This is the second post in my Home Cooked with Takeout Effort series and it is going to focus on what I call Un-Fancy recipes. Too often, when we look for recipes online we find something that sounds too complicated, has too many ingredients, and takes too long to make. We don’t have an hour and 10 minutes on a weeknight to juillene carrots or chop up 10 different vegetables. We don’t have the time to brown the roast on all sides in ghee before cooking it for 20 minutes per pound. Then on “good days” where we actually do make a recipe we found online, we end up with too many dishes to wash, portions that were too small, and specialty ingredients that we don’t know how to finish before they go bad. So we feel like we wasted our time and money. All this often has a detrimental effect on our confidence in the kitchen “I’ll never be able to do that” or “I definitely don’t have that kind of time” or “Its ultimately a waste overall”
Here’s the secret though: most of us who cook regularly do not make things that are listed on a foodie blog. We cook in an Un-Fancy manner. We cook in a way that doesn’t seem worthy of posting online because the ingredients and steps are so simple. We use a standard “formula” to answer the “what’s for dinner?” question and go from there. It’s all very unglamorous. But it’s also very easy to learn, to implement, and to keep doing regularly.
This is my standard formula for a meal: make one protein, one starch/grain, and one veggie. I try to make sure the veggies are double the weight of whatever protein I am making. Thats it. The table below lists out examples of what falls into each of these categories.
Now that we understand the formula, how do we keep it from getting “boring”? The secret here is keeping a few staple ingredients on hand and having several go-to spice blends. A huge hang up with recipes in general is that they cal for 1/2 teaspoon of 4 different spices, 1 teaspoon of 2 additional spices, and a tablespoon of 3 different sauces. Measuring out all of that (and even having all of it on hand) is a huge PITA (pain in the @#$) and time consuming. Having staple spice blends on hand eliminates this problem, while keeping your food super flavorful and delicious (and healthy to boot!). Here’s what I keep on hand in our kitchen:
In addition to the spice blends, you want to have a few staple cooking ingredients on hand. These are a way to flavor your food without a lot of hassle. Keeping this list short helps you to use everything regularly. Using these regularly also has the added benefit of helping you learn how to use them efficiently and effectively to add flavor to meals. Here is a list of our family’s staple ingredients: olive oil, avocado oil, jar of minced garlic, apple cider vinegar (ACV), basalmic vinegar, lemon juice (get a glass bottle for way less hassle and many more uses than squeezing lemons), lime juice (optional, lemon works in most cases), amminos (healthy substitute for soy sauce), and avocado oil mayonnaise.
Ok, now how do we make this all work out to be easy meals that take you less time to make than takeout or delivery? Well, if you have a convection oven at home, you’ve hit the JACKPOT of easy home cooked dinners. In a convection oven, you can cook items on every rack in the oven at the same time. I will often place whichever baked chicken thighs we are having on the top rack, a pan of veggies on the middle rack, and a pan of carrots or potatoes (for the starch) on the bottom. The whole meal takes 35 minutes to be done once its in the oven, but it takes YOU only the 5-10 minutes of prep time to be actively “cooking” in the kitchen.
If you don’t have a convection oven, never fear! You can either roast your chicken and veggies side by side on the same rack and use an “instant starch,” OR you can use a steamed/sautéed veggie option. And if all else fails, a bag of salad is a great go-to option for the veggie choice (just be careful with the dressing, since they are often loaded with excess sugar).
Here are a few pictures showing how we usually combine items from the Un-Fancy Recipes. I encourage you to try this out ONE TIME this week. Swap out ONE take out or fast food run with one of these. When you do it, let me know how it worked!