I heard on the radio this morning that more people are cooking at home. Although food prices are rising, we still can eat cheaper at home than at a restaurant if we plan ahead. And learn some cooking skills.
We’ve gotten lazy in the kitchen because it is so much easier to pick up a fast meal on the way home from work. Food prices are on the increase for restaurants too, so we need to become smarter consumers.
- First, you must make a list. Last week, I spent $145 at the grocery store and had ingredients for only one dinner. For Christmas, I made my daughters a pad of shopping lists to hang on the refrigerator door. They planned meals, and stuck with their list, for a while. They admit it worked when they used it.
- Go through the refrigerator, freezer and pantry and look at what you already have.
- Buy the store’s own brand. Meijer has store brands for almost every item in the grocery.
- Buy produce in season. For those fruits or veggies that are not in season, buy frozen. Frozen and canned fruits and veggies are picked and processed at the height of flavor and cost less than their out of season counterparts.
- Shop wisely. The more food is prepared for you (marinated meat or chopped vegetables) the more you’ll pay.
Set up your pantry with basic spices and dry goods that you like. If you haven’t cooked for a while, here are some reminders of what you’ll need from How to Boil Water from Food Network Kitchens.
Whole black peppercorns (and a grinder)
Red pepper flakes
Dried herbs (your favorites)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Canned chicken broth
Sugar (white and brown)
Pure vanilla extract
- Read the recipe through before you start cooking, looking at both timing and ingredients.
- Timing: An oven takes about 20 minutes to preheat; a large pot of water can take up to 15 minutes to boil. Save time by turning on the oven or putting the water on before you change out of your work cloths and start prepping for dinner.
- Ingredients: Assemble everything you need before you start cooking; lay it all out in bowls on a pan or tray for mobility and easy access.
- Set up your cutting board equal distance from the stove and sink for rapid rinsing and chop-and-drop. Put a damp paper towel underneath the cutting board to keep it in place.
- Keep salt, pepper, seasonings and cooking oil you’re using within arm’s reach.
- Keep a bowl for peelings and trimmings at your workspace to minimize trips to the garbage can.
- Do similar activities at once. If you’re making a salad, first peel all your veggies, then chop all of them.
- Clean as you go.
Here’s a 20-minute dish to help you get back in the kitchen.
Chicken & asparagus
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into thin strips
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons oil
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
2 tablespoons minced ginger
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 pound asparagus, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
3/4 cup chicken broth
Steamed white or brown rice
Season the chicken lightly with salt and pepper. In a wok or frying pan over high heat, warm the oil. Add the chicken and stir-fry until golden on the outside and opaque throughout, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the green onions and stir-fry until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ginger, lemon juice, zest, and garlic. Stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the asparagus and stir-fry just until tender-crisp, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the broth and fish sauce to the pan and bring to a simmer. Return the chicken and any juices from the plate to the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 1 minute to heat through. Spoon the rice onto individual plates, top with the chicken and asparagus and serve with a green salad.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Food Made Fast Weeknights.