...but won't know it if I'm so rushed, I don't have time to make it and resort to opting for take out or a pizza from the freezer section instead because I forgot about it until the last minute. If you're going to make the transition from getting take out/prepackaged foods all the time, make sure to make time for it. I'm also adding to make more time than what the recipe says, in the event you're a new cook. The time frame given is not always the time it actually takes. Some recipes assume you know what you're doing, others may cook longer or shorter depending on your stove/oven/altitude. Give yourself enough time to not feel rushed.

    I know this sounds weird, but one of the things I noticed when I first started was how much more expensive in the beginning cooking myself was. This was largely due to not having most of the spices,etc. not already in my cupboards, and not knowing how to plan meals,etc. according to sale cycles/coupons. You may be used to eating Ramen Noodles for dinner for $1, but as you go to shop for, say, a real chicken dinner, you may find yourself forking out more and get discouraged. Don't. Trust me when I say that with time and experience, it will become easier(and as a result, cheaper).

    Truth in food advertising
    If you're asking yourself may be time to learn how to cook.  And coupon. 
    If you are a complete nobody in the kitchen as I was when first starting out, seeing a piece of paper with 7 sets of directions and 15 items to obtain may overwhelm you as it did me. I'd buy the 15 items only to realize I couldn't "read" the recipe. What the heck is a julienne cut? How do I saute' something? What the hello kitty is a steaming that when my boobs are sweating, while I slave over the stove? This is why I stress you READ the recipe ENTIRELY before going out and buying all the ingredients. That will give you plenty of time to decide if it's actually worth trying, you can google(and check YouTube) on anything they tell you to do with said food items, and can buy all that's needed without starting halfway through before realizing you're missing two ingredients. Also, if you're using a recipe for something ethnically-related, and you have no idea what one of the items are, you can look it up online to see what it looks like so you know what to look for.
    However, I'd also like to stress starting small. If you can't understand half the recipe, or are having a hard time finding multiple ingredients for said recipe, then it may be too much to try at the moment. Try finding another recipe that is written in a way you can understand, or with ingredients that you know where to obtain.
    This somewhat goes with #3. I have already stressed reading the recipe in its entirety, beforehand to ensure you have all the ingredients. But what if you were like me, who cooked with her microwave, and you have no pots and pans? Or steamer? Or Crock Pot? And the only knife you have is a butter knife? What do you do then?
    My suggestion to you would be to get all these things used, especially if you are new to cooking. You may be drooling over a $250 pot and pan set, a knife set from Japan, and a crock pot dipped in gold and outlined in silver...but let me tell you, honey, it will all go to waste if you're new. You are at some point going to burn something(s) that you don't even want to bother trying to scrub off. You're going to light these suckers on fire, they might soak up that ONE recipe that reeked your place for days, they're going to get stains that may take forever and a day to get off, they're going to get scratches, they're probably going to get dented in some way. For a newbie, one of the biggest money-wasters for me was buying a brand new pan and pot set...TWICE...before I realized it'd just be cheaper to buy it as I needed from a secondhand store. You may turn up your nose at buying secondhand cookware, but trust me on this, it's going to be a lot easier to throw that burnt $1 pot containing oatmeal that will not wash off than that $50 designer pot you got because a celebrity chef made it with tears from Santa's Elves.
    Do we really *need* a $70 Hello Kitty microwave? Uhm, yes! I mean, no. I mean...maybe(?)

    This may come across as silly. Set the right environment? What the heck does THAT mean? Am I supposed to seduce my rice with Barry White music while caressing my chicken in satin sheets or something?
    No. Unless you're into that sort of which case, be my guest.
    *Cough* FREAK *Cough*

    What I meant by this was make sure you're kitchen and your mind are ready to cook. You can set aside the given time for a recipe, but if you're sink is filled to counter tops with dirty dishes, you'll find it take longer to cook as you have to search for that *one* pot you need to cook with, wash it and dry it...only to realize your measuring cup is dirty,too...only to find out your favorite spatula is in that mess as well...see what I'm saying? You'll be reaching for the speed dial to a take-out place faster than you knew how.
    I'm not saying deep clean your kitchen and make it "company is coming over!"-clean. Just make sure your kitchen is USABLE. Is there at least ONE clean counter you could use as surface space? What cooking utensils, pot/pan(s) do you need-are they clean? Is your stove top covered with tomato sauce from last night's exploding sauce fiasco?
    While I'm at it, I'd like to add...make sure you're in the right mind to cook. This may come off as a little old-fashioned, but its true. You're more likely to enjoy the process if you turn on some of your favorite tunes and JUST focus on the actual cooking. If you're constantly uploading pictures of the process on your Instagram, while checking your Facebook feed, while thinking about your cats ex-boyfriend's YouTube page...things can go south pretty quickly. Try not to get distracted.
    "But I just went on Facebook for a MINUTE!" 

    Oh, and be comfortable! Even if you are a transdecadian(hey, if you can be multiple genders, then I can be multiple decades in my head) housewife as I think myself to be, you really don't have to rock heels, pearls, and makeup in order to be prepared to cook.

    Unless, you know, your husband likes that sort of thing. *wink*
    If you just came home from work(and that sort of attire is required), then go change into something more comfortable before starting. Make sure to wear something you don't mind getting dirty/wet. Even if you wear an apron over your clothing, there's still a chance things might get messy and your clothes might take a hit. Make sure whatever you're wearing is something you're not too worried if it gets a stain or two here or there..or you might have to risk throwing away.
    Nobody has voted for this poster yet. Why don't you?
    Seriously, just do it.
    This is one of those things no one really tells you. Or maybe you guys had families that already knew this, and I'm the odd one out. I know the process of cooking from start to finish, especially if you're a newbie is DAUNTING. But it's going to be even more daunting if you cook this amazing meal...and have 50 items to clean and put away afterwards. So, as soon as you're done with that measuring cup/ spoon, spatula, bag of Barry White seduced rice, or whatever it may be, put it back where it belongs. Even if that means the sink to wash...eventually. As you become more comfortable with cooking, you'll figure out how long a pot of water can sit on the stove without you loving staring into its bubbles, and can eventually start wiping down a counter here and rinsing off a measuring cup there to make the process easier and less of a chore once your done.

    This may sound stupid, and yes, I put this last as sort of a chuckle. But when you're used to NOT cooking or cooking out of a microwave, you may sort of go on auto-pilot and forget that, unlike a microwave AN OVEN WILL NOT TURN ITSELF OFF ONCE YOU OPEN IT UP. Same goes for a stove. And a blender. And a hand held mixer.
    Please remember to turn off any electrical appliances as you are done using them! Maybe my idiotenese is showing here, but yes, I was the dummy that often forgot to turn off the oven/crock pot(before I discovered crock pots that turn themselves off, anyways...seriously, the people that make kitchen appliances know me)/stove/mixer/ blender before eating or after using it.
    Lemme tell ya....forgetting to turn off  things can make a memorable mess in the kitchen. And can result in burned things, like hands/arms.
    Seriously, don't be that me. You will regret it.
    " is abnormally toasty today...wonder why...*shrugs*"

    Until Next Time, Chaotics!
    ~ Mama Jenn

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