Balancing all of my various obligations and activities has been a challenge these past several months. I find that I don't always have time to do the things I love (like blogging). But I never stop cooking; And that's not just because we need to eat to survive. I have to cook. It inspires me and gives me the lift I need during my most hectic weeks.
I've still been planning out my meals as often as possible because I truly believe that cooking with a plan is the most time efficient and cost effective way to cook. However, I've needed to learn how to come up with last minute meals when planning is just not an option.
I'm pretty much obsessed with the book How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson. I've almost read it cover to cover and completely love how confident it's made me to improvise more while I cook.
I feel as though I have a decent sense of what flavors go well together and how to pair certain foods together. However, I'm always insecure about the proportions of ingredients and feel overly dependent on recipes because I don't know how much I need of this and that. This book gives basic rules of thumb for the amounts of ingredients in certain kinds of recipes.
For example, although there are literally countless ways to make soup, Pam gives a basic recipe that you can use with whatever you have on hand. She always starts with an onion and then adds 1 lb of vegetables, 1 lb of meat, 1 lb of starch, a quart of broth, and some herbs, spices, or flavorings. Then she gives all sorts of suggestions for vegetables, meats, and flavorings that go well together. My favorite has been Sausage Soup with Mushroom, Zucchini, and Chickpeas. She has all of these somewhat awkward, but helpful, little rhymes to help you remember the formulas (i.e."Saute an onion, then add vegetables, starch, and meat. Cook it in a quart of broth for a meal that can't be beat")
She uses this same philosophy for all sorts of others things including Asian cuisine, sauteed meat with pan sauces, and salads. The book is so fascinating and my husband absolutely loves every single thing I've tried.
I've been able to make a last minute stop at the store and grab the meats and vegetables that are on sale, knowing that I can use her formulas to turn them into meals. It's also been a great way for me to use up what's in my vegetable drawer. Her Lo Mein, Pad Thai, and Fried Rice recipes work so well with tons of different combinations of vegetables. All I have to do is use what I have left and then add some chicken or thaw some shrimp from the freezer. We've pretty much stopped ordering Chinese take-out because we love these recipes so much and they are SO easy.
I still enjoy searching for new and exciting recipes to try. I just love finding a recipe that challenges me to cook with new techniques and ingredients. I don't even mind when they take a long time if I'm having a calm evening. But when the work day ends and I've got to meet with my partner for my grad class, stop at the library to renew my books, pick up my prescription at the store, and then throw some dinner together before grading a huge stack of papers...it's nice to know that I have some delicious last minute meal ideas up my sleeve!