Friday, September 25, 2009

The Answer to I DON'T know what to make for Dinner

5 Easy Steps to Decide What to Cook for Family Dinner When Your Mind Goes Blank
by Janis Brett Elspas, The Mommy Blog Expert

Not knowing what to make for dinner happens to us all. What do you do when it strikes you? Follow these Easy Steps: 1) Look in your frig or freezer for a protein source 2) Check your pantry and frig for anything else that might go with it 3) Go online to your favorite recipe website and search for an idea based on ingredients 4) Spice things up...make sure you always have a stock of at least the basic spices of salt, pepper, garlic, paprika, basil, oregano, etc. 5) Surprise your family with a quick, healthy, meal they will love, and sit back and enjoy the rave reviews.

If you're like me--a busy mom or dad--who cooks for their family seven nights a week, you know what I'm talking about here. It's that dreaded moment when its getting close to dinner time and you haven't a clue as to what to make for dinner tonight. You know what I mean.  You are REALLY stuck, with less than 2 hours before dinner needs to be on the table for your family, and you are clueless. And, not to ramp up the pressure, you've got ornery tweens or teens in the house who are constantly hungry and, within the next 30 minutes, the a kid needs to be driven to a music lesson (or some other place you must take them by car at a scheduled, but inopportune time).

What to do? It's too late and there's not enough time or money to order take out tonight. Good try though!  First of all, DON'T FREAK OUT and don't crack open the hard liquor just yet.  You don't always have to tell your darling family to eat cereal with milk for dinner like I sometimes do, bad mommy that I am.  There is a better way, and I'm about to give you some real good advice that might save your sanity tonight, so read on to find out.

We've already established this first option isn't going to help.  PLAN A: Take out (or buying an unhealthy frozen entree at the supermarket) for tonite is already out of the question because it will be less expensive to make and serve dinner at home.

PLAN B: Instead, let's see what you have in your house that you might make a great, healthful meal out of.  Assuming you don't have any fresh or frozen left overs to pass off as a freshly cooked meal (we are all guilty of that one, heh, heh), take a look in your freezer for a protein source (meat, poultry, fish, or even Tofu!) to make the main course with.  I don't have much in my ice box this late afternoon, but I DID find a lump of 1-1/2 pounds of frozen cubed beef stashed in the back that is a couple of month old. Guess I better use that to feed the family tonight, because you can't keep stuff in the freezer forever.

The next step is to deal with whatever you dig out and get creative.  The aforementioned beef still doesn't look too appetizing to me (kinda gray actually in color, but still edible) even after I defrost it in the microwave for five minutes but I will make do.  I've got to disguise this in some way, so I pull out my trusty Cuisinart Food Processor that I received for my wedding more than two decades ago.  Luckily it still works fairly well, (I'm still hoping for a new Kitchen Aid to suddenly appear in my kitchen one day, though) so I make some fresh ground beef in 30 seconds, just by processing the blocks of beef in the processor. 

Onto the next challenge. What now? After you've got your protein looking decent (not wearing clothes, of course) you've got to do something with it to make it interesting, since your family will go on strike if they see this now.  Your next stop should be your refrigerator and/or your pantry to see what ingredients you have on hand that can quickly be turned into a gourmet home-cooked family meal (or at least masquerades as one, LOL).  In the bottom of the vegetable bin in the frig I find some wilted celery stalks, not moldy but not looking bright green either, and also a half an onion -- hey, I am getting somewhere, I think.  Next, I look back in the freezer for frozen vegetables and there I see a half-used bag of C and W brand corn, so I nab that without knowing what I'll do next.

Now what? Time to take a computer break.  So, I go online and quickly find a recipe that I know will be fast to prepare and will cook in an hour or less.  If you are as disorganized as I am, BTW, there is no way you are going to find the torn-out magazine recipe you used last time.  We are talking a lot of disarrayed paper here, since I'm a charter subscriber to Martha Stewart's Living magazine, which I believe came out around 20 years ago.  

I decide to visit my favorite go-to recipe resource when I can't find the one I "filed," who's always there for me, 24/7  Martha  There, I've never fail to find ideas about what to do with my meager rations that I must magically transform into a meal for six.  May I remind you:  my family includes two adults and 4 Tweens (12 year old triplets, plus a 13 year old) and they all are skinny and almost always eat like horses?  Another great resource to go to that I use sometimes and recommend when I don't know what meal I should prepare is the DinnerTool website, which provides some excellent ideas on how to work with ingredients that I already have on hand.

In less than a minute I've done an advanced search for "ground beef" on my reliable friend Martha's site (I did meet her once at a book signing for her book on Homekeeping when she came to California).  Voila! I'm on the site for less than a minute before I discover a Tamale Pie recipe that sounds good AND is quick, AND is a one-pot meal.  

Lucky me, all the ingredients the recipe requires (like cumin, corn meal, and olive oil) I already have on hand, thanks to my well-stocked pantry and spice collection (Martha, you are my inspiration for all this, you know).  This dish is a breeze to put together and before you know it I pop it in the oven. With about an hour cooking time, I run my daughter to her violin lesson.  Miraculously, with all the chaos, I still have dinner ready ON-TIME and dear hubbie and the kids sit down to eat.  From the first bite, the meal's result is amazing and there are compliments all around our dinner table.  I sit there smiling smugly, thinking it really wasn't that hard.  It was easy as pie, in this case Tamale Pie!

Epilogue:  Now, it time for me to do the dishes by hand since our dishwasher hasn't worked since we moved into this house many years ago.  But, that's not going to stop me from wishing for a new dishwasher.   Did I mention that our full-size double oven doesn't operate either? Or, for the last four years, that instead I have been using my handy Hamilton Beach counter top single convection oven for all my family baking?

Actually, now that we're on the subject, I'd love to just remodel my entire kitchen.  But that's for another blog post about another story that has yet to be written...

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