For six weeks, my kids took an art class on Tuesday afternoons. I picked them up from school with a snack they could eat in the car, dropped them off at the museum, and then I used the two hours they were there to get some writing done at a nearby coffee shop. Because they finished at 5:45 p.m., the last thing I wanted to do was come home and cook something that took more than, oh, 15 minutes. Besides boiling up some noodles and tossing them with marinara sauce (or picking up food on the way home), I don’t have much in my repertoire that is super-quick. Because of that, I have to plan ahead.
Enter the slow cooker. The crock pot. It seems like the internet has two camps when it comes to these handy culinary workhorses — they’re either ride or die for their beloved, or they are completely baffled at how to make anything that doesn’t involve dumping cream-of-something over chicken. Me? I’m pretty devoted, but I’m not one of those people who uses it five-to-seven days per week. Around three to four times per month seems to be my average, especially when we have full afternoons.
My family is a big fan of soups and stews made in the crock pot, as well as roasts or BBQ chicken, and I’m a big fan of anything that doesn’t involve precooking ingredients on the stove before adding to the mix. Brown that meat? Nope. Caramelize those onions? Not today. Sure, it can mean a taste difference, but if I’m slow cooking, I’m likely throwing everything together while still working on coffee. I don’t know about you, but there’s only so much thinking I do mid-coffee. Recipes that aren’t wholly dependent on these methods will be the ones that I use.
Recently, I decided to try out a brown lentil soup recipe I saw in a magazine. Filled with plenty of extras like tomatoes and bulgur wheat, and seasoned with cumin and chili flakes, it looked delicious. With the kids, I’ve had success with different lentil combinations, and I’ve also had success with an Indian-spiced version of crock pot lentil soup. I made sure to get it going by late morning, and by the time we got home, all we had to do was set the table.
As far as other planning ahead maneuvers go, I’d like to get better about making extra and freezing more dishes to have on busy evenings, but I need to get past my worry that it will take way longer to reheat than I think it will. I also need to get in the habit again of cutting up produce ahead of time, and keeping more salad on hand, both of which always assist in easier meals.
Tell me, in what ways do you plan ahead?