… or How to Save Money and Time and Eat Really Well Without Getting Bored in the Kitchen
So you’re time-challenged. You think you don’t have enough time to cook. You are not alone. But analyze this. You get in the kitchen and you cook. You save time and money and you get the added benefit of relaxing. This is a big secret. Cooking can be an escape or it can make you popular, depending on how much tolerance you have for company in the kitchen.
I like to be in the kitchen with music, and if the time of day is right, a glass of wine. I dance in the kitchen. If I am going to consume calories, I dance them off. I am making a point here. Done correctly, cooking is fun.
A good cook is never lonely. You have family and friends dying to be with you, sample your wares, admire you, befriend you. And you save on gas money going to crowded markets, freezing in the air conditioning, and schlepping the groceries. Or you don’t have to get in line at a drive-through, advertising to the entire world that you have succumbed to the fast food junk food disease and are therefore slowly killing yourself and your family. Oh, don’t critique me. I am channeling a satirical comedian, say the very naughty Ricky Gervais at the Golden Globes, poking fun at everyone. Please don’t take me too seriously.
Here are five tips for pleasure in cooking in the dysphagia kitchen: It need not be a chore. It’s all in the attitude.
- Plan ahead. Decide what you are cooking and have the ingredients on hand. I would always cook two entrees, or an entrée and a sauce. Or an entrée and a veggie. Or two veggies such as a carb and a green veggie. Or a dessert and a sauce. Keep it simple. Cook the things you like to cook. Or cook the things you or the patient or the family most enjoy. Chicken pot pie. Every time you master a dish, you will be proud. So go for it.
- Shop the day before or two days before. Check the pantry and the fridge to make sure you have all the ingredients. These can be bought in advance on a regular shopping day. For the cooking day: buy fresh last. Buy the protein and the veggies and anything you need to make a dessert, such as milk or ricotta cheese, fresh. The fresher the better. You will taste it.
- Allow room for mistakes. Especially when the recipe is new to you. You can always save a dish. Don’t strive for perfection. Besides, some of the best things I ever created in the kitchen came about because of an accidental mistake. This can be something you forgot to buy at the grocery store. Or, something someone in the whole foods store recommended to you, but you never tried before and you have this urge to add mushrooms to a sauce that didn’t ask for mushrooms. Go ahead, take the dive. Trust your palate. Cook on the fly. Adjust. Don’t be afraid to improvise, and by that I mean, make a substitution. This has to be within reason, especially for baking. Baking is all about rules. It is exact. It is chemistry. It is food science. In the world of the savory, anything goes. If you don’t have cilantro, go with the parsley. How bad can it be? If you don’t have shallots, use onions. If you don’t have fresh, try canned or frozen.
- Allow enough time. This is really important. Have your storage vessels assembled. We recommend batch cooking, four to six servings, two in the fridge for serving within five days to a week. So be ready to put the food, properly labelled, notated on your white board, in the freezer. Here is where the deep satisfaction comes in. You will have a stocked freezer of delicious food, so you never have to run to the store at the last minute, or order in from the takeout joint or pick up something less than fabulous from the deli counter. You don’t have to get in line. You are ahead of the game. That’s what it’s all about.
- If anything can be made ahead, make it ahead. This is where the making of the sauces comes in, or the stock. But if you don’t have homemade on hand, you have it in the pantry. If you are going to make mashed sweet potato with tangerine glaze, soft bake the sweet potatoes the day before. Do the puree with glaze on the cooking day. The potatoes will have cooled and will be easy to handle.
- I know I said five tips, but here is a sixth. If you need a little help, get someone to help. Let them peel the carrots or chop the onions, in a food processor, if necessary. Once the people in my mom’s house started smelling what I was cooking, I had volunteers.
Tip: Have your storage vessels ready to go. We recommend glass for purity of flavor, for ease of thickening and for food safety. Also for versatility, from oven, to microwave, to dishwasher, to freezer. More expensive initially, but it does not have to be replaced, so it is cost efficient over plastic in the long run. Easy on the environment.
We like cooking in batches of four to six, so you need four to six containers with tops, labels and a sharpie pen. You are prepared. You have a system. This is manageable and efficient. Almost like a puree station in a professional kitchen. You cook. You let the dish cool. You puree. You divide into servings and store. You put in the freezer or fridge. You make a note on the white board on the front of the freezer. You have done your cooking for the week.
If you have two cooking days in a week, you already have variety. If you have one cooking day in a week, you will have a choice of meals to serve. You get into the rhythm. You mark the number of servings used on the white board. You always know what you have on hand. That is how you plan what to cook on your cooking days. You see where you need to replenish your supply. This method definitely makes the clean-up easy. You clean up in stages, as you go.