A New Challenge

Starting soon, my recipes will start taking on a new focus.  I am re-entering the workforce (part-time), as a cook in my father’s newest venture – a pizza shop!   Most of the time I will be there early in the morning prepping the dough, sauce and other items. Sometimes I will be cooking during the day.  I am pretty excited, I just love being in the kitchen!  I also will have the option to bring my kids with me as needed – which is a huge blessing (Thanks Dad!)!

Which brings me to the new challenge!  Most of the food I make for my family is made from scratch – and because of that,  I spend a lot of time preparing meals.  Now that I will be working, my time will be limited.  So…I am on the hunt for meals that are easy and quick to make – and still prepared from scratch.  It’s going to be challenging at times – but I’m really looking forward to it!

One of my goals with this new challenge is to be able to keep my prep and cooking time to around 30-40 minutes.  I also want to have meals and snacks in the freezer for those days when life gets really crazy.  To do that, I will need to set aside at least 1 day per month for some serious cooking and baking!  I think it will also be helpful to have at least one meal per week where I can utilize the leftovers multiple times throughout the week.  For example, a large roast turkey can be turned into any number of dishes!

How much time do you spend prepping and cooking meals?  What are your favorite tips for getting meals on the table quickly?  I’d love to hear from you – you always have great advice!










59 thoughts on “A New Challenge

  1. Good luck with your new adventure. I’m guessing pizza will be on the menu in your house from time to time! I personally have a hard time cooking meals at dinner time because everyone is hungry and crabby by then, so I try to do most of the prep work ahead of time. It can be hard to get motivated sometimes, but if I can use the slow cooker or get things prepared the night before, I’m so much happier.

    • I really like the idea of using the slow cooker and getting things ready the night before – everyone in my house gets crabby at dinner time too! Thanks – I’ll take all the tips I can get!

  2. I’m not good with a slow cooker. (Sad, isn’t it? How much easier can it get?) You inspired me to post this one next week: seared pork chops with rice and sauteed zucchini and onions. Pretty easy to have on the table within the allotted 30-40 minutes, fresh and all from scratch. Thanks, Stephanie–and yes, good luck with your ‘new’ role. God bless you, too. As much as I enjoy eating homemade food, I’ll pass on the kitchen any day. That is, of course, unless I’m at my counter writing, lol.

  3. Do you get Everyday Food magazine? They will often have “leftovers for a week” menus where a meat can go for several dishes, etc. Plus they have the shopping list all ready to go.

  4. It sounds like you’ve got a great plan. Cooking in advance really does help with quick meals during the week.

    I confess that I’m one of those lucky women who has a husband who loves to cook – he cooks basically every night. But I often help and have done a lot of cooking over the years and the best trick for me to reduce the amount of time in the kitchen is to super-size everything. I cook for leftovers. Sometimes it’s for the next night, sometimes it’s for a freezer-meal. So when I make a pot of chilli, it looks like I’m cooking for an army. Making double what you need doesn’t take anything like double the time and you can freeze the leftovers for a meal in 2 weeks time that takes about 15 minutes to prepare. Chilli, curries, stroganof, any kind of one-pot meal is easy to turn into 2 meals (or more) when cooking. Sometimes I freshen leftovers up by adding some fresh vegetables – more for texture than anything – but if there’s no time, just reheating is enough.

    Congratulations on your job and I hope you enjoy getting out and mixing with colleagues and customers. The social component of work is always the best part and it sounds like yours will be a good one.

    • Thank you so much! I definitely need to start cooking “for an army”! Adding fresh veges to a leftover dish is a great idea – I usually reheat them or just turn it into something else all together! Thank you again!

  5. My best trick is sandwiches. There are many different kinds and they take little preparation time. Just a lot of planning when you are doing your shopping.

  6. I like to do what I call “one pan deals”… Either vegetable dishes or meat dishes. I would brown or saute meat, then remove it, then in the same pan steam veggies and loosen all that yummy meat juice that is still in the pan, add a bit of water and seasoning and meat and make a gravy… then use it to top extra wide egg noodles or rice or any grain I want to have. I use whatever I have in the kitchen. Tonight it was a veggie mix with Japanese noodles. I made more of a soup than thickened gravy. SO good.

    I have a question, tho. My predicament is that my husband will not eat cook-ahead food because he views them as left overs. What can I do to get him to accept it… aside from hiding those dishes in the fridge… ugh.

    • I like the “one pan deals”! Sometimes, when I make something in advance – I don’t finish the dish entirely. I will keep part of the meal to make on that day (like stir fry can be frozen, but I make the rice right before dinner, adding some chopped herbs to freshen the whole thing up) OR I will put a dish together and freeze before baking (like lasagna). This way it seems a little “fresher”. Another idea is to maybe just have all the food cut up into small portions for quick cooking (like chicken) – so you don’t have to make it ahead, but the prep is already done. I hope that helps!

  7. Good luck on your new venture! The crockpot suggestion is a good one – love crockpot cooking. Coincidentally, I also just made a post I called “Fast Friday”, a roast chicken breast/veggie dish that doesn’t require too much effort or time. Check it out. 🙂

  8. Have a wok and one or two grill pans (one of those heavy pans with ridges that is used very hot, on the stove top. Get rice noodles, chinese noodles, soba, and rice.
    Grilled meat – 5 minutes or so. To make it interesting, marinate it for an hour or so.
    Grilled vegetables – 5 minutes or so. Slice any combination of aubergine, zucchini, bell peppers, onions, carrots about 3 mm thick, toss in seasoned oil, and grill.
    Noodles – 5 minutes including heating the water.
    Rice – white jasmine rice, 15 minutes. Cook lots of rice and keep it in the fridge. Stir fry in wok (or steam) to go with grilled dishes.
    Wok – you know yourself. Stir fry. Anything. Including leftovers. Bind leftovers together with lightly beaten egg to make tasty fritatta style meals.
    (PS I don’t have a microwave – I’m sure you can reheat rice in that).
    Massive stews. Stews don’t take long to prepare, just to cook. And they are actually better the next day. So put one on when you’re going to be in the house, no matter what time it is.

    • I love those ideas – I don’t have a wok but have been really anxious to get one. I think it would really help out (as you said)! I have heard that some people use their crock pot overnight and then just keep it in the fridge for re-heating later….I might have to try it out! Thanks for the great ideas!

  9. I didn’t read all the comments, so I don’t know if it was mentioned but a crock pot will help you immensely. You can turn it on and leave it.

  10. Completely understand where you are coming from. I cook for a living and sometimes coming home I just don’t want to do it. All I can say is, plan plan plan. I find if I prep everything on my days off it helps a lot on my days when I am working. And stock up on veggies and fruits. They are grabbable and would be a great way to prevent excessive amounts of junk food consumptions. I also bake on my days off. Stuff like homemade granola bars and cookies keep really well for a good amount of time. Hope these tips help 😀

  11. I’m so jealous Stephanie…what an adventure you are heading into. I made my career in the pizza industry and raised my son while doing so. I always spent 1 day a week prepping ingredients for meals I had planned out. I also found I could do a lot of my personal prep work while I was doing prep work for the restaurants I was involved with. It wasn’t uncommon for me to cook dinner in a slow cooker at the restaurant to cart home with me, it also wasn’t unusual for me to bake meats, chicken and fish in the pizza oven to take home for dinner. My biggest advice is think outside the box and utilize your time in the restaurant for both business and personal cooking use. Good luck on your newest endeavor.

    • I didn’t even think of that! That is a great idea – and it will help out a lot. Thanks for the advice, it’s much appreciated! We (my family) are so excited about this new venture – the best part is that all the kids will get to be involved at some level. I am finding that I need to look at cooking at home much in the same way you cook in a restaurant – lots of prep!

      • Funny you have said that. My grown son tells people I run my home kitchen, freezer, refrigerator, pantry and shopping list just like I ran my restaurant equivalents. I have to tell you it works well. Again good luck to you and your family….if you ever have any questions in regards to dough problems, oven temps & timing, sauce problems, food costing, menu costing, etc….please don’t hesitate to ask. I have over 25 years of successful experience and have seem almost everything. I’m really excited for all of you.

      • Thank you so much! I will be sure to take you up on that. And thanks for the support! I’m excited and anxious all at the same time! The grand opening is next friday…I don’t think I’m going to sleep between now and then!

  12. I love cooking from scratch – and I work outside the home now, too. I usually set aside one day on the weekends for cooking. Then I freeze individual-sized meals. That usually feeds us four suppers duing the week, which leaves only one night when I have to prepare something quick (or we go out to eat). Believe it or not, I’ve gotten some really healthy, easy recipes from my husband’s magazine subscription, Muscle. ❤

  13. Two of my favorite quick & easy worknight dinner categories are quesadillas and stir fry.
    Quesadillas can be made quickly with assorted different fillings and flavors. For picky eaters, try using small tortillas so each person gets his own quesadilla. I use carb balance tortillas so they are naturally low carb meals.
    And stir frys are so quick and delicious – and they don’t need to be Asian flavors. One of my favorites is sliced carrots, onions, and cabbage stir fried a bit in bacon grease plus some bacon crumbles. Also needs a bit of seasoning salt and garlic powder or minced garlic. Super quick and easy and only one dirty pan.

    • We love quesadillas here, but I don’t make them nearly enough – I will have to start! Stir-fry is a great idea, I think I can have all the ingredients prepped ahead of time for even faster cooking. Thanks for the tips!

  14. Good luck!

    Do you know if homemade salsa freezes well. While I do cook a lot from scratch I don’t do it to the extent that you do so one of my cooking tips for people is to always have a jar of your favorite orgainc salas in the pantry. If you need to whip up something super quick you’ve got your tomatoes, peppers, onions and spices right there. Brown up some ground turkey and mix in the slasa and frozen organic corn or broccoli and serve over brown rice. Or serve in an omelette with cheese. Anyway, my point is that there are a million quick things you can do with a jar of salsa in a pinch, but obviously homemade isn’t shelf stable. If it freezes well though, maybe you can whip some up and keep it on hand in the freezer.

    • You can freeze it, but it will loose it’s texture once thawed. The flavor will still be there, it will just be on the mushy side. Those are great tips, by the way for the salsa! Sounds yummy, and I will definitely be using that idea! Thanks!

  15. Hi Stephanie,

    I like your cooking from scratch challenge! I cook from scratch myself pretty much all the time. Of course I don’t make my own parmesan cheese or my own tomato puree, nor my own stock but I start with raw vegetables and meat (if I use meat) almost every day.

    Since I started my new job, time is a major limiting factor in my life as well (I wonder what that will be like when I have kids…) so I try to minimise my cooking time on busy days. I think there are two ways to go when it comes to cooking with limited time. Either you spend 10-30 minutes cooking very efficiently to prepare dinner, kinda like Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute dinners, or you spend 10 minutes on preparation and shove it in the oven for 1-3 hours.

    Things that save time are: a clean kitchen and work space, planning ahead and reading a recipe one or twice before cooking it (which I never do because I don’t stick to recipe’s anyway).

    I noticed you read my two latest blog posts. Thanks! I appreciate knowing that you like them and knowing who likes them. They are not exemplary of fast cooking though. My healthy fast food recipe can be made in just 12 minutes. https://lennartsrecipes.wordpress.com/2012/03/06/healthy-fast-food/ If you’d prefer to pick your own salad leafs and wash them, add a minute 😉


    • Thank you! I agree with you – time is a major factor and I love the tip about starting with a clean kitchen, It’s the little things that are often overlooked! Thanks for the link, I will be checking it out!

  16. A lot of wonderful ideas to support you Stephanie.
    The only way I survived a full-time job, raising two children, and running my catering service on weekends, was to cook on Sunday for the week.

    I made two kinds of stew (e.g. my Kidney Bean stew and Lentil Mash), a pot of brown rice and a protein, like baked Chicken with garlic and lemon.

    I made enough for 8 servings (so 2 meals) and mixed and matched them for the next 4 days, adding a salad or quick steamed veggies each day.

    Otherwise I would have fallen in a heap on the floor!

    Good luck to you. Cheers!
    ~ Hoda

    • Thanks so much for the ideas! I like that you had a plan – I think it helps a lot! I also really like that you only had to add some fresh vegetables and a salad and dinner is done!

  17. Hi there! I saw that you had liked one of my posts and checked out your blog, then followed this link to see if you had any good freezer ideas since I’m in the midst of that right now! I started filling our freezer for when baby comes with baby number 2, after baby number 1 was a bit disastrous since my husband is a picky eater and didn’t really like a lot of the things generous people from church brought us 🙂 So now I just do as much as I can – getting a meal that night and freezing the rest – without about 10 of our favorite meals over the course of about two months before baby is due, and that seems to work. I am currently posting my efforts on my shiny, brand new blog, with baby number 6 due July 14, but I’ll tell you what I’m planning on in case you want any new ideas, and then you can check them out this week and the next on the blog 🙂
    Yesterday I made black beans and rice and froze a ton of it – the rice and the beans, although whipping up more rice in the rice cooker is not too difficult even with a newborn 🙂 Often I only use frozen rice in two ways – a simple fried rice recipe that will be on the blog next week or the week after and is ALWAYS a hit, and something affectionately called “Popeye Salad” because of the spinach. It can’t really be classified as a freezer meal since the day you eat the popeye salad you saute the other ingredients and then add them to the warmed up rice, but still, it’s a nice way to use leftover rice. May post about that one later in the month.
    Other things for the freezer right now, though – lasagna that I made in May when my mom was here to help – took the whole day but was worth it! That’s the only traditional “casserole” like by my family – so what else is there for the freezer??? Also in May I made red beans and rice from scratch (I will post about that one next time I make it, but it may not be til the fall since I already have some in the freezer.) – Basically it’s red beans that I cooked from scratch and some kielbasa thrown in. Any time I feed my family a rice meal I cook fresh rice in the rice cooker – in other words beans and rice or a chicken and sauce over rice, etc. Usually I only use the frozen rice for fried rice and the like. Anyway, another good thing in the freezer is homemade chili that I recently made from red beans from scratch, or homemade pinto beans with which I made refried beans. Those of course are nice to have on hand for simple burritos, and are homemade instead of from a can. I will work on getting my other bean recipes posted, but it’s the same basic method as my black beans. Today I made 5 quiches with a shredded potato crust and sausage. Super yummy and a big hit with the kids. Tomorrow will be a pulled-chicken recipe in the crockpot – good for the day you make it since you can make the sauce the night ahead, pop it into the crockpot the first day you eat it, and then freeze the rest for another meal 🙂 I also made homemade rolls to eat the pulled chicken on, lots for the freezer and some to use when we try it tomorrow night 🙂 Friday I’ll be making about 20 small-sized (to accommodate the small British freezers) homemade pizzas with freshly ground and soaked flour to make them more healthy. I used to just bake the bases and semi-cook them about 5 minutes, wrap, and freeze, but I found I still didn’t like having to take the time to top them, so now I still parbake the crust and then top, then wrap, and they’re ready to go. I have another popular quiche with a corn tortilla crust which kind of comes out like a burrito casserole really. You can ask me for that recipe because I won’t be posting it soon since 1)I’m out of pie pans now and 2)we don’t have any corn tortillas, and I’m not willing to drive the 2-3 hour roundtrip to the US Commissary to get any before my cooking spree is over 🙂 Also going into the freezer will be pre-cooked and seasoned taco meat for quicker taco nights, and two kinds of soup very popular with the family that I’ll post next week when I make them. I plan on having more homemade bread in the freezer as well, and some pre-made breakfast egg burritos to make Sundays easier for a while. You’ll notice a stark lack of vegetables, and that’s because if people offer to bring me food when baby comes I ALWAYS ask for salad, and also because my children like raw veggies (broccoli, carrots, peppers, celery, and cucumber, even string beans and snap peas!) which are easy to add to any meal as the side dish. Sometimes I’ll even steam a veggie and whip up a quick sauce, but at least having all this stuff in the freezer helps defray the time and effort necessary when the baby comes 🙂

    • Hi! Thanks so much for stopping by! And congrats on baby # 6! How exciting! You have some fantastic freezer ideas – I surely will be checking out your blog for the recipes! I am loving that your making everything yourself – I think it helps to have familiar foods for the kids when they are adjusting to a new family member! Life gets a little chaotic when a little one comes into the world and it sounds like you are really prepared! Can’t wait to read more of your blog! 🙂

  18. Nutrition, satisfaction, cost and speed….the ultimate dinner time challenge. First suggestion is rope in the kids, teach them to make salads, omelettes, simple pasta sauce. Teach them to help out with the laundry too, after all they probably make most of it. When I was a full time caterer we lived in grills and salad, pasta, stir fry, tacos, soups and leftovers. There was nothing fancy on the home menu, but always plenty of love ………..and fresh fruit and veg.

    • Yes, yes, yes! I love teaching my kids how to do things, in the long run it really helps out! Plus they have the tools they need for later in life…Dinner isn’t always fancy here either, but it’s made with love too!

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