Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Desperately Seeking Dinner

     It's 5 o'clock, you just came home from work or where ever, and your family wants dinner. You open the refrigerator, the freezer, check the pantry, but you've got nothing. This is how I tackle this dreaded time of day. For me, the way I plan for dinner is by being spontaneous. OK, you're thinking "How the heck does that work?" or "Don't you need a grocery list, and recipes all planned out for the week?" Nope. I am not that kind of person. If you are, then please go to the countless websites and blogs that do this for you. Every family is different and that just isn't how it works for me.
     "How does this work?", you are asking yourself. Well, since my dinners are inspired by everyone's schedule, what is in season at the market, or by a recipe I have seen, or what my family likes, or a taste that my brain and stomach are saying they just have to have, I shop on the fly. If you hate going to the grocery store, then this may not be for you. I find, however, that if I prepare and plan dinner in this way I get the freshest ingredients, I don't buy too much of something and I only use what is needed. I'm probably at the grocery store 3 times a week.  I just heard some of you gasp and shudder at the thought.
     So, I do some or very little planning. I may not know what I'm making until the day before or the day of.  Most of the time this is my strategy. Here is the first step of the, "What can I make for dinner?" game that you need to start doing in order to be a contestant. Stock your refrigerator and pantry with staples (rice, pasta, panko crumbs, etc.) and spices, rubs and other condiments (mayo, mustard, soy sauce, olive oil, etc.). I'm sure you get the point.  The key here is that you have to want to cook, therefore, you need to be somewhat prepared.
     The second step is, if you are a warehouse bulk food shopper, get meats, chicken and fish out of those large packages and put your family portions in freezer bags so you can take out what you need when you are going to cook it. Freeze what you don't need right away, and keep what you are going to use right away in the refrigerator. If you are the type of person who goes to the butcher or a fish monger, buy what you are going to use that day or a day two before you make it. 
     Step three, learn to grill. I grill all year long. I'm not kidding. This makes getting dinner on the table much quicker. This is where keeping seasonings, rubs and marinades on hand come in.
     Step four is, you don't always need a specific recipe. Needing a "recipe" can sometimes freak people out. People get flustered at the steps involved or complicated ingredients. This is why your refrigerator and pantry should be stocked with the things you like and you can get dinner quickly made. Save those complicated recipes that you want to try for the weekend when you may have more time. You don't necessarily have to be a chef to think like one, either. This is where inspiration comes in. What do you like to eat when you go out? What vegetables do you like? What flavors are tasty to you? These are questions you should ask yourself so that you can keep what you like on hand. You do have to have some cooking experience to be able to do step four, but once you know how to make a few things, you can transfer that knowledge to other dishes. 
     Step five, cook with real food. This is a combination of advise and a step. Try and stay away from saucy fattening casseroles and one pot slow cooker meals made with condensed soups. Some take too long to cook and most are not healthy. Try to stay clear of premade and packaged foods that have preservatives and all those ingredients that you can't pronounce. Do learn to bake, roast, broil and grill chicken, meats, and fish, using fresh vegetables and herbs. It really makes all the difference. Your meals will taste much better by using real and fresh ingredients.  You can control the fat, sodium and sugar that goes into your meals too. And, many premade packaged items take the same amount of time to cook them as it would if you just bought the ingredients and made it yourself.
         I hope my strategy, as unconventional that it is, is helpful and inspiring to you. Dinner doesn't have to be complicated.  Keep your pantry stocked and use fresh ingredients. Remember, stay calm, and cook on. It's just dinner. M :)

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