Money Saving Monday–Dinner When You Can’t Be Home

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At three fifteen today, Mike came home and found that on the counter. Naturally, he was very confused.

But, before I get into what’s in that pan I’m going to explain why it’s there. Twice a week I’m not home for dinner. Sometimes I’ll have something in the slow cooker, others they’ll reheat something I cooked earlier in the day, and on rare occasion they’ll eat leftovers. Unfortunately, I leave the house at 1:30 PM on those days and won’t be back again until 10PM (since I hit the gym after class, most nights). Sure, it’s only twice a week, but they can’t eat that much slow cooker soup happily, I don’t particularly feel like spending my few free hours preparing a meal I probably won’t get to eat, and Mike usually has thirds of whatever I cooked so we almost never have leftovers. As a result, a lot of the time I leave Mike to fend for himself.

Mike has come up with a few strategies to deal with what has become known as “bad dinner night.” One of them is beans and rice and a steamed whatever vegetable we have on hand. If he’s feeling fancy, he’ll throw some soy sauce on top of it. According to Mike, this is what they eat most nights I’m not home.

Except Olive always rats him out later and tells me that they had what she assumes is “Daddy’s favorite food.”

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This isn’t a picture of their dinner. This is actually a picture of the dinner we had for our two year anniversary. Make of that what you will.

Nice try, Mike.

Don’t get me wrong, as far as fast food goes they could be doing a lot worse than Chipotle. They would also, however, be spending a LOT less, so a solution had to be created if I wasn’t going to spend an hour preparing an entire meal for them and he wasn’t going to spend our life savings (and lifetime quota for sodium) in one quarter.

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I had to get a bit creative.

Obviously, I didn’t have time to prepare much and I didn’t want to leave something simmering on the stove at 1:30 PM for him to come home to and feel obligated to eat that very instant, but I had time to chop some veggies.

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And leave some instructions.

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Naturally, when he got home he was confused.

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But he figured it out.

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I’m sure you probably wouldn’t have had to actually put the spices in a container with the other ingredients, but I know Mike. They had to at least be in the vicinity of his cooking space or he’d have forgotten all about them, instructions or not. This had the added benefit of teaching him a few basic cooking skills without me hovering around the whole time, ready to “save the meal” at any given moment.

For someone who doesn’t cook often a recipe from a cookbook is a giant, foreboding, mess. Half the time they don’t have the insight necessary to know they need to read ahead in the recipe. This way, each ingredient had a number and an instruction and he could literally go from A to B without needing to prepare something. He also didn’t have to blow a gasket trying to remember how to dice carrots. Yes. This is actually a legitimate concern.

Moms (and dads who cook for that matter) have to work, it’s a natural part of life for most people. Even if they don’t, sometimes they just can’t be home. Why shouldn’t their families still eat well when they aren’t able to be there? I see this as a perfect solution for both the kitchen inept spouse and the pizza ordering babysitter. This time I used soup, but I could see this working really well with casseroles and other foods. Put out a container of cooked rice already measured, some spices with instructions, the proper amount of fake cheese, nutritional yeast, veggies, etc, and a dish with the heating instructions written on it, and within a few minutes you have it prepared, and they can have it cooking. Cooperation goes a long way in a busy, crunchy, and broke house. Though it does hurt the hip factor quite a bit.

After ten minutes Mike had this simmering on the stove, with no help from me at all (that would have been cheating, and this was for science!), and you know what? It turned out pretty good.

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Especially with the cornbread I whipped up. (Yes, that’s a teaser.)

What’s that? You want the soup recipe, too? Ugh, you whiners.

Split Pea Soup of Spousal Assistance
1 lb split peas
8 cups vegetable broth
1 dash liquid smoke
2 tsp minced garlic
1 tbs olive oil
1 tsp poultry seasoning (minus the bird, of course)
1 cup carrots, chopped
1/2 a sweet onion, chopped

In the bottom of a large soup pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and onions and saute until the onions are soft. Add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, of until peas are soft, mushy, and heavenly.

I promise, you won’t miss the ham, especially since we added some yummy smoke flavor. It tastes like happy.

And now, Mike totally knows how to make it without my help.

I think this is a win for household cooks everywhere, yes?

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