Taking out the Takeout: Week One

Fast food and takeout have always been a big part of our busy life, but now that I'm a work-from-home dad with a veggie garden at my disposal, cooking just makes more sense. We've been using the kitchen more and more over the last few months, but have now decided to take the plunge and eat fresh, made-from-scratch food almost every night of the week. The result of which has been a richer and more fulfilling life, brimming with creative possibilities.

Kale is the gift that keeps on giving us tons of food in a small space
Making sauces in advance is useful for busy schedules
First, here's some background on our situation. My wife works a 9-5 day job during the week; while I work retail on weekends and work from home the rest of the week. She usually cooks weekends while I cook on weekdays. This is a normal weekday afternoon and evening for me: After my son wakes up from his afternoon nap, I put away the laptop and eventually get started in the kitchen. At 5:30 we eat and feed our son, start his bedtime routine and start disaster recovery at 8:00, cleaning the kitchen and picking up after our tornado of a toddler. A hot pizza at our doorstep definitely seems appealing right about then.

Baked Salmon is easy: Make a custom glaze, bake and serve!
So Why Bother?
Prepwork, cooking and cleanup do take time out of our day and it has definitely taken some getting used to over the last year - but the benefits are many.

Of course we'd like to lose weight, but that isn't enough. Mostly we want to provide us and our growing son with nutritious food (even if it has butter and bacon grease), we want to save money and (this is a big reason for me)we want to actually enjoy eating again.

Shoving takeout and fast food down our pieholes is no longer satisfying, and we always find ourselves feeling disgusted at ourselves for eating so much. All in all, the goal is to enrich our lives with interesting and healthy food. So far it's been working.

With all of the fresh and exciting herbs, fruits and vegetables I can grow in my garden, I have a huge advantage. I can grow the plants that I like to eat and I always have something useful right outside my backdoor. Simply put, when I grow my own groceries, cooking becomes immensely fulfilling. With great ingredients and a little effort, I can make gourmet meals for a few dollars.

Mixing my own sauces and dressings is so much fun!
Again, we have been cooking a lot more lately, so we've gotten more accustomed to the unique challenges that an old-school homemaking lifestyle presents.

For one thing, cooking is usually more time consuming than getting takeout. While I can swing it working from home, this can be more challenging if both members of a household work outside of the home. It's possible with simple recipes, make-ahead dinners and a crock-pot, but there is a learning curve.

While some dinners can be easily made in a single pan with little preparation, usually there's prep-work, cooking and the dreaded cleanup involved. Since we have a kid, we're busy cleaning up the rest of the house once the kitchen's clean.

Shopping for produce and meat is also hard at first. A lot of times the veggies go bad after a couple of days in the fridge, so you have to plan your meals ahead and go grocery shopping at least once a week.

Then there's the inevitable sticker shock at the register - when you learn that the fresh stuff adds up a lot more quickly than the pre-packaged frozen and dry foods that frequently go on sale. Even so, it's still so much cheaper when you add up what you'd otherwise be paying for takeout.

And did I mention that sometimes you just suck at cooking? I've lost count of the times that I've spent hours on a complicated recipe before finding out that one mistake ruined everything. In the failure pictured above, I made a wine sauce with cabernet (since I didn't have any white wine) and added too much lemon juice. Since I didn't have onions, I used the leafy ends of green onions. The result of which was a lip-puckering and oddly purple sauce all over my homemade garlic mashed potatoes that turned the green onions into a weird shade of black/split-pea green. No pretty garnish of basil flowers and pea shoots could save it.

But just as in gardening, the more mistakes you make, the more you can learn.

We're not quitting cold-turkey... some evenings we'll have family over, and they require pizza and other kid food. I work nights on the weekends sometimes, so we'll inevitably cheat every now and then. Today I picked up sandwiches from a neighborhood barbecue joint because I have to write before driving to work for the night. With any luck, we'll even get away with going out on a date one of these nights too.

Lesson 12: Homemade cocktails make you feel all fancy and stuff.
Lessons Learned
I'm sure that we'll learn a lot from our little experiment, and I'll be sure to share our lessons as we go. So far I've already learned a few things about a made-from-scratch lifestyle:

1. Having vegetables and herbs in the garden - Priceless.
2. Make your own sauces and dressings. It's worth it.
3. Lacinato kale in the garden is worth its weight in gold.
4. Some things to always have on hand: spices, oils, vinegars, green onions, garlic, citrus.
5. Recipes are made to be broken.
6. Make part of your meal in advance.
7. Reuse and repurpose leftovers. Better yet, reinvent them.
8. Clean up as you go.
9. Expensive meat goes a long way.
10. Herb plants are cheaper than herbs at the grocery store.
11. Find recipes online and change them to your liking.
12. Treat yourself with a homemade cocktail every now and then. You'll feel all fancy and stuff.

Our Menu for the Week

A weekly meal-plan needn't be stringent or over-the-top. Here's what we did last week.

Sunday - Ziti Skillet, Cornbread Casserole and a Spinach Arugula Salad
Monday - Leftovers
Tuesday - Pizza (picky family over)
Wednesday - Pork Tenderloin and Kale
Thursday - Pork Tenderloin and Potato au Gratin
Friday - Stir-Fry with Potatoes (homemade dressing)
Saturday - BBQ Pork Sandwiches
Wednesday's bacon garlic kale
My wife started off on Sunday by baking cornbread casserole and making a delicious ziti skillet, which we also ate the next day as leftovers. It wasn't the lightest dinner, but we need to fatten our toddler up and it was sooo good. I also made a simple vinaigrette dressing for a spinach and arugula salad, so I suppose that was healthy, right? Anyways, I didn't take a picture because I was too busy gobbling it up to think of such things.

Tuesday we had picky relatives over, and they would only eat pizza. Yup. At least there was a photo of a balsamic spinach pizza on the box to give me inspiration for the next meal.

I kept our momentum going on Wednesday by buying two pork tenderloins for $15, rubbing them with rosemary and thyme from the garden before searing them and roasting in the oven, occasionally ladling them with their own juices and subsequently burning my hand. I also sauteed bacon, garlic and onions, then mixing in a bunch of lacinato kale from the front yard. The tenderloin was so soft and juicy we could feed it to our toddler... in small bites, of course.

Still, Thursday I needed to add some more toddler-friendly food to the menu. I found a potato au gratin recipe and adapted it by adding broccoli. The previous night I let the bacon garlic kale sit over the tenderloin and its juices in a pyrex dish, so all I had to do was put it in the oven to reheat. The resulting meal was even yummier than the first!

Friday I shook things up by taking the pork tenderloin leftovers in a different direction. I made a lemon-ginger stir-fry sauce in the morning and let it sit in the fridge all day. Then I sauteed some broccoli and bok choy in the sauce and set it aside. After slicing the remaining pork tenderloin leftovers thinly, I sauteed them in more of the sauce - just long enough for them to get hot - before sauteeing it all together right before serving alongside the leftover gratin. I would have paid good money for a dinner like that... it was so good!

Datil peppers: The inspiration for another dinner
Since I had to work on Saturday, I got lazy and bought a couple of BBQ pork sandwiches from a local joint and split mine up between lunch and dinner. But at least that too was inspiring. I spent the evening dreaming up homemade barbecue sauces and hot sauces that I could make from unusual stuff in the garden. Datil citrus marinated chicken, anyone?

Watch this space for more about our attempts to enrich our lives with creative garden-grown and home-made food, and tell me about your own favorite recipes and cooking tips!

1 comment:

  1. Home cooked meals are the best and you two are doing GREAT!



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