Thursday, February 12, 2015

Cooking From Scratch for The Rest of Us-Eating Well Frugally

I have a confession to make: I do not particularly love to cook.   I know a fair amount of bloggers who have embraced gourmet cooking in retirement. The enjoy experimenting with new skills and new dishes and find cooking a joy and a hobby.  I am not one of those people.  I was married to one of those people and am related by blood to a couple others (all male, it seems).  These guys can spend a day cooking happily for a meal that will be eaten in an hour.

In my marriage, I cooked those weeknight get it on the table meals, and my husband cooked everything else-holidays, entertainment, and weekends.  My brother has been known to spend a day cooking oxtail soup from scratch, or experimenting with three different steak and kidney pie recipes on my birthday. I on the other hand am terrible with a knife, love baking with a passion but could be called just a so so cook.

Unfortunately, I love to eat really good food. I also, like many retirees, am on a food budget.  I've previously written about how I shop for food and stay within my budget.  The other part of the equation is of course, cooking the food.

Cooking from scratch can sometimes be hard for families of one or two (ours sometimes has three).  I could be easy to settle for scrambled eggs or a deli chicken, or popcorn and cut vegetables and dip.  I prefer to eat good food and have a sit down meal, even if it is me alone (with it rarely is).  I also have a number of activities in retirement that keep me out and about until close to dinner time.

If you are a non cook like me, but like to eat, I may have a few suggestions.  What works for me may not work for you but experimentation is always a good thing and you may be happy with the results.

My freezer is my best friend, yes, even in retirement.  Most good recipes are for four or six and sometimes eight.  So if, on the weekend I DO make a good, complicated recipe that I like, I can freeze half of it.  This means that another meal requires only thawing and reheating.  Yes, it will taste just as good, IF you freeze it properly. I love to bake, but a whole cake or piles of muffins would go bad, so I freeze those as well. The only thing that does not freeze well are popovers.  Freezing is also good during grill season. I make individual packages of chicken breast, beef or pork that I have frozen in family packs, but marinade in with the meat and freeze. Thawed meat will be marinated and ready to go.

I cook extra meat either for leftovers or to freeze. This is more true in grilling season but- I cook a whole family pack or two of chicken breasts. I "par cook" some of them so they are still a little pink (this is safe for this purpose). I then freeze these grilled breasts (or whatever).  When I pull them out they will still have the grilled taste (an easy one is to reheat with peppers and black beans).  Leftover meat can be put into chef salads and served with bread if nothing else.

I use wine, garlic, onions, mushrooms and occasionally peppers liberally. I have learned that almost everything tastes better with one or two of these things, and some with all! I actually use peppers non liberally, because it seems that for me nightshade plants do not help with my arthritis.  That said, for small families I think the one area where convenience foods are justified is in the produce section. My grocer has containers of chopped onions, onions and celery.  They even sometimes have single stalks of celery, so I don't have to buy a whole package for two stalks. I've been known to get one of those veggie trays that has celery, carrots, tomatoes and broccoli heads and dips so that I did not have to throw out produce. The freezer section ha a whole section of vegetables that are called recipe starters-one has onions, garlic and mushrooms, for example

My slow cooker is my friend. I have learned that with a few basic ingredients one can turn out a gourmet meal.  Soups, chicken in wine, beef stew in wine, chili and so much more come out great in a slow cooker.  When I look at a recipe online, being a non cook, I also look at the reviews and tweaks others have made.  For those chefs who wonder, I do not brown meat prior to putting in the slow cooker and have never had a problem, although I do occasionally brown those vegetables.

Finally, I do of course rely on those convenience type meals-just mainly made by me. Homemade soup (made in bulk and frozen) with grilled cheese sandwiches, home made quiche (one of those things I was terrified of until I made it the first time and realized how easy it was) and a salad, breakfast for dinner, home made mac and cheese and more, all are part of our regular eating.

And so it goes with cooking for this non cook. Of course, having said all that, tonight is my son's birthday. We're having lamb chops, fresh asparagus, and couscous, none of which will be cooked by me (except for the homemade angel food cake and chocolate whipped cream)!  After that it's back to slow cooker chili, french toast and sausage and fruit, and quiche with spinach salad.

Are you a cook or a non cook?  Or somewhere in between.


  1. I love cooking and do consider it a hobby. Nothing makes me happier than spending a morning chopping and cooking and listening to some good music. Good thing, 'cause I like to eat. I live alone and still spend time cooking a good meal. I don't mind leftovers. In fact, I like the convenience of having something ready to eat. I've learned to package and freeze meals for those nights when I'm running late or when there's unexpected company. I find my cooking changes with the seasons. Winter sees me cooking a lot more soups, stews - those slow cooked dishes. Summer is for grilling and salads. I've learned to chop green onions and dill, freeze it, then it's available all winter. I'm getting better at keeping stock of what's on hand and using it in a timely fashion because I don't believe in wasting food. Living alone, I have the privilege of cooking to my tastes.

  2. My cooking goes in fits and starts. Some weeks I am very into cooking, trying new recipes, making old favorites, and so on. Other weeks, like this one, I make a big pot of something and eat it for four nights straight (it was a ground beef and lentil dish, very good and inexpensive). In the summer I do a lot of grilling outside - a pork chop, a hamburger, once in a while a small steak. In the winter, I'm a crockpot person too. I also do country ribs in the oven for 3 hours. I too live alone and can eat what I want when I want, as long as it is in my freezer or I can afford to buy it.

  3. I'm lucky. B is a gourmet cook. I'm a gourmet eater (or at least an enthusiastic one). A match made in heaven!

  4. Shhh, I do actually love to cook, or at least bake. I just hate the cleaning up after and wish I could hire an elf or two to do that for me.

    God bless.

  5. Most of the time I enjoy cooking because I know what's in the meals we produce and they're usually tastier and more economical. Sometimes it feels like I get in a rut, but that's my own fault. I've actually wondered if those packaging systems that suck all the air out would result in better quality frozen foods. Do you use one?

  6. Actually Pam, I use ziploc freezer bags and a straw to suck the air out, but everyone that I know who has a vacuum system loves them.


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