How to Cook for Very Different Tastes (an Ask the Audience)

Dear Home Ec 101,

I live in a home with two adults (myself and spouse), neither of whom much like to cook. I am the one who’s at home most of the day so I feel I should be planning and preparing our week night meals. The problem is that I have minimal cooking skills, and on top of that the spouse is a meat loving diabetic, whereas I am a vegetarian carb lover. We end up eating out way too much.
HELP!
Can you suggest how I can plan meals that are simple to make and will be satisfying enough for both of us to keep us from escaping to the nearest take out joint?

Sincerely,
Take-Away Turkeys

Heather says

I can see how this situation can feel difficult. I was actually discussing a problem with my boss that reminded me of your situation.

You see, I let perfect be the enemy of the good.

I have been struggling with a project and every minor roadblock frustrated me, took away my momentum, and made me feel helpless. These roadblocks weren’t even something I should need to solve, but because I couldn’t see that delegating was part of the solution, I have been needlessly banging my head against the wall for weeks.

The problem has many pieces and each of these pieces contribute to the solution.

Part 1: You currently have limited cooking skills.

The good news is this is not a static situation. Each technique you learn, each success you have is another tool for your solution.

Part 2: He is diabetic

Try not to look at it as completely up to you to solve. Yes, you both should absolutely take this seriously. Yes, learning to create meals that are low on the glycemic index should be a goal. However, at the end of the day, he is the one putting the food on his plate and in his mouth. He’s a grown man and it isn’t your job to be the food police. Obviously you love him and care for his well-being but don’t make yourself completely miserable in the process

Part 3: You’re a vegetarian who loves carbs

Just because you technically can have a lot of carbohydrates doesn’t mean they are they healthiest option for you, either.

Not every meal is going to be  a perfect solution for both of you.

Start by making a list of foods and recipes that you already know you both like. Is there a cuisine you both prefer? Some techniques: grilling, stir fry, roasting for example make it very easy to keep the meat based ingredients away from the vegetarian options.

Not every meal you make needs to have meat as the source of protein and not every meal needs to center on a pile of pasta or potatoes, either.

I highly recommend making a vegetable dish the focus of each meal. You can then add a side of rice or pasta for you and a grilled or pan seared protein for him.

Pinterest can be your friend when looking for your main dish, BUT search based on an ingredient that is in-season and preferably on sale.

And don’t focus on the whole week today. Start with, what will I make for dinner tonight? If you still have energy and motivation to think about tomorrow, pick that out, too. It’s a long term goal, it’s okay to take it one step, one meal at a time.

What other advice would you offer this couple as they work to stay out of the drive-through

Send your questions to helpm

 

Cooking Is Good for Mental Health?

Heather says:

There is a post circulating on Facebook, at least in my circles, that notes a trend among therapists promoting cooking and baking as a part of treatment for depression and anxiety. Please not that I said a part, baking three dozen cookies isn’t going to turn you into Little Suzy Sunshine for more than a few minutes. . .

I’ve been saying this for almost 8 years, but here we go again:

Life skills are important.

Feeling confident in the ability to take care of one’s self is critical to self-worth.

Mastering a skill that has the potential to make your daily life significantly easier and more enjoyable is going to have a positive impact on your emotional state. Yes, there are people out there who hate to cook; I get that. I have an acquaintance who once mentioned to me that he’d be happy when they invented the meal-replacement pill. I have no file for that, but I’m pretty sure cooking therapy wouldn’t be effective for him. (That said, he’s one of the most obnoxiously cheerful people I know).

It’s funny, for me, I knew I was finally back when I started wanting and enjoying to cook again. I don’t necessarily look forward to cooking every meal, but I do get a little excited when I can add a new item to the menu or have an idea to test a new recipe.

For those of you feel you can’t cook, but aren’t completely against the idea, what is your stumbling block?

What would enable you to walk into the kitchen with confidence?

 

 

How Do You Do Everything That Needs to Be Done?

Hi Heather,

I don’t recall when I subscribed to your site, but I do recall having found your site at a time when all my children would eat for breakfast was pancakes and I knew there had to be a way to freeze them. Lifesaver! Thank you!

But, anyhow, to the point. I know you recently moved. And you work. And you blog. So, how do you find time to do the non-essential things? We’ve lived in our house for 2 and a half years and I still have half-painted trim and the register covers have still not been replaced (from the few rooms that we had painted when we first moved in). How do you do it? I’m a new stay at home mom and had all these awesome plans to get things done around here, yet I find I can’t even handle the laundry anymore. What’s your secret. Please share!!
Signed,
Seriously Slacking
Heather says

Drive comes and goes, at least for me. During the divorce and after my sisters’ deaths, I really had none. I barely could do the things I absolutely had to much less the things that were beyond the bare minimum.
It’s been well over a year now since these events happened and life’s a lot different for me. For the first time in a very long time I am truly happy.  Yes, I still get irritated and annoyed with my kids, especially when I have them for long stretches of time. I’m human and parenting is a tough, but wonderful gig.
That said, to get the things that need done around here, in this hot mess of a fixer-upper, I try to make myself accountable.

What motivates you?

I can’t do X until I do Y and if it’s something very important, but off-putting I tell someone who matters about my goal. I really stink at coming up with internal motivation. Over many years, I’ve learned I can get myself to face the things I don’t want to by placing that motivation and accountability somewhere outside of myself.
My therapist and I have gone back and forth about whether or not it’s the healthiest coping skill.  That said, for me, it works and I have done so many things I never would have had the courage, energy, or motivation to do on my own.
For you, consider getting the tools to do the job, before setting your deadline. This way you remove the excuse of, but I don’t have the right paintbrush, the correct size register, drop cloth… whatever it is that would prevent you from finishing the job you want to start.
Set up a reward for once you’ve accomplished the chore. I can’t have a fancy coffee, adult beverage (eh you may see a pattern with me) or nice dinner out until I’ve done whatever I need to do. It doesn’t have to be food, it can be I won’t start that book from the library until I clean up the house. There are many kinds of little reward motivators you can find for yourself.
When the kids are involved it’s more specific: we won’t go to the park until the kids help pick up the house. We won’t start the movie until the dishes are done. And sometimes? Sometimes I have to be firm and not go to the park or turn on the movie. House didn’t get clean in time to go? Sorry, guys, them’s the breaks.
Rewards and “bribery” only work when used correctly. You can’t give in to yourself or the kids and expect anything to get accomplished.
Yes, sometimes you have to be rigid even with yourself, perhaps especially with yourself. But getting the I don’t wannas done removes the guilt from the fun things.
Over time, the successes build on themselves and a sense of pride in the task itself can develop. To get the ball rolling set the bar low, don’t say I will clean the house and paint the laundry room before I have another cup of coffee… that’ll just lead to frustration.
Today I won’t let myself take a break for lunch until I actually call the contractor about the roof. (I don’t know why I’m dreading this, he already gave me the estimate).
This weekend? I have to paint the dining room and replace the light fixture before getting a Christmas tree. (Wait, I’m rewarding myself with more work, who is in charge here? Oh… me. )
IMG_20141210_085408
If you’re curious, I’m going with the color on the right and whatever light fixture matches. I really want to set my dining room table up so we can all sit comfortably together for meal. I miss that and really, that’s the real reward, the Christmas tree is just a nice bonus.
Tell me, Home-Eccers, what is your motivation for projects you should, but don’t want to do?
Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com

How Long Should I Cook Chicken Stock?

Dear Home Ec 101,

Thank you for making your lovely page about the French and Asian methods of cooking chicken stock. I have a question: If I have a long period of free time, can I cook the stock longer than four hours. I’ll often have up to seven hours at a time. Is there any benefit to cooking longer? It seems like it would give more time for vegetable and chicken goop to turn into liquid, but I’m not sure if this is really true.

Signed,
Simmering in Cincinnati 

Heather says:

As long as you remember the difference between boiling and simmering and keep your chicken stock simmering, a long simmer is just fine. Chicken stock with a long, slow simmer does tend to have a richer quality to it. Since I work from home, it’s no big deal for me to throw the bones and vegetables in the stock pot first thing in the morning and check on it occasionally, but not everyone has that luxury.

If you have tested your slow cooker’s temperature range, it’s perfectly fine to use, as well. I’m just weird and prefer using the stove.

Alton Brown’s recipe for chicken stock suggests simmering for 6 – 8 hours. When I shared the recipes for chicken stock, my intent was to make the concept seem as simple as possible without compromising results. Many people would look at a recipe with a 6 – 8 hour simmering time and write it off as impossible. You know and I know that simmering does not mean you have to hover over the pot, but there are those who don’t. My goal, here on Home Ec 101, is to take the intimidation factor out of the kitchen. Cooking is both a craft and an art, anyone can become competent in the kitchen, but there are also those who have a gift.

Chicken StockI digress, back to the question:

If you want to make chicken stock with an extended simmering time, you may find it necessary to add water during the process. It’s really no big deal, just keep an eye on it and if the water level drops below the bones, simply add enough hot water to get everything submerged again.

Stock made with a long simmering time is the currently popular bone broth. The long simmer gives time for the collagen and minerals time to leach out of the bones and into the broth.

Now, something to consider, if you want a clear stock, skip the vegetables if you want a long, slow simmer. Personally, I don’t care about clarity, but some people do.

Enjoy!

Send your questions to helpme@home-ec101.com.

Review: Kitchen Curry Master

Heather says:

Just before the kickoff to the annual Thanksgiving day series started I received a The Master set from  Kitchen Curry Master, a new product designed to take the intimidation out of learning to cook curry and other Indian foods.

I am a big fan of Indian cuisine, but this is not the case for the small* people around here.

This meant I waited and waited for the right time to give the recipes a real chance. Date night finally rolled around and instead of going out we made curry.

Shrimp and potato curries

And oh what a couple of curries we made. They turned out very well. I may be a bit biased, but it was significantly -to my undeveloped palate- better than what I’ve had at one of the local establishments. The other I enjoy very much and will happily submit myself to more trials for “research”

The directions were clear and unless you choose shrimp, like we did, most of the recipes are budget conscious.

The Master Set from Kitchen Master Curry, at first glance is not an insignificant investment ($59), but you’ll find if you compare the cost of the spices included to places like Penzey’s it’s definitely reasonable. The storage tin also makes an attractive gift.  I might just be a big old food nerd, but I think spices are gorgeous and hope one day to actually see a real spice market. (I may drool over those travel photos)

I want to point out something very important, if you are gluten sensitive, this book is labelled gluten-free. All of the spices included with the product are indeed gluten-free, but it is important to remember to choose gluten-free ingredients for the recipes. Obviously naan is not gluten-free -if you are unfamiliar with it, it’s a flat bread. Beer is also not gluten-free.

I can have all the wheaty goodness I want, but not everyone in my life is so lucky. I’ve gotten pretty good at spotting what recipes will work and when to make appropriate substitutions. If you use the included cookbook, just remember to plan carefully if you are cooking for someone with a wheat allergy or gluten sensitivity.

I also want to let you know that there is a promo code for Home-Ec 101 readers, $11.50 off,  just use the code: ZBV56J1R92CB

I’ll be writing up a few curry recipes in the coming months -I find they make excellent cold weather recipes, but here are the two we tried and loved.

Shrimp Curry

Potato Curry 

If there is a foodie in your life, quality spices are not a bad way to go. (And if you’re really lucky, they just might invite you over for dinner as an excuse to use their gift)

Questions?

*young is probably a more accurate descriptor