Cooking Louisiana  -  Make it Easy on Yourself
The kitchen of often looked at in pain, "I hate cooking" you say. Well, it doesn't have to be that painful. How? you ask... by pre-planning alone.

One of the main reasons restaurants do so well is the fact that people don't plan for the "at home" meal, so, it's just easier to "eat out". Easy? yes, More expensive? YES! How often I see two income families paying extra to eat out (frequently) when they don't really have to (and they could be spending their hard earned dollars elsewhere). Fast food is the best example, and for the most part, nutritional value is not there. Don't get me wrong, a fast burger or something every once in a while hurts nothing at all, but when it's four nights a week something's amiss.

Let's look at a few things you can do that will allow you to cook more at home.

Time is the biggest issue normally. It's a good excuse but, with some planning, can become a non-factor.

One of the worst things you can do is to dream up a "spur of the moment" meal and try to rush through it. Frustration will surely set in. Now when I say meal here I don't mean ham sandwiches. A meal would be a three or more course serving such as pot roast, green beans, a salad and bread. Preparation is the key.

I'm too busy to cook!

I hear so often "I don't have time to cook, I work". It's true that the workday leaves us little time to dedicate to a big meal, but, there are ways around this. Planning is the key so plan your meal the day or week before.

Here's a few things you can do to prepare.

First of all make up your mind to take a day a week to prepare for the next weeks' meals. Incorporate that day with other activities that allow you to work with your cooking plan. Let the kids help if possible.

Before jumping in here sit down and make a list of all the possible dishes you would cook; and I mean everything. That's your menu! For some this is a big list, and now you have something you can work with. With that menu you can plan out an entire month of meals if you like. Oh how dull, now I know what I'm going to eat three weeks from now.... say, okay, leave some of those days open for a surprise. We all need a little surprise every once in a while so work that into the mix. If you're the Mom (or Mr. Mom) it's your duty not to publish this list for everyone else to see, it's your secret! You're the cooking Santa Clause!

Here's an old phase I learned long ago, "Plan your work and work your plan!"

Okay you get the idea about planning, let's get to the preparations.

We'll break this up in phases.

Phase 1: Getting ready
Phase 2: Putting it together
Phase 3: Cooking
Phase 4: Take a nap after you eat....

Phase 1: Getting ready

How would you like to get ready to cook seven dishes all at once? Sounds a bit crazy but it's really easy. Look at it like this, I've got seven dishes that each use one onion. If I chop seven onions all at once I'm ready (with the onions) to cook all seven of these dishes. You getting the idea? Where's the real advantage? If I got ready to cut one onion at a time seven times I have to get the onions out, get the cutting board out, chop one onion, clean the cutting board and clean the knife SEVEN TIMES. Getting a better idea now? What's the other advantage? Money honey! If you get your onions on sale you can chop up the whole bag and put them in the refrigerator for up to seven days! That also means they won't start growing in your onion box!

Chopping vegetables, making sauces, etc.; all seemingly "little" things take time as described above. This all can be done the day or week before, put in the ice box or freezer and tomorrow it's ready to go. You can even get lazy and buy all of this pre-chopped at the store but it will cost you extra (hey, save your money). Don't hesitate to chop the veggies up and freeze them, they'll keep for several weeks. Sautéing the vegetables the day before and throwing them in the ice box is also okay.

Make a roux and other mixtures the day before and refrigerate or freeze them. Here's another time saver, when making a roux make twice as much as you need, refrigerate what you don't use. Same holds for basic tomato sauces, make a bunch of it and freeze it in small portions.

The previous two subjects (veggies and sauces) are the base for several meals. Now to the identifier, or, meat. The meat can be chicken, shrimp, beef or whatever. It "identifies" the meal.

The bigger the piece of meat the longer it takes to cook, you already know that. Here's what can be done to take care of the longer timed cuts such as a roast. Season and/or stuff the roast. Bake it in the microwave or oven, let it cool and throw it in the freezer. Here's the trick! Do this while you're doing other cooking stuff. That's right, hey, you're already chopping veggies or cooking a meal and you've got to be at the stove already right? Take advantage of the time, cook the roast too. Same holds true for a hen, that takes a long time to cook. Sit down and think ahead, then, consolidate your activities.

Phase 2 & 3: Putting it together and cooking

You can put a fantastic spaghetti dish on the table in a mater of 30 minutes if you prepare for it, and, it's all "home made". If that don't make you feel good I don't know what will!

The day before the meal, take the spaghetti sauce and meat you are going to use out of the freezer and put it in the ice box to defrost. The day of the meal put the sauce and meats in a pot and cook it all up the proper time, boil the pasta, make the salad, fix the garlic bread and bingo you're the "Italian Stallion".

Defrost the already cooked and de-boned hen, throw the roux you made the other day in a pot, add the veggies you chopped the other day, season it up and magically you have a homemade gumbo!! Cook the rice and you're an instant hero! You've got to think ahead.

You can take that pre-cooked roast out of the freezer, make a quick gravy, cook some taters and whatever on the side and bingo, pot roast on Tuesday in a matter of moments!

Timing is everything....

How many times have you timed a turkey to be done at 12:00 noon? Shame shame, that bird should come out of the oven around 10:30 or 11:00 to allow for cooling and carving. You'll most likely have buns to bake in the oven too. Even if you have a double oven get it all done a little early. You can slice the turkey and put in back in the pan in the oven on 200ºF basting every ten minutes and it'll be even better. What's my point? Start everything a little early. It makes for less stress and everything tastes better because flavors have time to come together (marry).

You don't have to be a time management expert to do all of this, just sit and think a while.....

Phase 4: you're on your own here....

Plan your work and work your plan. You'll be pleasantly surprised and what you can "whip up" when you plan it.