Monday, February 19, 2007

The Myth of the Super Kitchen Goddess

One Friday not too long ago, one of my coworkers came up to my tiny cubicle with a stack of recipes in hand.

“I found these on the printer, I figured they were yours. You’re the only one who cooks,” she said. “How do you have time to make dinner every night?”

I laughed. “I don’t.” I decided to spare her the myth of me as a super kitchen goddess, slaving away nightly after a long day’s work. She’s a single mom, she deserves better than that.

So now you know, too. I don’t cook every night. In fact, I reheat most nights and cook mainly over the weekend. For those of you thinking, “Ew, leftovers!” Think again. Do you honestly think a restaurant cooks for hundreds of people daily without ANY of those items made in advance, even partially? Leftovers are a beautiful thing, Even better when you aren’t paying top dollar and a tip for them.

The system goes like this; every Friday I plan the week’s menu and do the shopping list. I do this over a lunch hour. I plan for two main courses, three to four vegetable dishes, fresh fruits, and a couple nights of quick meals. All of the weekend’s cooking must be able to be prepared in the time length of two toddler nap sessions, an hour and a half each maybe.

The main courses and the vegetable dishes are made and served over the weekend, and then the leftovers are rotated for the first three days of the workweek. These require just minutes and a microwave for a home cooked meal.

The fourth day, I prepare a quick pasta meal, and the following day can use the pasta dish as a side with a sandwich or soup and vegetable. Next day is shopping day and the whole cycle repeats. On any given work night, I am cooking less than 15 minutes and we don’t have to eat out.

There are a few extra tricks I put in the mix. Since most of the cooking effort is gathering ingredients and prep, it’s nearly as efficient to make two lasagnas, for example, and freeze one to use again in a couple weeks. You just add about 15 minutes to the baking time for the frozen one. Or, you can bake both lasagnas, serve one, then cut the other one into serving size portions, bag individually, and freeze. For the quick pasta night meal, you just pull out the servings you need and microwave.

Frozen, organic veggies that I either blanch and freeze myself or buy are a good supplement to the side dishes. Try edamame for something different. It has a nutty, sweet flavor that toddlers seem to enjoy. Try serving the kind in the shells for an interactive experience with the meal.

Other things that freeze well include; soups (not cream-based), chili, and spaghetti sauce. It’s not a whole lot different than those Super Supper places where you take home prepared meals to freeze and bake later.

There is also the bonus meal. This is one where you can make the first entrée on Saturday and turn it into the next night’s meal, literally, two birds with one stone in my case. Saturday I cooked (my husband helps prep the birds, he often likes to do the meat dishes) two chickens with a simple lemon and herb flavor. We only eat about half a chicken in a dinner, so that leaves plenty of leftover cooked chicken.

Sunday, I took the meat off the bones and skin, and made an easy chicken chili. Both entrees together required about 20 minutes hands-on, so there is plenty of time to make the side dishes. And take an hour of nap time for me. Some days, we moms just need a nap, too.

Day One, Lemon-Herb Roast Chicken
Chicken Chili
Looking for these recipes? They will be part of a book co-authored with Ali at Cleaner Plate Club.

Note to use the Ancho chili powder. You can get this online through It has a smoky flavor without a lot of heat. I realized chili might be a good dish for the kiddo when we were smelling the spices. She took the Ancho chili powder bottle, opened it and started licking the inside. Does not take a rocket scientist to think, "Hey, she might like chili!" She does. Of course she also eats plain fennel seeds, allspice berries and candied ginger. And, she drinks her own bathwater. Go figure.

If Chili is not your favorite, you can also use the leftover chicken to make Red Grape, Blueberry and Almond Chicken Salad. It's a great kid-friendly recipe.

I hope I have not ruined the kitchen goddess myth for you. I'm just another busy mom that likes good food. And a nice nap every now and then!


fatguyonalittlebike said...

Awesome! It's amazing what a little organization will do.

circumspice said...

Thanks for debunking this myth. My friends at work see what I bring in for lunches every day and assume I'm cooking for hours every night. Little do they know that I only "really" cook a few nights a week, and eat mega-leftovers for the rest of my meals. I think this illusion makes cooking well seem impossible to those with little time, which is really a shame.

Alison said...

I'm realizing how much cooking really is about being organized. Which is kind of where I've always gotten stuck before. Thanks for this window into your culinary/organized mind.

The Expatriate Chef said...

Thanks everyone, now that I have totally blown the myth AND I nap every great once in a while ... I'm glad you liked the post. I realized it was not fair to post about recipes and cooking and family dinner without a bit of insight into the HOW it can be done when you are busy. My mistake! If I find any new tips as I go along, I'll be sure to post those as well. Cheers, everyone!

Sonia said...

I like the way you think. I do the same thing, even though I don't work outside my home. Why use the oven for one pie, lasgana, casserole, whatever...when you can make 2 or even 3 at one time and freeze the extra?

The Expatriate Chef said...

You know, Sonia, I've come to believe that moms at home work even harder than we working moms. I marvel at how you handle so much. Either way, it is a non-stop life. You have to save time anyway you can!