Much as I love cooking, my level of enthusiasm to putter in the kitchen varies from day to day. There are days when I am so obsessed that I will spend hours preparing a meal. But there are also days when I’d rather slap something between two slices of bread and consider the result a full meal. Call it biorhythm, call it hormones, call it whatever you like. The thing is, whatever my level of enthusiasm, however low my level of enthusiasm, I want to eat delicious food. So, I’ve developed a system.
There are three things that I keep a supply of and they really shorten the time for preparing every meal. And I’m not talking about store bought items full of additives and unpronounceable chemicals. I’m talking about meat, broth, and a variety of sauces and dressings that I prepare myself.
Cooking meat in bulk
When we buy meat — pork and beef, in particular — I prefer that the meat is uncut. Meaning, a whole slab that weighs anywhere from a kilo and a half to three kilos. I pressure-cook the meat whole with all the herbs and spices that I feel like adding then I cool the meat and chill it. After chilling, the fat turns firm and cutting the meat is easier. I divide the meat into portions, then cut each portion into the size and shape appropriate for the dish I intend to cook the meat with.
I place the cut meat into freezer containers and off into the freezer they go. I just take out a container to thaw the meat an hour or two before cooking and I save on the time it needs for the meat to cook because it is already cooked.
The pork and chayote dish in the photo above was cooked in ten minutes flat. I’ll post the recipe separately.
Keep a supply of homemade broth
Even before I started cooking meat in bulk, I was already making broth in the hugest pot I own so I could apportion the broth and keep the portions in the freezer. The practice really started as a way to make good use of duck and turkey bones. We love duck — really LOVE duck — and turkey, we sometimes enjoy too. Whenever we roast duck or turkey, or even a whole chicken, after the meat has been carved and eaten, the carcass remained. And I made broth with them. After experiencing how different — and how much better — homemade broth was, I never went back to those broth cubes.
Of course, it isn’t everyday, or even every week, that we roast a whole bird. To keep a constant stock of broth, we buy soup bones. They are really cheap. Just throw them into a pot with vegetables, seasonings and aromatics, and you can make broth. Click here for the recipe.
Another very useful item for making broth is fish bones. When you buy fish in the market and you prefer to cook the flesh as fillets, don’t leave the bones — especially the head — behind. Bring the head and bones home and make a stock with them. Click here for the post on making fish stock.
When you have a constant supply of broth, the kitchen is your playground. You can make chunky and filling soups and serve them with crusty bread — full meal! But broth isn’t just for making soup. Instead of water, you can use broth as a base for stews and they come out more flavorful that way. You can cook rice in broth instead of water. Like risotto (see list of risotto recipes). Or even directly in the rice cooker, like these:
See what I mean?
Keep a variety of sauces and dressings
When I made sweet chili sauce a while back, I thought it would take us forever to consume it. I mean, it’s homemade, no preservatives and shelf life would naturally be shorter than the stuff you get in the grocery. If it was going to be used for dipping, it would take a long time to finish a jar. Then, I realized that I could cook with it. I’d make plain stir fry, drizzle sweet chili sauce over everything and I have a delicious stir fried dish! We consumed the sweet chili sauce in no time.
It’s the same thing with pesto (there is an old pesto recipe in the archive but I’ll be posting a new one soon — watch out for it!).
Cook pasta, toss with pesto, add chopped ham and presto!
But pesto is really more versatile than that.
For a vegetarian meal, macaroni tossed with pesto can be served alongside a vegetable salad tossed with — you guessed it! — pesto.
The last two photos are from last weekend. The macaroni with pesto and ham was for Alex. The no-ham macaroni with vegetable salad and vegetarian “chicken nuggets” were for Sam. See? Even with a vegetarian daughter and an omnivorous daughter, one basic sauce can make two versions of the same dish.
And then, tonight, I used pesto in a very unorthodox way. I used it to make a stir fried dish.
Pork (pre-cooked and thawed), kailan, carrots and shiitake mushrooms. Seasoned with pesto. Oh, boy, it was good!
So, you see, cooking can be fast and easy without compromising on health, quality and flavor, and without resorting to all the artificial stuff one often finds in the grocery.